If you have been taking a much-needed mid/late summer break from social media: 1) Congratulations! What a great idea. You’ve not been missing much; 2) But, I have to tell you about this one thing you may have missed: the #medkini kerfuffle.
Here’s the lowdown, from Scientific American:
It initially started with a study published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery that purported to analyze the behavior of physicians on social media. The study, conducted by a team of researchers based at the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Mecicine, was an attempt to classify the posts of trainees in vascular surgery as either professional or unprofessional.
So, what sorts of posts did the researchers consider unprofessional? From the now-retracted article (not linking to it):
Clearly unprofessional content included: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations, intoxicated appearance, unlawful behavior, possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, and uncensored profanity or offensive comments about colleagues/work/patients.
Potentially unprofessional content included: holding/ consuming alcohol, inappropriate attire, censored profanity, controversial political or religious comments, and controversial social topics.
There are a ton of problems with the methodology of the article, but the #medkini twitter storm came about as a result of the interpretation of the “inappropriate attire” category. Apparently this included photos of vascular surgeons in bathing suits or festive costumes for festive occasions (like Halloween, for example). In particular, all pictures of female vascular surgeons in bikinis (not worn while performing surgery, but rather during leisure activity) were marked “potentially unprofessional”. And those doing the judging were a nearly all-male group.
Here are some of the photos the #medkini and #medbikin folks posted:
You can see the abstract here, and more importantly the big red “RETRACTED” stamp all over every page.
Okay, so the authors really messed this one up. As did the editors and peer reviewers. The editors apologized here, if you’re interested.
But here’s the problem: why did anyone even think for one minute this kind of judgment was okay? Scientific American has some things to say about it:
We don’t believe anyone had malicious intent. But that is exactly the point. One need not have malicious intent to cause harm. In the same way, the gender pay gap, though perhaps not intentional, affects women, and implicit bias of physicians impairs the care of Black patients. In this case, researchers harmed the medical community by suggesting that speaking up about social causes, consuming alcohol when not working, and wearing a bikini were unprofessional.
The point is not who these researchers are or even what they did in this particular study. The authors, the institutional review board (which is supposed to watch out for ethical problems), the reviewers of the article and the journal’s editors all thought this was worth publishing. This is because in the culture of medicine, harassment and subjugation of those who don’t look like the dominant group is not only tolerated, it’s the norm.
This is certainly common in medicine, but that’s not the only field in which women get judged as unprofessional for their clothing, activities, food and drink, etc. In the interests of solidarity, here are some of our pics:
Dear readers, did you hear about the #medkini business? Have you been hesitant to post vacation or swimming pics on social media because sexism? I’d love to hear from you, and will respond with scorn for those people who were mean to you and support for you in whatever attire you choose.