After dropping off our friend Lucy at the airport, we drive to Caroline’s house in Nashville. Caroline, 26, is my back-in-the-day friend from Wesleyan. Raised in Montclair, New Jersey, she has been in Nashville for 3 years getting her medical degree at Vanderbilt.
Over thai food that night, Caroline (right and below, in a honky tonk on Broadway, Nashville's main stretch) tells us that she absolutely considers herself a feminist. “It’s something about myself that I have always known since I was young,” she says. Caroline describes her family as a “feminist household,” crediting both her mom and her dad for raising her that way. “My mom is outspoken but never really got to do some of the things that she was interested in because it was a different time.” She tells us that her mom, who is a teacher, regrets not getting professionally training until her late thirties, so it was important to her for children to have professional careers. “Both me and my sister are both off-the-beaten-path kind of people, but we are both in professional schools, and that’s not an accident. My mom wanted us to be able to support ourselves.” Caroline never took any women’s studies classes at Wesleyan—we both agree that the classes’ titles never quite popped out at us—but “a lot of my pleasure reading is non-fiction feminist books, like Manifesta.”
A couple years ago, Caroline had told me she wanted to be a obstetrician/gynecologist, but has since changed her mind about the culture around it. “The way women are treated, it is so impersonal and cold. There’s a whole atmosphere of talking about the woman like they’re annoying, speaking of them in very negative ways. It’s not geared to help women through the birth process. Emma, fresh with thoughts on midwifery from our interview with Kate, asks how homeopathic and natural procedures are raised in medical school. “The institution doesn’t teach it, but I see value in it,” Caroline replies. “I try to get everything I can out of medical education as it is now so I can make it more holistic in the future.” With feminism constantly on the mind during this roadtrip, I make the instant parallel of a woman who thinks, “If you can’t beat em, join em, then use the knowledge to beat em later.” It is an age-old feminist tactic for a woman to go along with the system until she gains a certain amount of power, then try to change things later.
Caroline wants to be successful, too, but she wants to “live like a human.” In many aspects of the medical field, she says, “you have to sacrifice your family for your career. I’m interested in pediatric or adult medicine, or maybe adolescent medicine or hospice. I want to have a life outside of medicine (as opposed to surgery). I like the idea of doing home visits or health care in the public schools or in community centers. You can achieve much more by considering a person's health in the context of their family situation or their home or school environment. " Is that why fewer women are surgeons? I ask. “Probably, because they are less willing to be in a chauvenistic, hierarchical environment.” And it may not be just that women are softer, but more that “there’s been a slow change in our culture where you can’t just boss everyone around. I don't see myself setting the world on fire, but I see me and my peers collectively changing medical education and the practice of medicine over time. ”