Today while getting my tetanus booster shot (PS, you need this every 10 years, so a lot of ya’ll are probably due soon) and flu shot (ok, I’m late, I know), the nurse who assisted me commented that she “couldn’t even get boys” to take two shots in one day.
There are so many problems with that statement, even though I know she didn’t mean any harm. Though meant to be a praise to me, her words insinuate that women are less likely to be proactive and practical with their healthcare (generally, statistically false) due to a greater degree of fear or inability to handle pain than what might plague men.
This is problematic because it’s the kind of subtle sexist mindset that a lot of us still have permeating our words and actions. Similar to how the words we use to describe women we admire (beautiful and kind are much more common than assertive and powerful) differ from those we use to describe men (smart, strong, charismatic, powerful and maybe handsome), there is an expectation of us based on our projected gender that probably has little to do with who we actually are.
Is a man ‘supposed’ to be unafraid of shots? Is he ‘supposed’ to be stronger, more willing to take pain, more in control of his own health?
Apparently, according to this nurse, my courage in the face of two one-second shots was impressive, and even more so because I am a woman. I know for a fact that men and women can both be terrified of shots. They can also be pretty chill about them. It’s not a sex thing, it’s not a gender thing, and it’s not even a personality thing.
Ultimately, this nurse was just trying to make conversation and take away any nerves I might have. We all say kind of stupid things sometimes. Even so, it reminded me of how pervasive sexism is in our culture still and how even the smallest acts can perpetuate it. I don’t want my nephews or my future son to grow up in a world where they’re shamed for hating shots, spiders, thunderstorms, heights, whatever. And I don’t want my girls to be told that their courageous acts are measured on a scale of 1 to Manhood.
So look for these little things. Stop yourself from saying them. Correct yourself. Don’t laugh at the jokes. They aren’t really funny anyway.