Going by the numbers, which is what we do these days, there was great gender inequality in my family: one daddy versus Mommy and four daughters. That would be intolerable in some places, Communist China for example.
We were also treated differently than boys.
Daddy was on his way to work at dawn, and when he got home he was drenched with sweat and covered with dirt and sometimes tar. He always took a bath last. We all had to use the same bath water so as not to overload the septic tank, until when we got connected to the city sewer system. Daddy dug a fascinating downhill-sloping ditch, with a pick and shovel. We were not allowed to help. Did we complain about the unfairness in these situations? We did not.
We sometimes had to go to work with him. He was a master bricklayer, carpenter, and general contractor. We picked up nails, cleaned and carried used brick, and swept floors. But we were not asked to shovel Portland cement or sand into the cement mixer. Did we call the gender police? No way.
Mom told me once that Daddy had hoped for sons—from the way he treated us, I never would have guessed. Sons would have been much more help to him—as his grandsons eventually were. When he was nine years old, one of my nephews proudly showed me how easily he could handle a wheelbarrow full of mortar, which I couldn’t budge.
Back in those days, there weren’t any nail guns. Every one of the thousands of nails in the buildings Daddy built was hammered in by hand. What a powerful right arm he had! Did I lament that men did more hard work than women just because they were stronger? No, I was grateful that all those bricks laid and nails hammered put me through medical school.
Should we try to do something about the 40 percent advantage in upper body strength and 25 percent advantage in lung capacity that men have? Should we force girls to take testosterone and constantly lift weights? We’d still have to cripple the men to even things out—or we could lower the bar and claim that women met the “same” standards.
The daddy had his prerogatives and his authority. He commanded respect, and he got it. We didn’t always like it, but in retrospect I can’t think of any way that he was wrong. He insisted on doing things right.
In our house it was obvious that boys are not the same as girls. Any other idea would have seemed crazy. Their roles were different.
We girls had to help with the laundry and the cooking, and might have to bring Daddy a glass of iced tea or cream and sugar for his coffee. Demeaning? That didn’t occur to us.
My dad was raised to treat women with great respect. As long as he could, he stood up when a woman entered the room. His oldest sister worked very hard to help raise her seven siblings. But my dad would never let her scrub the kitchen floor—he felt that would be beneath her, so he did it. He scrubbed the floors at my office for years also. He thought the dirtiest, hardest, dangerous jobs were for men. Should we have contradicted him?
He thought that women could do many things as well as or better than men. Mom helped with the bookwork, and really ran the business—in which he was the “boss-man” (which is not the same as the boss). And I had to get up early to calculate diagonals for him, so he could check that his corners were square, once I had learned the Pythagorean Theorem and the algorithm for calculating square roots, in seventh grade. (Our awesome clunky mechanical calculator could do long division, but there were no electronic devices that would give a square root at the press of a button.)
Daddy’s buildings were plain and solid, built to last and to be practical for construction, maintenance, and use. No silliness that people thought was trendy but that didn’t work. You had to make the best of what you had and cope with the world as it is, he said.
Orient’s First Law of Contracting is that water doesn’t run uphill.
And if everything were level, it wouldn’t run at all—just as nothing would work in a world of unnatural forced “equality.”
To us true equality meant that we thought Daddy was the best, and he thought his girls were the best. And as he would say of all of us, “Nobody ever had it so good.”
Dr. Jane M. Orient, M.D., has appeared on major television and radio networks in the U.S. speaking about issues related to Healthcare Reform.
Dr. Jane Orient is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a voice for patients’ and physicians’ independence since 1943.
She is currently president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness and has been the chairman of the Public Health Committee of the Pima County (Arizona) Medical Society since 1988.
Dr. Jane Orient has been in solo practice of general internal medicine in Tucson since 1981 and is a clinical lecturer in medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Her op-eds have been published in hundreds of local and national newspapers, magazines, internet, followed on major blogs and covered in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Dr. Jane Orient authored YOUR Doctor Is Not In: Healthy Skepticism about National Health Care, published by Crown; the second through fourth editions of Sapira’s Art and Science of Bedside Diagnosis, published by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; and Sutton’s Law, a novel about where the money is in medicine today.
Dr. Orient’s position on healthcare reform:
“The Healthcare plan will increase individual health insurance costs, and if the federal government puts price controls on the premiums, the companies will simply have to go out of business. Promises are made, but the Plan will deliver higher costs, more hassles, fewer choices, less innovation, and less patient care.”