THE DELICATE FEELINGS OF MEDICAL MEN. TT is rather an
odd thing to observe that it was not the delicate feelings of women which interfered, first, with our having women doctors, and then, with our giving them the full advan- tages of their professional position, but the delicate feelings of men. The British Medical Association has cast out one of its two female members, and kept the other one like a drop of colouring matter in the ocean of its delicacy,—the only turbid element in an Association of about 7,500 members,—because a great majority of the medical men who belong to that Association have feelings so sensitive, that they cannot endure the prospect of discussing medical questions in the presence of properly qualified medical women. We confess ourselves quite unprepared for this rather startling result. We did suppose it possible that some of the new women doctors might shrink from joining the general associations at which medical questions are discussed,—might so shrink, that is, from feelings, not, perhaps, of true delicacy, for in these matters the truest delicacy seems to us the pure scientific spirit which treats all medical questions from the point of view of eager and sincere medical investigation, but from a lingering of that not very courage- ous feeling which makes it painful to do what is quite sure to be sometimes misconstrued. But we were wrong. At present it seems that those women who have had that strong vocation for the medical profession which alone rendered it possible for them to get over the great difficulties in the way, have also got over the slight additional aversion which they might have felt to joining in general discussions of medical questions amongst societies con- sisting chiefly of men. It is on the man's side that the feeling of -delicacy has proved overpoweringly strong.
And oddly enough, this feeling of delicacy, instead of being strongest on the first proposal to associate educated medical women with educated medical men in the discussion of medical subjects, seems to have been only latent at first, and to have burst into active life only as the party feeling on the subject grew. The British Medical Association, numbering, as we have said, in all its branches about 7,500 members, elected Mrs. Garrett Anderson a member five years and a half ago. She was then proposed as a member of the London Branch, and the proposal-paper contained the names of about a dozen of the leading consulting practitioners in London, though only three names were needed. She was elected unanimously by the Committee,—of which Committee Dr. Wilson Fox, who has now become one of the leaders of the move- ment for excluding women from the Association, was at that time a member,—and she has attended many meet- ings of the London Branch, two general meetings, and has spoken repeatedly, without exciting any medical antagonism or, we believe, even criticism. Two years after Mrs. Garrett Anderson's election, Mrs. Hoggan, M.D., not at that time a registered practitioner, because no English body conferring a licence to practise in England would at that time open the way for a woman, however well educated, to practise in this country, applied for admission, and was at once elected a member. So it is obvious that it is not the mere shock to traditional feeling which has so much excited the sensitiveness of our medical men. It is on mature reflection only, that the horror of discussing medical questions with properly educated women has grown upon them, and that their medical conscience has revolted from it.
However, no sooner had the Senate of the University of London decided on admitting women to its medical degrees, than Sir William Jenner and Dr. Wilson Fox declared their intention of acceding from the Medical Association, if women were to be re- garded as admissible to it for the future; and at the general meeting at Bath held early in this month, a new bye-law was proposed, 6' That no female be eligible as a member of the Association." It was stated that a majority of about three to one of the members of the Association were hostile to the admission of women ; and it was generally assumed that the question ought to be discussed
and decided as a club question only,—i.e., merely as a question whether the admission of women would or would not render the discussion of medical subjects less pleasant, or even positively repulsive, to a majority of these members. The proposer of the new bye-law, Dr. Wade, put the matter exclusively on that foot- ing, and the seconder of the new bye-law, Dr. A. P. Stewart, who had originally proposed Mrs. Garrett Anderson as a member of the London Branch, put it on the same ground :—" It had been shown that there was a strong preponderance of feeling against the admission of ladies, and he thought it was not right that their presence should be forced upon the majority of the members, even to please a very influential minority." Thus nothing was wanting to make it a question of the delicacy of masculine feeling, and of that delicaoy of feeling alone. Mrs. Garrett Anderson herself appears to have been the only speaker who protested against so narrow a view of the question, and who recalled to the Association its declared object,—" the promotion of medical and the allied sciences, and the maintenance of the honour and the interests of the Medical profession" by the aid of all the obvious means—and who pressed upon its members whether it was possible to exclude from their number a section of rather special practitioners, who were likely to see a good deal more of women's and children's characteristic maladies than any others, without grave injury to the study of "medical and the allied sciences ;" and whether, admitting the probability of that injury, it was right for the Association to run the risk of it, from mere deference to the feelings of those who chose to shrink from dis- cussing medical subjects in the presence of women :—
"No one can venture to say that medical science will be promoted by excluding from the Association a body of honest and painstaking workers, who will bring to the study of many important problems some experience of their own essentially different from that of male prac- titioners. Take, for example, that large and difficult class of ailments, the functional nervous diseases of women reaching up to severe hysteria ; is it not likely that medical women will see a groat deal of this group of ailments ; that they will in time form an opinion upon their mode of origin and the means of cure which it would be more for the advantage of medical science to hear and to discuss than to suppress ? But there is another and wider argument. If the Association exist to promote medical science, it ought to aim at promoting it generally, and not partially. If women are bond fide members of the profession, and really pursuing not merely the trade, but the culgus, of medicine, then I think we have a right to claim that you should not be indifferent about our aivance, any more than your own ; that you should wish that every fresh wave of progress, the wave which results from the impulse of mind upon mind, from discussion, and from contrasted experience, should carry us as well as yourselves forward. It cannot help forward medical science to hinder any pursuing it from advancing as far as they might advance, if allowed the stimulus of professional or corporate life."
But these arguments—which are, indeed, quite unanswerable— were of no avail. The wish of the majority carried the day. And not only did the majority carry it, but they availed themselves of the fact that one of the two female members of the Association, Mrs. Hoggan, M.D., was not a registered practitioner at the time of her election,—which, of course, the Committee who elected her knew perfectly well,—to get rid of her from the ranks of the Association, by pleading that at the time of her election she was not properly qualified for membership by registration. And though Mrs. Hoggan is properly qualified as a registered practi- tioner now, the vote excluding female members for the future, was regarded as a sufficient reason against her re-election. This —the shabbiest part of the whole procedure, since it is certain that Mrs. Hoggan had secured, through her no doubt irregular election by the Committee, the same moral claim to membership as Mrs. Anderson herself—should have been followed by the expulsion of Mrs. Garrett Anderson, under the third bye-law, which em- powers the Committee of the Council of the Association to expel a member, if the resolution expelling that member be carried by three-fourths of the Committee men present, and be confirmed by the next annual general meeting. But from this step the delicacy of the doctors appears to have shrunk. Keenly as they have come to feel the difficulty of discussing medical questions in any woman doctor's presence, they are nevertheless unequal to the effort needful to expel Mrs. Anderson. Perhaps they cannot quite count on the needful majority of three-fourths at the Committee of Council. Perhaps—for doctors are evidently sensitive creatures —they dread the verdict of public opinion on so invidious a step as this. They prefer doing things as they did them in Mrs. Hoggan's case, by a side-wind. Indeed susceptibility of feeling, where, as in the case of the medical practitioners of the British. Medical Association, it does not venture to justify itself by reasoning, is very apt to be capricious,—to show sensitiveness where there should be courage, and delicacy where there should be plain-speaking and sound scientific straightforwardness. It will be said, perhaps, by some—we have heard it said—that men have really more true delicacy than women, and that their reserve in this matter is not affected, but genuine. But we cannot conceive what reply there can be to Mrs. Anderson's argument on this head :—
"Is there really the least real impropriety, or even anything incom- patible with refined taste, in men and women who are working at the &MO subjects every day in their lives meeting each other once a year, or oftener, and talking over their work ? So far as I can judge, it seems to me there is absolutely nothing in the slightest degree opposed to true delicacy in this proceeding ; and when I read how shocked some members were at my joining in the discussion on pleuritic effusions, I am almost felt driven to rub my eyes and say, 'Am I dreaming, or are these people crazy ? How can they get through any one day in the year, if they cannot speak frankly and easily to women on very much more awkward subjects than this ?' In fact, with every wish to accept this objection as sincere, I feel driven to say plainly that I find it impossible to do so. These men, of such ultra-fastidious refinement, have all had out-patient hospital practice, mainly among women ; they have neces- sarily heard from their patients every symptom described in the most unrefined way; they have bad in private practice to get at facts upon every sort of illness in the case of women of all classes, ignorant of medical terms, and therefore clumsy in their modes of expression ; they have constantly to explain to female nurses what they wish done, and to inquire of them upon facts not alluded to except for professional pur- poses; and after doing all this for years, they find it impossible, without a shock to their moral refinement and sense of delicacy, to discuss pleuritic effusions in the presence of a woman !"
The truth is, we take it, that the delicacy of the medical men's feelings in this matter is chiefly the result of partisanship. It has grown with opposition, and is not so much grounded on their real inability to make the effort needful to speak their scientific minds in a woman's presence, as on their conception of what their feeling ought to be, if it were in perfect keeping with their published opinions. They have persisted in viewing medical women as women simply, and not as students of medical science, and they accommodate their actions to their preposses- sions. Having made up their mind that a woman is a woman, and that being a woman, she ought not to be a doctor, they ignore the doctor, and think only of the woman,—and of course, therefore, they feel an increasing aversion to merge the sex of women doctors in their professional knowledge and acquirements. But if the delicacy were a matter of pure feeling, and not factitious, it would have been felt more at first than it is now ; Mrs. Garrett Anderson's proposal-paper would not have been signed by a dozen or so from amongst the most eminent practitioners in London five and a half years ago, while now medical opinion rather urges her to resign. It is the logic of party, not the logic of feeling, which has led to this revolutionary action in the British Medical Association. After all, we may be relieved about the extreme susceptibility of medical men. Probably, after all, it would take much less effort on the part of men to force themselves to hear the genuine medical experience of women, than it does on the part of women to contribute their medical experience to a society consisting chiefly of men. The too susceptible Doctors of our day are susceptible for a purpose. Their susceptibility will cease when the party feeling which produced it has expired.