The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends seeing an OB-GYN for the first time between the ages of 13 and 15, and getting a pap smear for the first time after the age of 21. And sometimes, as college-age students seek care for the first time, men are the only practitioners available for patients to see.
Women are systematically disadvantaged in their influence in STEM industries, including medicine. For instance, less than a third of doctors are women while men dominate 37 of the 43 medical fields. And despite 41 percent of OB-GYN doctors being men, only 8 percent of patients who seek OB-GYN care prefer a male doctor, according to an article from the Dayton Daily News.
There are certainly benefits to having men in reproductive care spaces – and we want to be clear that everyone, regardless of gender identity, should have the opportunity to pursue career paths that focus on women’s health issues. Transgender and gender diverse patients in particular may benefit from the ability to choose a health care provider that they feel best suits their interests and identity.
But while these benefits exist, it’s still crucially important for women to have power in spaces that concern their health and safety.
Since Roe was overturned, those impacted by the decision have taken to social media to share how women should protect themselves. Viral tweets urge women to delete their period apps to avoid authorities potentially using fertility information against them. Other posts encourage women to not disclose the date of their last period to primary care providers.
These fears are not unfounded. Patient privacy has been completely uprooted since women’s decisions regarding their reproductive health have become an unprotected right. And part of the fear of health care professionals taking advantage of patients stems from a lack of female providers.
In a world where people who can get pregnant are ever-so careful with their personal health information, we must turn to creating health care spaces that value the struggles women face, rather than uphold regressive legal precedents. In an industry that has potential to take advantage of women in vulnerable positions, patients must be able to discuss intimate health issues with providers who can identify with their concerns and who are also personally impacted by legislation limiting their privacy.
Health care professionals, including female practitioners, are not immune to their own beliefs and biases. But increasing the number of female professionals in a field that fundamentally impacts them is a step toward elevating their voices and needs.
The demographic of practitioners is changing. In 1970, seven percent of gynecologists were women, whereas now, they make up 59 percent of the profession. Women succeeding in these fields is indicative of important progress being made towards equality, both for the women giving and receiving care.
In a post-Roe world, the ongoing debate of men overseeing female care needs to shift to consider the protection of female patients. Men in these positions of power need to advocate for their patients and listen to the women in their fields.
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Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.