I have been obsessed with reading the Mansplained Tumblr lately, and today I was reminded of an incident I experienced in my own life.
I have endometriosis, so it’s very important that I get annual pap smears. I prefer to have a lady perform them, although I haven’t always had the choice given the diversity of financial situations in my life. When I was a Junior in college, my university health center only had one doctor, a very old man with scary (purely my subjective opinion here) scabs all over his arms, which he partially covered with equally scary band-aids. I know what you’re thinking, that sounds like a quality pap smear right there. And you’d be entirely wrong.
Keep in mind, I was there to get my vagina swabbed. Nothing more, nothing less. As part of the standard paperwork, I was asked if I was allergic to anything. As usual, I wrote “codine, sulfa antibiotics and seasonal allergies.” No one had ever asked me to justify this list before, and no one has asked me since. But this man decided to inquire on each individually.
Dr. Scabby: You’re allergic to codine?
Me: Yes, it makes me violently nauseous.
Dr. S: That’s not an allergic reaction, that’s an irritation.
[Note: This is hilarious because the one and only time I was given codine, I was 11 and had just had a bunch of teeth pulled out of my mouth. I woke up puking only to discover that my mouth was packed with gauze and that nothing was coming out if I didn’t clear the obstruction. So, in a severely reduced state I had to fight both my mom and grandma to get all the gauze out of my mouth so I didn’t choke to death. You can call that “an irritation” if you want, but next time you find yourself unable to breathe, you might want to take the time to consider the cause of your condition and decide if you’ll ever willingly do that to yourself again.]
Dr. S: You’re allergic to all Sulfa drugs?
Me: I don’t know, I was just told to avoid them after I had a particularly bad reaction to a sulfa antibiotic a few years ago.
Dr. S: What was this bad reaction?
Me: I had an upper respiratory infection, and the whole time I was on the antibiotic I felt like I was actually getting worse and not better. Then once I was off them, I got a yeast infection that took six months under doctor supervision to finally get rid of.
Dr. S: See, this is the problem with girls your age. You think that because you just don’t like something that you’re allergic to it. Just because you don’t want to take something doesn’t mean you can go around saying you’re allergic. Drugs have side-effects. You kids all think you can just take a pill and make everything better. Science comes at a price, and if you’re unwilling to pay it, then why are you here?
Me: I’m just here for a pap smear. I have endometriosis and need to get one every year.
Dr. S: Who told you you have endometriosis? You can’t just go around saying you have endometriosis.
Me: My family doctor. My mom also has it.
Dr. S: And who said your mom had it?
Me: The doctors that delivered me. I was a c-section, so they could plainly see it.
Dr. S: Well, your mom may have it, but you shouldn’t go around saying you have endometriosis. People will think you’re infertile.
It’s not something I like to recall, but I’m fairly certain he went on complaining about how stupid my generation was straight through every stage of my exam.
And why the hell is my fertility or lack thereof any of his God damned business?
What a gross old creep. I can’t believe I let him touch my vagina. The things I do for a continuous supply of my amazing, life-giving birth control.
Speaking of which, this ass-hat apparently didn’t know, or didn’t care to think of the non-invasive ways (good) doctors determine if a person may have endometriosis. One of those is to put them on birth control and if the symptoms lighten up within the first month, it’s a pretty good bet that they have endometriosis. Especially if it’s already known that their mother had it.
I think I might know something about my own condition.
Anyway, I never went back there again.
Now that the story’s over, I do want to say that I’m not sure where the line is between being a condescending fuckhole and being a mansplainer. A lot of the Mansplained Tumblr stories are single encounter situations where it could just be somebody having a bad day, or someone who is a bad day all the time. The woman telling the story may not have the kind of access to this individual a person would need in order to determine that they concentrate their condescending explanations to women, thus turning them from a run of the mill dickwad, to a true mansplainer.
Dr. Scabby may well have been a complete fuckball to everyone he encountered. He may have been equally irrationally concerned with the perceptions of the fertility of the men who came to see him, and he may have spent just as much time condescendingly explaining the difference between a side effect and an allergic reaction to all the young people he saw. However, I don’t think so. The fact that he seemed to be overly concerned with my fertility is a dead give-away that his shittiness was gendered. (By the way, years later when I recounted part of this exchange with a different doctor, she said it was ridiculous to say my experiences were ‘just side effects,’ and that she would classify them as allergic reactions and she encouraged me to continue to write my allergies list in exactly the same manner if I never wanted to experience the consequences of those drugs again, which is exactly what I do.)
As much as I love Mansplained, there are more drawbacks than there are advantages to going through life maintaining an eye towards prejudice directed at you. It gets to where you spend more time than is necessary trying to decide if an action was hateful on the basis of minority status, or if it was just hateful. In the long run, there’s little difference. It’s better to leave the jack-offs to themselves and get on with our lives.