July 11, 2014 — You know when you are completely on edge, awaiting an important call from an extremely busy doctor, and your family and friends keep calling and texting and emailing and IMing to ask, “Did you hear from your doctor?”
You are nervously awaiting the results of your potentially life-changing MRI, and it just becomes more and more stressful every time Mom or Aunt Patti or your boyfriend or your coworker brings it up yet again.
“Did he call yet?” they ask, sounding worried.
“Who’s this ‘he’?”
“Did your doctor call yet? Did he say when he would be calling?”
“My doctor is a woman!”
“Oh….I just assumed.”
Just because women make up just over a third of all physicians and surgeons doesn’t mean that all physicians and surgeons are men.
Right after my doctor delivered what turned out to be bad-but-not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been news, I received an email from a film producer who wanted to make a movie about an ultra-marathon of which I’m the race director.
I was excited, and immediately began emailing and brainstorming with others about ideas for the film. My mother called in the midst of the planning, and I told her about the project.
“That’s so exciting!” she exclaimed. “Is he an ultra-runner too?”
Who was this “he”? The producer was a woman. Yes, the majority of producers are men (85% of the executive producers and 75% of the producers of the top 250 films in the United States are male), but what about the other 15% and 25%?
Recently I attended a networking event at a conference and began chatting with a database vendor. He was very honest with me: he wouldn’t hire any 24-year-old woman because, as he put it, “She’s just going to go off and have babies.” Infuriated, I reminded him that this is quite often not the case, and that men frequently take leave too. He insisted that women are better at child-rearing, and that he didn’t want to take that risk.
I told him that if he had met me and made that assumption when I was 24, he would have missed out on 11 fantastic years of my talent and drive. And what if I had become a mother? Would that have meant I’d automatically have become less focused?
That’s just an assumption, and one that may not be true.
In fact, assumptions are frequently incorrect. For instance, when my boyfriend and I go out to dinner, the server automatically places the salad entrée in front of me, regardless of who ordered it. (The unspoken message being that since I’m a woman, I must hate my body and be on a diet.)
Assumptions are not limited to gender-based stereotypes. I was in Spanish class a few weeks ago and we were discussing what we had done over the weekend. One of my classmates said, “Mi novio y yo…” (My boyfriend and I) and our teacher quickly corrected him: “No. Novia” (No, girlfriend). It was his turn to correct her: “No, mi novio” (No, my boyfriend).
We all make assumptions. I learned a lot about assumptions when I was younger from my 10th grade social studies teacher, who told us, “When ‘u’ assume, ‘u’ make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” Although he was teaching us spelling, he was teaching another important lesson as well: assumptions are limiting. And they’re often incorrect.
I get it. Assumptions are quick. They’re shortcuts. They’re sometimes right. But maybe we should stop making them because “sometimes” doesn’t mean “always.” We probably won’t be able to eliminate them as easily as we’d like, but let’s try. When we rely on assumptions, we limit ourselves, other people, and the human potential that exists in all of us.