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more on gender and genetic counseling

continuing the discourse on the idea of “male-ness” in genetic counseling, i find myself shocked, surprised, i don’t know. i’m not sure. read this, from Rayna Rapp in Testing Women, Testing the Fetus, 1999:

Men are scarce in the world of genetic counseling: About 5 percent of the graduates of genetic counseling programs are men, and many of those are employed in administration. As the female director of counseling services in one program put it, “men just use genetic counseling to jump into administration. If a man got hired here, he’d want my job.” Several seasoned counselors expressed great ambivalence about the capacities and limits of men in the profession. “Men aren’t sensitive to counseling issues, to the anxiety of pregnancy,” one said. “science, that’s just information; the skilled part of this job is in the female psyche. Oh, it might work here at Middle Hospital , they’re [hospital staff] well organized. But imagine him at City, where we work in an examining room, and women run around half-dressed. What would we do with a man?” Despite their consciousness of male-dominating biases affecting their own professional standing and pay, counselors are hardly immune to gender stereotypes. But the questions this counselor is raising – whether men are by nature or training less empathic than women, whether identification with similar bodies is necessary to provide the best pregnancy counseling; in other words, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman” – reverberate inside all counseling skills.

finally a frank discussion of what’s usually (in 2009) spoken in-between the lines of “I don’t know any males that are currently counseling; the ones I do know are no longer doing clinical work”, or “Most male genetic counselors tend to work in Cancer Genetics.”

why is it that there’s an opinion that men are not well suited for counseling, and on top of that, reproductive genetic counseling? why is it that these stereotypes stand, possible even today, 10 years later, so readily expressed in supposedly objective situations as what a man would do in an examining room with women half-dressed. is that not what obstetricians, gynecologists, breast oncologists and surgeons do, where the opposing criticism in those fields that were once dominated by white, affluent, males, not necessarily about appropriateness of their presence but rather gender equality?

i can see the criticism, and understandably, perhaps historically the roles of males in the field of genetic counseling are accurately reflected in such statements. however, who is it to say that it’s the male’s intentions, lack of empathic skills, and general unsuitedness to reproductive genetic counseling that pushes him to administration? is it not the influence of the higher hospital administration that allows him to be there, allows him to be chosen, and if offered, the influence of social & financial factors that would incline anyone (male or female) to refuse a promotion? are these statements not the singular opinions of one person (let’s even ignore gender here), who has both an interest in preservation of professional status and role, and perhaps an established bias (that extends to stereotype) against a particular and potential rival group to her/his position?

there are obviously many factors that influence the counselor-client relationship, and even more influences that may exacerbate miscommunication or mis-foster the counseling environment. but to pin a certain gender as universally less capable… i am unfortunately not trained to appropriately evaluate.

Rayna Rapp (so glad i picked up her work) continues:

But the vast literature on communication between counselors and clients suggests profound chasms separating their various agendas and accomplishments that are not dependent on the sex of the service provider.

sure, i’m making assumptions based on a single quotation, of an anonymous source, indirectly through the lens of the author. but it exists! it’s been spoken! it’s been published! i can’t help but wonder what my future supervisors,, colleagues, and those who interview me will think when i express my interest in reproductive genetics. will i receive the same questions, the same assumptions, the same stereotypes as those that may or may not have been pinned when i chose to apply to genetic counseling programs? i wonder.

certainly this is why research exploring the cultural and familial contexts of reproductive genetic counseling is of utmost importance. (shameless plug and ego-boost for my personal research interests…)

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