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09 March 2015
by John Passant

International Women’s Day and female doctors being raped at work in Australia

Dr Gabrielle McMullin is a senior vascular surgeon. Alice Matthews from ABC News interviewed her after the release of her new book Gender Equality – The Role of Merit and Quotas.

In the interview Dr McMullin detailed the case of Caroline whose career as a neurosurgeon was destroyed before it started. She rejected the request of one of her colleagues, a male mentor and supervisor, for sex. It was a long battle for her to win her complaint against the man, who after the rejection began giving her bad reports. She has never been employed as a neurosurgeon.

The lessons Dr McMullin draws from this are shocking. She said:

Her career was ruined by this one guy asking for sex on this night. And realistically, she would have been much better to have given him a blow job on that night.

And her advice to new doctors in the field is give in. According to the report:

She said she told trainees that giving in to sexual harassment was an easier path than pursuing the perpetrators, because of sexism among many male surgeons.

Such acquiescence may still result in any sex being rape since it is not freely given consent.

Dr McMullin’s motives for suggesting giving in are not clear. I take it to be a wake up call not just to hospital administrations but to society. Here are intelligent, successful women working with intelligent successful male colleagues and they are subjected to the sort of abuse you imagine could only happen at the most degraded workplaces. On top of that the structures in place in their workplaces fail to protect or support them.

Hierarchies at work are open to abuses of power. Capitalism creates those hierarchies. Second the reality in Australia is that the higher up an organisation one looks the more likely you are to find a man in power.

Second the reality of women’s oppression under capitalism means this is unlikely to fundamentally change. Women’s role for capital is to be the unpaid bearers and carers of children, the next generation of workers. The liberation of women under capitalism would involve those costs being shifted to capital. While the necessity of women to the creation of profit and the ongoing survival of capitalism is now vital, and sees some half arsed fiddling at the edges policies on child care and paid parental leave, the more radical options that actually address working women’s needs, like free 24 hour child care, communal housing and all that that entails for community cooking, cleaning, care and the like cannot be on the agenda of capitalism. First they undermine one of the main roles of women in society and the stereotypes that go along with that and second capital can’t afford it. Profit trumps people.

So should women at work follow Dr McMullin’s advice. No. But they shouldn’t have to fight on their own either. Building our unions to fight for and defend women in the workplace has to be a priority for all workers.

It is unlikely the doctors’ and bosses organisation, the AMA, will do anything for female doctors, let alone take up their cases against other male members. The AMA reflects the status quo and the interests of rich doctors; it doesn’t challenge the system. It might be that real trade union, like United Voice or the Nurses Unions, which do fight for their members to some extent, and which have many many women workers as members and understand the gross sexism in society and hospitals, would be better organisations for young women doctors to join than the AMA.

Would having more women in leadership roles fix the problem? No. Margaret Thatcher was a warrior for her class. She inflicted more pain on women than the Labor men who went before her.

Under Australian Labor Party Prime Minister Julia Gillard the gender pay gap worsened and on the same day she was giving her famous ‘I will not lectured to by this man about misogyny’ speech, she was cutting the single parent payment for about 90,000 people, 80,000 or so of whom were women. This cut to weekly payments of up to $100 sent them deeper into poverty.

The problem is capitalism and its hierarchies, not the gender of those in charge. Having more women as slave owners would not have challenged slavery. It would have reinforced it. Whoever advances up the greasy pole of capitalism self-evidently (irony alert) owes their success to capitalism, and of course (sarcasm alert) to their own hard work divorced from the rest of society. Having more women as bosses will not challenge the system that gives rise to women’s oppression. It will only reinforce it.

In the meantime, women workers, including junior doctors, could join unions and turn them into organisations that defend their interests. In the words of the famous song, don’t be too polite girls, don’t be too polite.