Being a woman: surgical coldness cannot take it away

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Clara Marques Santana, a student in the eighth period of the Medicine course at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora Brazil. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

With the evolution of feminism, women have gained space in the labor market and educational institutions. This scenario is no different from that seen in medicine: from the 1990s, an inversion of the gender profile in the courses was noted. Now, women were the majority of students and professionals. However, this context is still crossed by gender inequalities such as male predominance in surgical specialties1.

The “being a doctor” has a universe of stigmas in itself, and therefore, there is a code of social conduct to be followed to determine career success. In this bias, already in college, the student must have an immaculate behavior to be accepted by other health professionals and future patients2.

Additively, there is still an expected behavior of women. Even today, it is believed in an unconditional maternal instinct that would justify compulsory motherhood. On the other hand, maternity loses its grace in the eyes of work, since there is a widespread thought that dedication to the family hinders productivity at work3.

 It also adds the stigma that emotions are opposed to rationality – with femininity being seen as an emotional element. As an effect, the posture goes through a desexualization: the female doctor must be sterile and any trace of her sensuality or emotionality would denote weakness2.

In surgical areas, the stereotype is more evident: the surgeon must focus on the specialty, breaking with his family and affective past. This idea of ​​servitude imposed on doctors, moves away from the feminine social functions of motherhood and affective care. In addition, there is the stereotype that to perform the procedures one must have physical and mental strength – which is not socially linked to women1.

Thus, unlike men who freely choose their specialties, women encounter obstacles. Since their creation valuing bodily characteristics and submissive behaviors until the job market that stereotypes the feminine limits3.

Another conflict lies in the operating room. Subtle harassment, by colleagues who still have this view that women must behave in ways that deny their femininity, is common2.

Nevertheless, this situation tends to change. With the example of medical feminist movements and the discussion of gender equality by medical education entities, more and more women are becoming aware of their true potential. In addition, the ideal that the doctor can shape his lifestyle according to his needs has been built. Therefore, the doctor’s figure is humanized. In this context, femininity is no longer a weakness that must be removed with surgical coldness (and cruelty)1.


1-Ávila, Rebeca Contrera. “Formação das mulheres nas escolas de medicina.” Revista Brasileira de Educação Médica 38.1 (2014): 142-149.

2- FRANCO, Talita; SANTOS, Elizabeth Gomes dos. Mulheres e cirurgiãs. Revista do Colégio Brasileiro de Cirurgiões, v. 37, n. 1, p. 072-077, 2010.

3- RAGO, Elisabeth Juliska. A ruptura do mundo masculino da medicina: médicas brasileiras no século XIX. cadernos pagu, n. 15, p. 199-225, 2000.

About the author

Clara Marques Santana is a student in the eighth period of the Medicine course at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora. She has been affiliated to IFMSA Brazil since 2018. Currently, she works in the Public Health team at IFMSA Brazil.

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