How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
"Do you prefer to go to female gynecologists?" I asked my tattoo artist last night.
It was actually one of the less unusual topics we'd discussed, considering we had also been talking about mourning hair wreaths, first dates that end in tragic accidents, and tattoos with their own little breast implants. The question came up because I had been wondering if I'd ever go to a male tattoo artist ever again after being thrilled with Becca Genne-Bacon's phenomenal work — and I told her so.
"Oh, that's silly," she said.
And in many ways, she's right. Just because she's an incredibly talented tattoo artist doesn't mean that women tattoo artists are more talented overall and that there aren't male tattoo artists who could live up to the high standards she's set for me. But there are other reasons someone might prefer going to a woman; whether it's the perception that a woman is more compassionate about the pain or a woman preferring another woman to be the one touching their body for an extended period of time, those are understandable justifications for choosing a female tattooer.
Actually, those are more or less the reasons I've only ever gone to female gynecologists. Although I'm not as shy about being examined by a man at this point in my life, I was very shy when I started going to the gyno in my late teens — I insisted on a woman at the time. Since then, my preference hasn't changed, but my reasoning has evolved: I figure, if a male and female gynecologist have identical qualifications, I'll get the added benefit of empathy from someone who's lived with the same anatomy.
Because I know so many women who also prefer — and even insist on — female practitioners, I've always wondered if male gynecologists would eventually become extinct; that the only reason they even exist is because modern gynecology happened before female doctors did. (As recently as 1970, only nine percent of medical students in the US were women. Doesn't that seem crazypants?) But a 2005 study featured in the The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association seems to secure the future of male vag doctors for a while, even though women now make up the majority of these specialists.
The results of the 264-woman survey: "The majority of patients (66.6%) had no gender bias when selecting an obstetrician-gynecologist, and an even larger majority (80.8%) felt that physician gender does not influence quality of care. There was no statistical difference in patient satisfaction based on physician sex. Respondents self-reporting gender bias rarely selected obstetrician-gynecologists based solely on this factor and frequently choose physicians of the sex that was not their indicated preference, suggesting that several factors other than gender preference are more important in physician selection."
But after my conversation with Becca and my looking up that study with the arm that wasn't being tattooed, my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to ask other people if they purposely choose women when it comes to certain professions.
First, I asked my friend Sonny when I got a drink with her after my tattoo session.
"I've always seen female hairdressers, and I don't think that I would switch; I think our reference points are the same, so I think that makes it easier to communicate what I want," she said. "I also hate going to male dentists. I once had a panic attack going to a male dentist. I don't know why. A lady dentist is more calming to me."
As she was answering me — I swear I was listening, Sonny — I was emailing XO regulars the same question.
"I prefer female gynos and also tattoo artists," Emily told me. "All of the work on my body is done by women except the small anchor on my hand, which I let a dude do because it was free in a bar and he was a total dick about it and made fun of my tattoo pick and tried to talk me into getting a gross FLY instead of an adorable anchor, justifying my choice to support female artists."
"For me, I prefer female OB/GYN, masseuse, primary care doc and shrink. Because women are just... better. Kidding? Maybe?" Laura said. "But I feel more comfortable with women in those kinds of more intimate medical situations, like having my lady parts examined or crying about being alone and unloved forever."
"I prefer women masseuses because, in my experience, they tend to use a firmer pressure on me, i.e., they hurt more. And I LOVE it. Hurts so good," Louise emailed while singing John Mellencamp, or so I hope. "Usually, I also prefer women doctors, too. I feel more comfortable with them. But my favorite dentist ever, the one who never hurt me and was sensitive to my crazy dentist anxiety, was a man."
"I only prefer women in situations of friendship, bar crawls, or intimate waxing," Rachel explained. "Everything else I can go either way."
"I'm a gender rebel and honestly don't care, but I will note that all of my positive gynecological and surgical services have involved male practitioners," said s.e., who would like to remind you, "Anecdotes are not data, though!"
And then Courtney was all, "I will only go to a female gyno because I don't want some random dude fisting me."
But what about dudes? While many women choose to go to female professionals out of comfort or even a sense of feminism, do guys ever insist on women for certain services? (Yeah, yeah, obvious sex joke. Move along.)
My friend Josh was bartending last night, so after asking Sonny, I repeated the question for him. His response: "I like when women are in control of creative things. We had a woman direct my band's last couple videos very much on purpose."
And Tynan was super-quick to respond to my email with, "TATTOO ARTIST. My last tattoo was done by a woman and I vowed to never have another one done by a dude again."
Which brings me back to Becca, who told me that even though she has often been included in articles about "lady tattoo artists" and understands the desire to champion women in the industry, she doesn't necessarily love the "lady" qualifier.
"I'm a tattoo artist." Full stop.
And a damn good one, which is the primary reason I go to her.
How about you? Do you strongly prefer being the client or patient of a woman in certain situations?