(Ken MacIntosh writes on how feminism has affected the NHS in the latest of our series of articles to ‘celebrate’ International Women’s Day on Wednesday.)
“We must fight overarching sexist structures in the workplace”, so said the co-founders of online magazine, The Vagenda. Well, they needn’t have worried when it came to the NHS. They won without a shot being fired. Female doctors may now work as they see fit.
As this report into the ‘need’ for flexible working conditions states, “the traditional model [of working practices] is not suitable for the 21st century”. The figures are striking. Whilst 45 per cent of doctors are now female, only 33.6 per cent are specialists, as opposed to 51.7 per cent who are GPs. The jobs that require long, irregular hours are, primarily, done by the men. Working as a GP allows for a more flexible (shorter) working day.
A whopping 47 per cent of women GPs are part-time. Not only can this interfere with a surgery’s hours of operation, it leads to potentially greater costs in training doctors (doubling up on staff to fill one post). It also risks fracturing the patient/doctor interaction. There is little chance of a therapeutic-relationship existing between the two parties if they virtually never see each other. But the drive to ‘fight overarching sexist structures’ has supplanted all such consideration.
When it comes to shiny, clever female doctors getting what they want, feminists are only too happy to fight the good fight. Women doctors are walking, talking proof that the girls are just as smart as the boys. The profession of nursing, however, does not appear to provoke such triumphant pugnaciousness in those same feminists. In fact, they are rather embarrassed by nursing’s traditionally feminised character. Some would go so far as to claim that the role of nurse is but an invention of the patriarchy.
As academic Joan Acker wrote, “organisations are one arena in which widely disseminated cultural images of gender are invented and reproduced”. Nowhere could this be truer than in girly-girly nursing. For many feminists, the doctor/nurse relationship places womanhood in the ‘demeaning’ half of an intellectual/caring binary. Sociologist Eva Gamarnikow went so far as to equate the doctor-nurse-patient relationship with the husband-wife-child relationship, and the late Jo Ann Ashley, nurse and feminist, described nursing as a “subservient role under the patriarchal system”. Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham viewed the construction of female roles such as nursing as an attempt to keep women ‘hidden from history’, part of the patriarchy’s grand attempt to side-line the girls, detaching them from the possibility of ever making any ground-breaking discoveries or contributions.
No, nursing ain’t cool. The diminution of the role has in all probability speeded up the disappearance of middle-class females from the profession. In an attempt to reverse such change, efforts were made to professionalise the field. It is now necessary to complete a university degree before one can register as a nurse. This has, in turn, placed a far greater financial burden on those who would enter the profession, making it less attractive to working-class women, and, as a result, has increased Britain’s dependence on foreign nurses (as I have previously written about here). But who cares! As long as nurses are doing pointless, expensive degrees and female GPs get to stay home with their families, all is tickety-boo in the feminist universe.
The women’s movement is noted for its campaigning. As a result of said endeavours it is now difficult for health authorities to do anything other than over-fund (relatively speaking) the treatment of specifically ‘female illnesses’. However, there is one NHS clinical area within which the tenets of feminism actually determine treatment-plans: abortion. The NHS funds 98 per cent of abortions in the UK. One might think that such a morally contentious issue, with such ardent advocates in its favour, might be able to fund its own clinics via donations. But no. We all have to pay for it.
That our healthcare is collectivised means it becomes the plaything of the dominant political discourse of the time. Feminism’s belief in a woman’s ‘right to choose’ has directly shaped the NHS’s approach to abortion. As the organisation’s own advice on the subject states:
The decision to have an abortion is yours alone … You may also want to speak to your partner, friends or family, but you don’t need to discuss it with anyone else and they don’t have a say in the final decision … Whenever possible, you should be given a choice of how you would like the abortion to be carried out.
And that’s that. That this is so obviously at odds with the spirit of the actual law on abortion does not seem to pose any particular problem. The Abortion Act states that the termination of a pregnancy can only be carried out if two registered medical practitioners believe that said pregnancy poses a risk to the life or health (physical or mental) of the pregnant woman, or if there is a substantial risk that the unborn child will be seriously “handicapped”. Feminist doctrine has supplanted actual law, and the NHS is only too happy to oblige. In 2015 only 2 per cent of abortions were carried out on the grounds that the child would be born “seriously handicapped”, whereas 38 per cent were to women who had previously had one or more abortions. Lifestyle-choice trumps health/baby-consideration.
The demands of feminism are often contradictory. Woman is at once powerful and the equal of man, whilst simultaneously in need of special and gentle conditions. To not meet these conditions is viewed as an attack on strong and powerful womanhood. The NHS, as taxpayer funded provider of health, is more susceptible than most to these strident demands. But it is willingly susceptible. The feminist tantrum continues to surge, smashing against the rocks of reality. But the rocks are giving way.