“Here are all the pens I could find,” I said as I eagerly dumped a fist full of black ink onto the check-in table. Just as quickly as the pens left my hand, they were picked up and put to use by excited guests filling in their empty name tag.
After confirming that the medical students checking people in didn’t need anything else, I turned to re-enter the party. The party room was square, lined with couches and filled with people. The lights were dim and a carefully curated Spotify playlist narrated the night.
The experience felt familiar.
I made my way over to the bar and stood beside a group of women. “Where are you from?” “When did you get in?” In overhearing just a few sentences, I realized these women just met. They came to New York alone. They came to this party alone. Now they are waiting for their drink alone. Alone, together.
Attending an event in New York City alone did not feel familiar.
Through the course of the night I stood next to more independent women with curious minds and open hearts than there were men in the room. “What made you choose the FemInEM conference?” I asked one of my new friends; a women in town from Florida. Taking a sip of her champagne as if to celebrate this moment, she replied, “It’s a place to talk about tough topics with people who understand.”
Having spent the majority of my career as one of the only women at the table – I fooled myself into thinking I had the whole gender equity in the workplace thing figured out. During the first several years of my career I even thought that when your boss has you share a room on a work trip, it’s to save the company money. I had thought being called a bitch instead of assertive was just colloquial. I had thought the unwanted sexual advances from male leadership was my mistake for being inquisitive about his family.
In every way possible, I thought wrong.
While I had no shortage of strong women in my life, I didn’t know how to have a conversation about being a woman in a male dominated world. All the conversations I had been exposed to focused on compensating for weakness. If you know me, you know I would rather be perceived as almost anything else but weak. So, instead of seeking others who could relate, I stayed quiet and adapted.
I developed coping strategies that ironically manifested into my ‘areas to improve’ professionally. Much like what we learn in our formative years shapes our perspective; the approach to human interaction I developed and practiced for so long shaped who I was. You see, I never wanted to be treated any different than a man because I have a vagina and identify as a woman; I wanted learn how to be treated as an equal.
Implicit trust and unconditional equality.
As the night progressed and I had the privilege of talking with even more women, I came to realize how ignorant and alone I didn’t know I’d been. Have you ever re-watched a movie you’ve seen a thousand times and picked up on jokes or messages you’d previously missed? Yeah, that’s the feeling I had and it was overwhelming.
“This is what happens when you remove the patriarchy,” Dara explained just before kindly asking the gentlemen in our conversation to grab her one of the specialty cocktails. Her tone was matter-of-fact, no hesitation, no question. It was a language I hadn’t yet encountered. It was a conversation I honestly never had.
What I observed during the the opening party of FIX and the speaker sessions the following day, was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The conversations were intellectually stimulating and rich with passion, making it impossible not to regret going into marketing instead of emergency medicine. As a relative outsider, how did I feel so connected? Why did hundreds of women and men spend their precious time and money to come to New York for 3 days? What was it that made so many women feel comfortable coming to FIX alone?
We exist in a world where it’s easy to passively accept and even blissfully subscribe to bucket terms for human interaction: partnership, marriage, community. But when we do this, we often forget the component parts of what makes up say, a partnership – or at least I’m guilty of this.
What the women, and men, of FemInEM have brilliantly done, is break down the meaning of partnership and challenge the aspects that weren’t working for them in a constructive, inclusive, and action-oriented way. For example, the definition of partnership includes two very important words: ‘joint principles’. Since principles guide our behavior, there is no way for two parties to operate in sync if there are fundamental differences. Unsure what I mean? Consider today’s political climate.
The reason an outsider like me felt so connected: joint principles. The reason hundreds of women and men from across the globe spent time and money to come to New York for 3 days: joint principles. The reason so many women felt comfortable coming to FIX alone: joint principles.
I may not be a female in emergency medicine, but I sure as hell am a FemInEM.
You may not be a female in emergency medicine, but I hope you’ll find your FemInUS.