This isn’t what we’re paid for

I went to pick my father up at hospital yesterday, after some exploratory surgery to investigate possible cancer. He was glad the horror of having his body poked, prodded and cut was over for now at least and told me about everything he could remember.

It was a difficult day, frightening for both of us, and triggering, because hospital based, of the recent death of my mother.

But extraordinarily, what Dad told me pushed me back into angry feminist mode, even on a day when I’d needed to cry by the sea after I left him there in the morning.

Dad described all the tests he’d had before they came to give him general anasthetic. He talked about how nervous he’d been. And then he told me what the surgeon (a white man in his fifties or sixties) had said to him, as he chatted with Dad before the needle was inserted.

“Just look over there, Mr **, at all those pretty nurses. That will take your mind off it,” Surgeon smiled.

I’ve never seen my father sexualise or objectify women to “put us in our place.” Ever. He said he replied, with remarkable composure given the situation, “Oh, I don’t think that will do it.”

Now there’s the creepiness of someone holding institutional power offering up his professional colleagues for judgment on their (entirely unrelated to job performance) attractiveness. There’s the nudge nudge, wink wink nature of attempted male bonding over objectifying women, which I imagine with some male patients is taken up with gusto. And there’s the fact that every nurse I saw there was younger than I am. So my father – nearly seventy – was being encouraged to ogle women in their twenties and thirties.

Dad told me this, knowing I would react. It took both our minds off how frightened we were. But I’d happily give up that respite from worrying about my Dad’s health to know the nurses in that workplace were free from sexual harassment, every day of their working lives, just as we all should be.

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