Friends often send me interesting articles about sexism in various settings. Last week I received an avalanche about one, Lazar J. Greenfield (no relation to my husband of same name), who had written an editorial in Surgical News, of which he was editor-in-chief. Apparently he offended more than a few women surgeons, one of whom publicly resigned in protest from the American College of Surgeons. At the time he was also the president elect of the College. Tonight I received an email from the College of Surgeons, of which I am a member (fellow). He has also resigned from the College and will not serve as its president.
This weekend I saw the movie, WinWin–about second chances, people who make mistakes (as do we all), and about how to overcome our mistakes. I didn’t know it was preparing me for this post which has been on my mind all weekend. I knew I was expected to comment. So I went back to the source. I read the now infamous St. Valentine’s Day opinion piece (no longer on line and sent to me as a PDF file which I believe I cannot reprint here.) Then I had my daughters and husband read it. And we all had the same reaction. Probably not too clever, as was most likely his intent. Stupid to try to reconcile “science” with social behavior, but not something that I would go to battle over, at least not in this instance with this man, someone who, to date, according to some, might even qualify as a man of good consicence.
Apparently Dr. Greenfield has been a strong and active supporter of women in surgery. He is also an educator, a teacher, a scientist/inventor, and a physician of note. He has a lot of capital in his account. By many reports, he has been good for women in surgery. He has been good for surgery.
But he did write a silly, irreverent article. Didn’t show the best judgment. Does that justify the reaction, “off with his head?”
From what I know, I don’t think so. I understand that there are people who are offended by him and will disagree with me. I will not belittle their feelings. But he apologized and the editorial was pulled. Why was this not enough? Is there part of the story that is not being told?
Is one off color joke enough to determine that a workplace is hostile to women? Or does it take a pattern, intent, and repeated exposures?
Having claimed gender discrimination for pay inequity, gender stereotyping leading to failure to advance, I think I have a fairly good understanding of feeling the victim of a biased system. I have met many men who make silly comments, even some of my greatest supports. As a resident, I once remember being told how great morning sex was while we made morning rounds. (The implication was that he had just had this treat.) This comment was made by someone I revered. I felt a little embarrassed, but didn’t let it get in my way. It seemed so out of character. I am glad that I ignored it. If I hadn’t, I would have been denied a life-long mentor and friend in whom I confide and for whom I have a deep respect.
Unless Dr. Greenfield has shown repeated behaviors or has created a hostile-to-women atmosphere that would prevent the Regents of the College from carrying on its business (some 5 of the 22 regents are women), then I do not see what is to be gained from his removal from his position.
It is undeniable that sexism exists in the medical field and particularly in surgery. Might we consider the alternative that leaving Dr. Greenfield in his position might be just the impetus we need to get the badly needed change from within? Change from someone who will be motivated to show that his story telling was not an indicator of what he has done and could continue to do for women in surgery?
Now that he is gone, for those who find his “science” faulty, maybe we should do a study and find out if semen is really more potent than chocolates for preventing depression in women. If the results of that study support Dr. Greenfield, would we have to let him back into our midst?