Sunday, 13 May 2007

Perpetuating stereotypes

On Friday I was reading a post on NHS Blog Doctor, all about a new system whereby patients book their own hospital appointments. While he complains about the system, which is dubious I grant you, he uses as illustration a fictitious patient called Doris, aged 70. And then comes up with this:

"An intelligent middle class, middle aged patient will make light work of the letter. An old, not so clever widow in her seventies does not understand it. "

Then I read the comments, the first of which was:

"I can barely make sense of that form, so I'm not sure how your patient was supposed to! : Nurse 11.05.07 - 9:45 pm "

I'm not sure whether the nurse making the comment has superior form-interpretation skills by virtue of the fact that he is male or purely because of his/her occupation.

I left a comment objecting to the use of an "old, not so clever widow" as an example but it seems that nobody can see how it perpetuates stereotypes. Repeating that sort of thing just reinforces preconceptions, and I am heartily sick of being assumed to be some sort of an idiot by professions. The excuse eventually given seems to be that he has large numbers of female patients:

"Like most GPs, I have a large number of elderly women with medical problems. A lot of them are widows. Some of them could do battle with Germaine Greer and Beryl Bainbridge. Some of them could not. Even a lot of the highly intelligent competent ones struggle with paperwork as they have never done it in their lives. Some of my male widower patients struggle with cooking - their wives always did it and now they cannot boil an egg. They struggle even more if they are not too intelligent."

Is he saying, he is certainly implying, that all the males could cope with paperwork? Was it necessary to single out a section of his patients as likely not to be able to manage?


  1. The stereotype I have seen, when visiting the doctor; is that the wife of an older couple, is always the one who has the medical cards, makes the appointments for the test after the visit, gives all the details of the insurance and any other questions and explains it all to her husband.

    It's not that I think the men are incompetent; is that they come from a generation that have relied on the wives.

    I guess it is just where you sit.

    I notice this when I worked in manufacturing, some women could comprehend the instructions, but didn't have enough confidence to implement them without asking many, many questions. I think they had bought into a stereotype that this wasn't something they should be able to do.

  2. I agree Hathor. And certainly in my family it was my mother who did all paperwork, tax returns, everything, not to metion the fact that my husband expects me to be the Complete Technical Support - for anything that could be even borderline technical.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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