An unfortunate reality

I volunteer regularly at the VA medical center, and serve as a bedside visitor to patients who are recovering from surgeries or who will remain in the Community Living Center for the rest of their lives.  Usually the patients share stories about their time at war, or ask me about my life, and I always leave feeling excited about the conversations I’ve had.  However, the other day, I talked to one patient with semantic dementia, and was shocked by what he had to say to me.  I told him all about what I wanted to do with my life – how I want to go to medical school, become a doctor, and be able to support myself.  He listened intently for a while, and when I finally paused, he goes, “You can’t go to medical school.  You belong in the home cooking dinner, taking care of your children, and supporting your husband.  Can you go get me a bucket of ice, and tell the nurse I need my back rubbed?”  I was absolutely taken aback, and there was nothing I could say to him.  Under normal circumstances, I probably would have given the person a piece of my mind, explained that women are capable, intelligent, and accomplished.  However, he hasn’t been able to learn new facts in over 50 years, and therefore is stuck with his knowledge of the world from 50 years ago.  This was very reminiscent of Cowan and Belkin’s articles on the woman’s place in society, and for the half hour that I talked with him, I was able to understand what it would be like for men to expect women to fit into a specific role and not to deviate from it.  The sad part is that some people living today still have the same mindset.

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