sexism and medical school

Equality in need of Resuscitation

Self esteem story about sexism, issues with parents and society’s expectations

I am a fourth year female medical student in Pakistan. Growing up, my parents never actually said that I was lesser than anyone else. They just never let me forget that I was a girl and that I was expected to dress, talk, behave a certain way; the way society expected me to. And if I didn’t, well, what would people say?

I never understood it and found it annoying. Why the emphasis on other people’s opinions? It was my life, wasn’t it?

“Its just the way it is,” I was told. “This is your community. You’re expected to behave a certain way.”

As I grew older, I learned that society expected me to be quiet. They expected me to be subdued, polite, helpful but not assertive. In short, they expected me to behave the way a traditional Pakistani woman should. Everything, I realized, was about my gender. It didn’t matter what kind of a person I was, it didn’t matter that I’d been accepted into medical college; my gender was the first thing people considered, and treated me accordingly. An aunt pointed out that I didn’t have to worry about my grades, as my husband would eventually support me. My teachers kept pointing out that I was ’just a girl,’ ‘too emotional’ and ‘I should pick a job that I could handle with my housework’. It was infuriating, because no matter how well I did something, it was assumed that a man would be better at it. I was always seen as inferior, second-rate to a man. My annoyance grew into frustration; my frustration into anger. Each time I heard their words, I wanted to lash out, point out that I was more than just my gender. But other girls told me not to make a big deal out of it. “They’re joking”, they explained. “Just smile and change the subject, that’s what you’re supposed to do.” So that’s what I did. I hid my anger behind fake smiles and clenched fists, walked away and told myself it didn’t effect me. But I was only lying to myself.

When I started my third year of medical school, I was partnered on a project with a guy named Rashid. I’d seen him, but had never spoken to him before. A friend assured me he was one of the smartest med-students in our year.

When we first ‘met’, he didn’t even look at me to start with, fiddling with his phone instead. He finally glanced at me and said, “I’ve never seen you in class before.”
I stared at him. ‘We’ve been studying together for two years,’ I thought, ‘how could you not have seen me?’

But I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot or cause trouble. So I meekly said, “I’m pretty quiet. Most people don’t notice me.”

He smiled and nodded. “Well, you should learn to talk more,” he said. “Maybe smile a little too. You’re too serious; it can creep a guy out.” He laughed. ‘He’s just joking,’ I told myself and smiled weakly.

Rashid was definitely not serious, or quiet. When we worked, he talked, laughed, made jokes, and persistently disregarded all of my suggestions. I tried to get him to take me seriously, but he brushed me off, telling me: “You don’t get it, but I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry.”
His dismissive behavior was irritating; it made me feel menial. I felt confused. I didn’t want to work in such an unequal partnership; even if there were flaws in his ideas, Rashid still wouldn’t listen to me. These weren’t just words I could ignore; I was actively being suppressed by someone. But no one seemed to understand that. My friends told me I was being ridiculous—“he’s doing all the work,” “You don’t have anything to worry about,” and “give his ideas a chance.” My mother told me I should try being nicer to him. Again and again I was reminded: ‘He’s a guy, he knows best. You should be thankful.’

I felt trapped, confused, with no one to help me. I knew I was a good student; I wasn’t an idiot, and we were supposed to be working as equals. So why, I asked myself, shouldn’t I have an equal voice? Yet, I took their advice; I shut up, and followed Rashid, because I didn’t know what else to do. It was relieving, in a way, because as long as I listened to him we didn’t argue. But internally, I grew more frustrated, wanting to speak up, but held back by my own self-doubt. I became depressed with my inability to assert myself, and as time passed my inner turmoil grew.
Then one day, a few weeks before the project ended, we hit a snag. Rashid couldn’t think of a solution to a particular problem, so I offered some suggestions.

“Be quiet,” he told me, “I’m trying to think here.”

And suddenly I was furious. I’d been quiet for too long. He was out of options and he still wouldn’t listen to me. I was tired and so angry that all of a sudden that I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t shut up. Instead I told him that for once, he needed to listen to me. He didn’t take it well. We started arguing again, and it got heated to the point where we were sitting across a table, yelling, both equally frustrated with each other.

“You don’t trust me!” he accused, jabbing a finger in my face. “You’ve had a problem with me every step of the way!”

“What does this have to do with trust?” I pointed out. “I’m not questioning your judgment; I have a
right to state my opinion.”

“You’re never happy with anything,” he fumed. “Your problem is that you don’t respect me and what I’m doing here!”

This was too much to take; I laughed disbelievingly. “And what the hell should I respect you for anyway?” I demanded.

We both went home angry, our problem unresolved.

When I arrived at college the next day, I found myself summoned to the professor’s office. Rashid had complained about me. After a discussion which lasted for an hour, I was deemed to be the problem and was officially taken off the project.

It was a shock. I was angry and upset at everyone and at myself. But at the same time, I felt relieved. I wouldn’t have anyone bossing me around.

My friends were horrified; they wanted me to talk to Rashid and ask him to take me back, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to be subjugated anymore; didn’t want to stand at his side in silent frustration. And for the first time I realized that that was enough. My anger had given me a sort of clarity, making me see that by listening to the others, I had been suppressing myself. They had made me feel inferior, made me doubt my own instincts, and I’d let them. Listening to myself had made me happy, released me from something that had only caused me grief. I realized that I didn’t have to listen to others; my own instincts were good enough. I recognized I am enough. It was a liberating and oddly comforting thought; just thinking it made me feel better about myself.

Now, when people try to put me down, I don’t let them. I look them in the eye and talk back. Because I know my worth; I’m not lesser than anyone.

homosexuality and self esteem

How We Learned to Love Me

Self esteem story about a boy coming out of the closet and fighting for his parents acceptance

My first attempt at coming out of the closet was traumatic. My mother overheard me talking on the phone with a guy and told my dad about it. That night, my parents made one of my biggest life decisions: I was not going to be gay. I wrote my dad a letter to help him understand. He ripped it up and said, “Let’s forget about this and pretend it never happened”. From that moment on, I fought the most important battle of my life; my fight for self-acceptance; my war against depression.

In retrospect, I am sure my parents always knew about my orientation from a young age. I remember they took me to therapy when I was about 8 years old. However, the psychologist looked obviously gay, so that only lasted a couple of sessions. Also, I recall having blood tests every now and then for apparently no reason. I’ve since learned these were hormone tests, which my parents and doctor ordered in an attempt to figure out what was going on with me even before I had any clue I was ‘different’.

And me? Well, by the time it hit me, I was already a very awkward and very sad 12-year-old boy. My years in middle school were surrounded by constant bullying because of, well … a lot of things. My skin, my weight, my awkwardness, and, starting in tenth grade, my sexual orientation.

In response, I ate. I could spend a whole day eating because food was comforting and made me feel better. I was judged for being fat. So I felt worse and ate more. I hated being fat, but I didn’t see an alternative way to protect myself. Food gave me comfort, a form of love and acceptance; I found shelter in it.

My parents tried everything they could to help me with my ‘problem’. They tried to change the way I dressed, the music I liked and the people I hung out with. They transferred me to a private school just to be away from a couple of gay kids at my old school.

During this time, I developed my first boyhood crush. I fell for an older guy, who lived a few doors down. I don’t know if he noticed, but I think it’s hard for a boy to hide his infatuation when you’re just entering puberty. I never told anyone about my feelings. As it happened, as fast as I fell in, I fell out of love with him. Even though I realized I was attracted to a man, the thought of being gay never crossed my mind. Maybe it was because I didn’t know any gay people to that point, or at least I didn’t pay that much attention to them.

Growing up in the 90’s in rural Mexico, a gay man was pretty much a stereotype and I didn’t really identify with that—I still don’t. My parents, on the other hand, saw these flamboyant men and thought that was what was in store for me, a life of ridiculous behavior, sexual depravation and probably AIDS. That is what they knew of gay people and they were scared of having a son like this.

Unfortunately for them, I always preferred arts over sports. My dad had this saying: “A man has to be ugly, strong and formal”, and even though I didn’t know what he meant by ‘formal’, I certainly qualified as ugly, as those around me would reminded me. My dad insisted on me doing manly stuff (which I did, and some of it I actually enjoyed), while my mom’s heart was slowly crushed by fear. Seeing my mother cry, I compartmentalized the pain and tried to change. I tried to be attracted to girls but it didn’t work. I just hated myself more. I hated myself for being fat, for being lonely, for making my mom cry, for not standing up to my dad, and for not having a single redeeming quality. I was a bag of flaws, a pile of nothing. Sadly, no one appeared to notice how miserable I was. I was the little, chubby, ugly, gay boy who would not talk to people. I had arrived at a truly dark, depressed place in life.

With all these things going on at home, I managed to finish middle school (barely, I must say), and when I entered high school, I knew something had to change. In the beginning, it was just introducing myself by my middle name instead of my first. I don’t know if this triggered everything else, but high school was definitely a big transition for me. I was being liked by my schoolmates and even by the teachers for the first time.

Not everything was perfect: one of the bullies from middle school was in my class again, but I developed a way to keep her at bay. First, I discovered that I could fight back. But that didn’t feel right; why would I want to say something hurtful when I very well knew how it felt to be bullied? So I found a new strategy: compliments. I realized that when you say nice things to others, they are more likely to like and trust you; so I learned how to be a good friend. I founded my school’s theater company, I was part of the band and I represented the school in regional science contests. My life was turning around and a lot of it happened because I decided the challenging things I had endured before wouldn’t define me. I could be happy, I could be proactive and I could create beauty. I discovered I wasn’t dumb as I had previously been led to believe. And while I am still clumsy when compared to a jock, I like to think this is just part of my charm. In my dark days of middle school, I couldn’t conceive of any of this.

Things at home, however, were not going as well. My parents were still trying hard to change me and introducing me to girls. I could barely talk to either the girls or my parents before I had to escape, locking myself in my room. And when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was flaws. My skin was too dark, my body was too big and fat and my face was too ugly. On top of that, I felt really guilty for caring about such things because they were ‘girly’ worries. Why would a man care about how he looks? But how I looked was important to me. I wanted to be attractive and I thought that if I could just change my appearance, then everything in my life would find its proper place.

I started to write. I created songs, poems, stories, all to express myself and what I thought about the world. I was very political for a 15 year old. I guess, my ideas were something I could rely on and that could keep me away from feelings. Even when I liked art, I was more interested in the intellectual part of it, rather than the emotions within it. Ideas were safe, whereas feelings made me feel vulnerable.

I developed a good sense of humor and I found I could sing. I was, you may say, blooming. But all this growth was completely hidden from my parents. The moment I re-entered our home each day, I went back to being quiet and miserable. I knew my parents would not like who I was becoming, so not telling them seemed like the best choice.

High school was almost over when I first kissed another teenager. And it was a game changer. Not because of the guy, but because it made me feel powerful as opposed to powerless. I was, for the first time, in touch with my sexuality after years of watching other people trying to define it for me. I now had the first taste of really living my own life; finally I was the protagonist. From that moment on, I started to believe I could be the one who defined my life. Before that, I found comfort in being the listener, because I assumed I had nothing interesting to say. Now it was about finding someone who’d listen.

With time I found my first boyfriend. We were two sad people, desperate to be held by someone else. But it was deeply validating for me. I thought that if I could be attractive to one person, then it was not that crazy to think other people may like me also. My idea that I was unlovable was uplifting. My parents found out (I’ve never been good with lies) and stopped talking to me for a short while. I was scared to become someone they would not recognize. I feared becoming a stranger to my own parents, and that was very painful. When they finally spoke to me again, all my mom said was “be discrete”. Apparently, being gay was O.K. now as long as no one knew. Later, my dad told me we needed to talk. When I approached him he asked, “Are you still my son?” I said, “yes.” He paused and my heart raced a million miles an hour. “Then I love you,” he finally said, no big displays of affection, just the right words at the right moment. That is all we each needed to know at the end of the day, that is all that mattered.

From then on, my parents started to accept me rather than trying to change me. Looking back, I realize what they did was because they love me and they thought it was the right thing to do at the time; they just wanted me to have a normal and happy life, how could I reproach that? Today, my mom is very open and supportive of my lifestyle, while my dad tries to not talk about it yet still shows me his love and supports me. And I am conscious I have been lucky. I have a wonderful family and now, an amazing boyfriend whom they also love.

I now know I have the right to be loved and some people actually love me for who I am, despite my differences. And most important of all, I have learned how to love myself, beyond looks, ideas and abilities. I love myself because I choose to, and that power has pushed me forward ever since. I am now also capable of loving someone else, accepting them for who they are, differences and all. My dad was right, love is all that matters.


Pretty Woman

It was the start of my journey. I was travelling the world and at 24 I was independent, full of life and head over heels in love. I felt like a woman now, no longer a girl. Two years prior on a Greek Island called Kos, I fell for a tall, muscular, dark haired and very handsome Scottish man. He had a charm to him that the girls went crazy for. I certainly did. I looked into his eyes that first night and I felt like I knew him, as though I’d known him all of my life. I was infatuated. A year later we met up in Kos again and he visited me in Manchester shortly afterwards. We talked excitingly about travelling the world together, our eyes sparkling with dreams. I moved to Scotland to be with him. It was a whirlwind love affair and we travelled for four months together before it fell apart in Melbourne, Australia.

When he left me I lost myself. No job, no money, no confidence and no boyfriend. I was heartbroken, it having shattered into a millions of pieces. I fell into a dark black hole where I felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my soul. I clung onto the memories of my previous ecstasy, and replayed them over and over in my head.

He had herpes and this affected his sex drive, so he often pushed me away. He would close his eyes and turn into what can only be described as a human statue. What was wrong with me? There was no communication and it was a continuous rejection when I was with him. I later found out that he was sleeping around with other women.

Rage, anger, depression: they took over my usual optimistic sunny nature and I hated myself for still loving him. It felt as though my confidence and self-esteem had hit an all time low, however in hindsight, there was much more to come. I closed up and grieved, cried and reflected. I felt ugly and unattractive. I would spend hours writing, just so I could try and make sense of what had happened. What had happened?

I had nowhere to go. I was on the other side of the world alone, with no money and found myself living in the home of an orthodox Jewish family, digging mud and cleaning for two and a half hours a day in return for accommodation. My support networks and everything I knew in my world to be familiar and comforting had disappeared. I had nobody. I realised that my life, my travels, my dreams had vanished. They were lost in the bottom of the ocean, in the depths of my despair, the unjust ending to my fairytale had been sourly written. Maktub.

I lied myself into a job as a food and wine taster for an upmarket restaurant which lasted two weeks until they realised I didn’t know what I was doing. During this time I bumped into a friend of mine who was making good money stripping. She seemed to be living a good life and able to afford whatever her heart desired. The seed had been planted. After an internal dialogue and debate that ensued for over a week, I decided I would follow suit. I was nervous but it I told myself it was necessary. I ran and worked out every day for two weeks before going for the interview at an upmarket strip club. I got the job. I was there for a month and averaged $3,000 a week.

I danced, I felt sexy and alive. Men were paying to see my body. I created a stage persona: Alexa, who was wild and free. It was an incredibly liberating experience. Men were paying hundreds of dollars for my time and I felt beautiful. The world was my oyster. Champagne and wine was on offer all night and the clients weren’t allowed to touch me. My confidence grew and I felt like a sexual goddess! Men are such visual creatures. All I needed to do was look a certain way, flirt, flatter them a little and in one night you’ve gained yourself a weekly wage. I thought all of my problems had been solved: I felt desirable again. I was able to save money and pay for a house share. Life was on the up.

Wind forwards a couple of months and I had raised enough funds to travel the East coast of Australia, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Cuba, England and Amsterdam. Eventually I returned to Australia broke again. Budgeting hadn’t ever been a strong point of mine. One of my best friends from back home, in England, was getting married and I promised her I’d be there to give a reading at the wedding. I had a few months to raise the funds and get back.

A male friend was working as an escort in Sydney and I knew he made a lot of money. If I could strip, I figured I could do this. Oh god, could I do this? I wasn’t sure but I needed cash desperately; there seemed to be no other viable option where I could make thousands of dollars in such a small space of time.

I knew about Sydney’s seedy Kings Cross prostitution district, which was definitely not where I imagined myself. I had knots flying around in my belly. Still deeply heartbroken, I hadn’t had sex with anybody in a long time. When would I get over him? I began reading books and watching television programs on escorting. It seemed glamorous—almost. Maybe I could do it? How else could I raise the funds? My gut was screaming at me not to but I needed money fast. I ignored it.

A few days later I started as an escort for a respectable agency in the city. Whilst my days were spent servicing clients in the business world as a marketing consultant (a real job I managed to get and keep), my nights were spent servicing a different type of clientele in an extremely special way. After my first night, I slowly began to feel more and more confident in my powers of seduction. Tricks of the trade were shared by other escorts and I used them to my advantage.

body and self esteem issues I began to see it as a social service—almost. Some of the men were incredibly rich and powerful and I was wined and dined in some of Sydney’s finest restaurants. They had everything but they weren’t happy. They just wanted somebody to talk to, to fill the void, to make them feel like a man, to be desired. I could empathise with that. I too wanted to be desired. The more money they had, the emptier they were. Money it seemed does not buy happiness. If anything, I concluded, it caused more problems.

Each client was different and taught me something about life, and about myself. The higher the potential for ones happiness it seemed, the higher the potential for self sabotage. Is this human nature? Are we always seeking something more? Does greed rule our existence? I was becoming philosophical.

I began to question life, I began to question myself. I was selling my body in return for money, a flight, an adventure, a promise. My body is mine, its precious, and I was letting complete strangers enter it for the sake of a dollar bill. I was confused because there was a huge part of me that said actually, this is ok! It made me feel bad because society looked down on prostitution. I realised that if the views of the world had been different, if escorting became the norm as opposed to a taboo, I would have felt good or at least better about what I was doing. Why should the world dictate how I feel about myself? I felt alive and sexy and simultaneously ashamed and empty. I realised that if I were to carry on this type of work for much longer, there would be a good chance I would become de-sensitised to sex and sensuality and it would affect my heart, soul, personality and future relationships. Everything was at stake.

By the end of the month I’d made almost $10,000 and my life views on politics, the sex industry and business had been challenged in many ways. I was a different person, a better person. I had time for everybody and stopped judging others. After all, I’d never walked in their shoes. I’d found a new respect for people, even if I didn’t totally respect myself. I saw the good in everybody because I knew what we were all capable of: good and bad, love and hate, we could be dressed in rags or bathing in riches. Alike in soul, diverse in outer experience, I saw us all as one: each human marked individually by life experience. The escorting had given me more humility than I ever could have imagined and I realised that money, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t worth the evacuation of my self-respect. Sometimes we need what’s worst in us to achieve what’s best.

Jude was my last client. He looked at me and seemed to see through me. “Why are you doing this? Your too smart to be doing something like this?”

“I love it,” I replied. “I love meeting new people and I LOVE having sex, so why not?” I giggled provocatively and flicked my hair over my shoulder.

Jude looked at me with disbelief. “Why are you really doing this?”

I sighed. OK, he knows. “I’m doing it because one of my best friends is getting married next month and I promised I would be there, so I’m trying to raise the money to get back for the wedding. She means a lot to me and I never break my promises.”

“Self importance and self pity are two sides of the same coin, and you don’t need either of them in your life”.

I let what he had said sink in, and I realised he was right. Had I been wearing a mask all of this time? Why had I sold myself out?

We talked for hours, and after the first two hours which he had paid for, I decided to pay him back. Jude was giving me something much more valuable than money; he was helping me to reinstall my dignity. It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

“What’s the most important value?”

I hesitated… “Honesty.”

“I’d say it is sincerity. You can’t be honest if you’re not sincere”.

I smiled and reflected. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, what I wanted to achieve. “I want to live an extraordinary life of excitement and adventure. I want to travel the world.”

Jude smiled. “You already are.”

Maybe he was right, maybe I was. Maybe we all are and we just don’t realise it. We always want more. If happiness is contentment, are we ever really content with what we have? I wanted to stop the escorting there and then. It wasn’t me and Jude had made me realise that. He brought out my true self again, my true values. I will always be indebted to him for that reason.

I quit the agency, had a thorough STI check and spent a week surfing, shopping and philosophising on life. I took three clients on for my new marketing consultancy business and decided to introduce a blank invoicing system. It was my way of being true to myself. I would send my clients a blank invoice, and they would decide my worth. Money after all, wasn’t going to buy me happiness.

Putting myself on a ‘sex ban’ for two months, I visited 6 countries before arriving in England for the big wedding day. I felt proud of myself for being there, staying true to my word. I felt on top of the world, like I was finally coming out the ‘other side’. Afterwards I visited another 7 countries, interviewing people from all over the world, and I realised that we all seem to be living our lives through love or fear. While learning about their stories, I started to love myself and life all over again.

Forgiving myself was the most important step I took towards a happy future. Whether it’s of yourself or another, I highly recommend it. Because we create our own prisons (in our mind), we are able to create our own freedom also. We’re all one. We’re all the same. We’re all amazing. Some of us just don’t realise it yet.