THE BLOG

Success, Service and Sexism

04/03/2015 01:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2015
graphicsdunia4you via Getty Images

During my first year of medical school, we had a sports medicine lecture. The professor introduced himself, then scanned the room, making note of the fact that there were more men than women. He asked for the male-to-female ratio. Sitting in the front, I replied with the figure that had been quoted to us at orientation: "60 percent male." He looked at me then and asked, "Is that why you're here?"

He meant it as a joke and people did laugh, but the truth is, the reason that response garnered the reaction it did is because it played on a stereotype, one that's insulting and long-since outdated, but still considered politically correct -- the stereotype that women will attend college, or in this case medical school, just to land a man. I assure you such a stereotype couldn't be further from the truth. I attended med school with some of the smartest, most accomplished women I had ever met and now as a doctor, I'm working alongside some of the brightest minds in medicine. To have our accomplishments reduced for a few cheap laughs is frustrating. What's even more frustrating is that it's not restricted to academia.

Last December, Barbara Walters revealed her "Most Fascinating People" list. Among the contenders, there was Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who took a bullet to the head while advocating for women's education, or Brittany Maynard, the Oregon newlywed diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who incited controversy when she chose to enact Oregon's "death with dignity" act and take her own life when her suffering became too much to handle, or Janet Yellen, the first female to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve, or any of a number of other women whose accomplishments helped to shape the world.

But instead, Ms. Walters chose Amal Clooney, the woman who married George Clooney.

In fairness to Amal Clooney, she actually is quite an accomplished woman. She's a graduate of NYU's law school; she clerked for a Supreme Court Justice; she practices as an international attorney; she has represented noteworthy clients in some of the most controversial cases in recent history. Had that been why Ms. Walters selected her, at least her reasoning would have made sense. But instead, Ms. Walters chose her because she was able to "fascinate one of the most fascinating men in the world," referring to actor George Clooney, and that, by far, seemed to be the point of the piece.

The five-minute clip marginalized Amal Clooney's education and career and centered primarily around her new spouse, referencing all the women who previously dated him and failed to get a ring and calling George's commitment to Amal, "one of the greatest achievements in human history." High praise, indeed.

With Senator Ted Cruz's campaign kick off, the 2016 political season has begun and among the speculated contenders, Vice President Joe Biden, former Governor Jeb Bush, and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2008, then-Senator Clinton made her first bid for president and out came the critics. Criticizing her on policy was fair game for a presidential candidate, but her candidacy was reduced to criticism of her clothing, criticism of her hair and in perhaps one of the most bizarre media fixations since balloon boy's mid-air flight over Colorado, criticism of her cankles. National commentators attributed her success in politics to her husband's affairs, said that she looked like everyone's first wife standing outside the probate court, and even compared her to Glenn Close's chilling portrayal of a mentally unstable jilted lover in Fatal Attraction. Her historic candidacy became a punchline for every sexist joke that slipped the lips of both men and women.

So why then are people surprised that the closer we get to her announcement to run for president (if she truly does), the more her team stiffens their shoulders and steals their hearts for a replay? We can hope that past mistakes won't be repeated, that the national debate has progressed to a point that we no longer define our candidates by their gender, but considering the charges of sexism were never fully acknowledged the first time around and the recent backlash earned by the now-infamous "coded sexism" memo circulating in newsrooms around America, I don't plan to get my hopes up.