February 13, 2022

WISE-ROJAS | Why Ivy Privilege Doesn’t Solve Sexism in Healthcare

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I remember getting my acceptance letter, naturally assuming that since Cornell is a wealthy school (specifically, a $10 billion endowment), I wouldn’t have to worry about having access to healthcare. I assumed that even if appointments were booked, there would be no frustration on the part of the student. I had the sad realization that such an assumption was near impossible and utopic — even more so when someone considers the roles that gender plays. 

Because women are disposable in society, they are perceived as less worthy and tend to be gaslighted by men. “Ivy privilege” does not solve the problem of sexism in healthcare in today’s society; as a matter of fact, it exacerbates holes in the system to cater more to the needs of men and protect capitalist institutions by prioritizing money and corporate greed. 

In a weird, almost egotistical way, I assumed that any obstacles to healthcare would be overrun by my “Ivy privilege.” That’s essentially when I say, “I go to Cornell.” and people freak out. I’m automatically seen as a more respectable person (which isn’t right, because there are so many other schools that are just as good with less prestige. That’s a topic for another possible column). In the same way that many professional spaces have racist/tone-deaf undertones (as I wrote about in my last column), the healthcare field also has misogynistic undertones. 

Sexism isn’t new to the medical field. The medical journal CMAJ published a chapter written by two University of Toronto doctors titled “Sexism in medical care: ‘Nurse, can you get me another blanket?’” Many female physicians are mistaken for nurses based on sexism alone. 

The article states,  “Examples of other patronizing, gender-stereotyping comments from patients include calling female doctors ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie,’ viewing young female physicians as inexperienced, asking intrusive personal questions and tacitly presuming men are physicians.”

Here’s my take: This view that women need to be more submissive and less qualified also can go both ways. Let’s say you’re a grown human with a uterus, and you’re back on your period. You seem to be doing alright, until your cycle lasts for more than a month (along with other horrible symptoms). You will eventually come to the defeated realization that should you need to go see an OBGYN, but Cornell Health can’t help you. Their only women’s health resources are for sexual health. I’m glad that these are offered, but they don’t solve everyone’s problems. 

I speak from personal experience: My period issues became out-of-control, and I didn’t know what to do. I needed to see a doctor that specializes in more than your average gyno. I called around the Ithaca area. Because Cornell’s surrounding area is more suburban or rural by nature, despite the proximity to an elite institution, there were still nearly no appointments until several months later. One office secretary said, “Well, we have a midwife. if that helps.” I went to urgent care that weekend and sobbed when I was told there was nothing that I could be prescribed to help me without seeing an OBGYN. 

I was running into obstacle after obstacle while already physically weakened, only to be mentally impacted further by the harsh reality that I would have to advocate for myself in a field where you are supposed to be heard and listened to. I have a naturally high pain tolerance, so I know that something is severely wrong when I can feel pain. 

I hate that I have to act like I’m in the worst pain I’ve ever imagined to get support; otherwise, I’m simply a “hysterical” woman. I’ve always had problems like these; I probably have a chronic condition that I haven’t been able to get a diagnosis for. I’ll continue to advocate for myself, but not because I feel empowered. It’s because I don’t have a choice. I ended up driving 4.5 hours away for a medical appointment. 

I’m not saying Cornell isn’t great with medicine or doesn’t have access to the best resources. The ironic part is that they do. There is a Weill Cornell office in New York City for pelvic pain and other related conditions. However, that’s not close to here. If I didn’t have my car and if I didn’t work, I would not be able to afford or tend to my healthcare expenses (at least, not easily). 

Saying “I’m a student at Cornell” did nothing to help me. It only made me feel more defeated. It’s already hard enough to struggle with mental health at Cornell. Getting an appointment is a weeks-long endeavor, getting a psychiatrist is near impossible even with all the supporting documentation and sometimes I’m stuck with 8 a.m. therapy sessions because there are no other options. Mental health is also a place where you’re told to not act in certain ways to remain “sane.” Again, women are told, “Oh girl, you’re just acting crazy.” 

I wish I was the only Cornell student with these experiences; however, I doubt it. I’m so tired of being told that both my physical and mental pain is invalid when I need help. This is probably a nearly universal experience; I saw an social media post at one point that said, “If men could get pregnant, there would be abortion clinics like they’re Starbucks locations.” 

I paused, realizing that there is some truth to this. Women are also asked, “Oh if you do x, you might not be able to have a kid later on.” On one hand, sure, it’s a proactive question. But on the other hand, why guilt trip when men rarely get asked questions about their future kids? No one ever asks a man if they could be faking their pain. More often than not, women are faking that they are okay, physically and mentally. If you relate, I hope you know that you’re not alone. All you deserve is basic human decency and someone to listen to what’s wrong. Trust your instincts. Always. 

Daniela Wise-Rojas ’25 is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Anything But MunDANIties runs every other Monday this semester.