To shed light on how gender norms are reproduced in medical training and practice through an exploration of representations of the problem of “work–life balance.” Women physicians and women physician-researchers (WPs/WPRs) in Canada and in the United States experience social and health inequities when compared to their men colleagues. Despite current medical school acceptance parity, upon entering the medical workforce, women work harder than men to succeed within the historically male-dominated structures and value system of the medical profession.
We performed a critical discourse analysis of articles retrieved from academic databases and leading Anglo-American journals that discussed “work–life balance,” to investigate how the discourse contributed to, or challenged, the reproduction of gender norms in medicine.
While the medical literature acknowledges that the social and health inequities experienced by WP/WPR result from discriminatory norms and practices, it neglects to challenge built-in gendered inequities in benchmarks for success in the profession. Instead, proposed solutions require that WP/WPR themselves learn to cope and make better lifestyle choices, including downloading domestic responsibilities on socially disadvantaged – racialized and poor – women. Authors’ gender appears to make no difference.
Our search was limited to the Anglo-American literature, often retrieved articles inaccessible via our university library, excluded informal venues (e.g., blogs), and did not include cases of same-sex couples or interviews of WP/WPR. All these may have challenged components of our argument by revealing more nuanced debates, occurring under different political, cultural, and economic contexts.
While individual choices of WP/WPR are important to the protagonists, to successfully address the very real problem of work–life balance experienced by WP/WPR, patriarchal norms should be challenged, failure to comply with these norms should be rejected as explanations for work–life balance challenges, and norms themselves should become the focus of analysis and intervention.
The medical language used by physicians of both genders normalizes gendered inequities, favoring the success of medical men over women, and reproducing the professional and personal disadvantages experienced by the latter, further burdening socially disadvantaged women.
McDonald, J. and Chaufan, C. (2019), "Work–life Balance in Medical Practice: The Reproduction of Patriarchy and the Politics of Gender", Underserved and Socially Disadvantaged Groups and Linkages with Health and Health Care Differentials (Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Vol. 37), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 205-223. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0275-495920190000037017
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