Something happened to me yesterday. Nothing earth shattering, nothing that will cure cancer or stop climate change. But it did stop and make me realise something.
I had to take my son to the dentist for a clean, yet first, I need antibiotics from his doctor, since my son was born with a heart condition, and tooth cuts can cause heart infections. I have known this for all of my son’s 12 years. Yet, my dentist called my doctor for three weeks to get the prescription, and the doctor’s office didn’t know how to respond, so didn’t. So there I was, 15 minutes before my son’s appointment, no antibiotics or letter stating he didn’t require any. The dentist said the doctor’s office wouldn’t reply, doctor’s office said they had only learned of the issue that morning. FFS.
With my son in tow, I did the only thing left to try. I went into the doctor’s office to say something to the nurse, since then she could not ignore messages from me or the dentist anymore. Turns out, she DID know about it, but didn’t know heart patients require dental antibiotics (Why? This is no mystery! That’s an issue for another time.) My own doctor wasn’t even in the office, and I was about to get the brush off.
What did I do? I stood my ground. I, calmly, again, explained the need for the paperwork so my son could get his teeth cleaned. When I got four faces of utter confusion looking back at me, the office manager arrived, hearing my voice in the empty reception room. Again, I explained. What happened? I was labelled.
What I had done is explain the situation. (Yes, politely, I wasn’t going to rage in front of my son.) I had spoken of medical details that neither front desk staff or even the nurse could understand. I was not showing off. I was explaining. I was panting after running to the office, not pushing people. I was rushing, after angry calls from the dentist, taking time off work, taking my school out of school, driving and parking frustrations. I needed help. But all I got was labelled.
Long story short, another doctor came out, and took me aside. He printed out a cardiologist letter, stating that my son’s specialist knew what to do. I got the print-out, thanked everyone, and left, getting my son’s teeth cleaned a little late.
As I drove home, I asked my son, was I bossy? Was I aggressive, or rude? I didn’t want to be. My son said no, he couldn’t believe how inept (yes, that’s a quote) everyone had been over one piece of paper.
Am I mad that I was labelled? YES.
What is worse, though? I second guessed myself. I asked myself if I was rude, or bossy. Because the need for a woman to be polite, demure, accommodating seems to be hardwired. I am 34, I know my shit. The moment I was anything except quiet, apologetic, well-meaning or clueless, I got labelled as bossy. I was not aggressive. I stood with my child, out of breath, trying to explain my predicament. Even when the idiot nurse tried explain (mansplain via a woman? Womansplain? Dumbsplain?) me about what antibiotics were for, I was able to tell the simplistic view back to her, along with more info she clearly didn’t know. I did that to explain my situation, how serious it was to do dental work without preventing a heart infection.
The fact the staff didn’t know the situation was unnerving. I rely on these people, I see them most days. For three weeks I had been ignored. I was annoyed, but just wanted to get the paperwork and get the damn dental appointment one for another six months. I wasn’t asking for the world to cease spinning. The info and paperwork took under a minute. I needed my own son’s information, which belongs to him (or me), and nothing more.
A woman who stands up for herself is not bossy. She is not aggressive. She is not rude. Had I been a man, I would have been ushered to the doctor straight away to collect the cardiologist letter. I am sure of it. I have heard the receptionists do so in the past. I have heard them assure their male patients the nurses are pretty enough to care for them. I have heard them take the piss out of mental illness. (Why do I go there? For the doctor, not the staff.)
But the problem was me second-guessing myself. I am no fool. I am confident. I can make a fuss if I had to. But I didn’t have to. I was judged the second I showed my knowledge. And yet still, I wondered how I could have been more ladylike, say sorry more often, politely suggest they do what I am paying them for. That isn’t right.
I will not apologise for being woman with a voice. I can take charge without being ‘bossy’. I can explain details without being ‘aggressive’. I can ask for what I need (and frankly, am entitled to) without being ‘rude.’ I am about to turn 35, and Goddamn, I will not be shoved aside.
I even had to make sure I explained, in this post, how polite and calm I was during this situation. I still had to justify my behaviour while writing about refusing to justify my behaviour.
A man would be called forthright for this post. A woman would be called a bitch. Call me whatever you like, but I will not second guess my confident, empowered voice.