Underestimations Due to Gender Bias

Title

Underestimations Due to Gender Bias

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Identifier

KleinermanE_01_20140521-Final_Clip02

Publication Date

5-21-2014

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So tell me how you kind of flowered during college. What was that like?

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Well, I’ll tell you, my freshman year—and this was in the book [Legends and Legacies]—you know, I got dressed, you know, made sure I looked proper, and I went to see the premed advisor, and she proceeded to tell me after the first semester, because that’s when you saw—you know, you had a semester to decide—that’s when she told me I was not cut out to be a doctor.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And what was the reason she gave?

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Well, she said, “You’re a cheerleader and you’re a sorority girl, and clearly, you’re not serious.” (Rosolowski laughs.) So, of course, that was a real blow, and it was very difficult, because she provided guidance in how do you apply to medical school, when do you take your MCATs, all this other stuff. So I had to really navigate that process by myself, and I really didn’t have any other—there were no other women students that I was friendly with so that we could do this together.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So was anyone a mentor to you during your college experience?

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

No.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Wow.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

No.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Wow. So tell me how did you react to situations like that in college when they presented themselves to you, I mean people being dismissive or—

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Made me angry. Made me angry, and I said, “I’m not going to let them deter me.” I was used to not being taken seriously, so, you know, it’s like, “Here we go again. Will nobody take me seriously? Why do you think I—this is something that’s fly-by-night? Why don’t you think this is something that I really want? You don’t know me.” I was very quiet. “You don’t know me. How can you make the assessment that I’m not going to follow through? I am determined, and I will show you.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What was your relationship with feminism at the time? Because you were in college, you got your degree, your BA, from Washington University in ’71, so this was the late sixties. There was discussion of feminism in the nation.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Not that much in the Midwest. It’s not like the East Coast or the West Coast, for that matter. So there really wasn’t. I mean, it was starting. And, of course, my mother was a woman ahead of her time. She always preached equality for women, and I think that’s why my sisters and I all had this determination. You know, I think she was very frustrated with staying at home. I think she never realized her dreams of being a professional woman, and so she drilled it into our heads that we didn’t have to take a back seat and that women deserved to have every bit as much as men did. She was very active in League of Women Voters.

I remember a lot of my friends’ mothers would play cards, you know. They’d play Marjong or whatever, Mahjong, I don’t know, whatever, however you pronounce it. But she was always somebody—League of Women Voters, she’d work for candidates. She worked for Johnson, Adlai Stevenson. I remember her doing that. And, of course, my dad was a Republican, so we had heated discussions at the table, political discussions at the table. So I think probably she was my mentor, I guess.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. It sounds like she really did model things for you as best she could, given the limitations of the family structure.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Yeah. You know, it was very “You don’t have to get married to have value.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It was really a difficult generation. I mean, I’m of that generation, too, you know, and it’s the first generation of women who were raised by traditional mothers but expected to have men as their role models.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Right.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah. So, really tough situation to be in.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Right. And back then, the philosophy was, well, if you choose a career, you can’t have a family, and I was very determined I was not going to make a choice. Why did I have to make a choice? And probably in my mind it was, “I’m not going to marry somebody like my dad who can’t share things.” Now, what we thought “share” was is not really reality, but—9

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Mm-hmm. Right. Well, it was learning on the job for women all the time in those years and still continues to be in a lot of ways. (laughs)

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Right. But it was very—if you’re going to do this, then you’re clearly—this is your phenotype, and you couldn’t have the phenotype of a professional woman and also like to be a sorority girl or, you know, have parties, have a social life. It was like either/or, and it was like I’m not this and I’m not this.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I know a professor at University of Wisconsin at Madison who brings a tie with her the first day of class, and she hangs it over the lectern, and she says, “If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong place.” (laughs)

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

That’s great.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah, I love that.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD That’s great. That’s great. You know, but it also was an interesting time because the Vietnam War was going on, and I think it was my junior year when all the protests, when the Kent State incident happened. Of course, coming from Ohio, you knew people at Kent State, and so for me it was much more of an impact. And the rioting that was going on. And, you know, thinking about am I not going to go to class and not complete my coursework and perhaps this will have a negative impact because I won’t complete my coursework and I won’t get good grades and I won’t get into medical school, thinking about, you know, am I going to break the line and go to class? Because a lot of kids that I knew were doing this because they didn’t want to take finals.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

No protests. Yeah, right.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

And struggling with that and just making the decision I’m going to class and I’m going to take my finals, that there’s nothing I can do really for the people in Vietnam. I’m against the war, but here this isn’t—and one of the guys I went to college with, actually—I don’t remember exactly what he did. He was an elementary friend of mine. He was eventually arrested. So it was an interesting time—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Very interesting time, yeah.

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

—both for women, and, of course, Gloria Steinem was just coming out then. Respected her tremendously, I remember that, and people saying she’s bitchy, she’s hard, you don’t ever want to be like her. And so it was trying—how can I maintain my feminism and yet be taken seriously and convince people I can do the job and I’m committed and I’m not just going to turn around and get married and drop out, which was the perception. If you didn’t want to go on this path and you wanted a balance, well, of course, you were eventually—and I remember when I got married, I got married in 1972 after my first year in medical school, and my in-laws had a party for us after we were engaged.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Your husband’s name?

Eugenie Kleinerman, MD

Leonard Zwelling, Z-w-e-l-l-i-n-g. I met him in medical school.

And so people saying, “Oh, well, okay. So you’re getting married, and now what are you going to do?”

And I thought to myself, “What do you mean, what I’m going to do? I’m going to finish medical school. What are you talking about?” But the presumption was you’ve got a husband now, he’s going to be a doctor, you don’t need to do this anymore. And it was like, what are you talking about?

Underestimations Due to Gender Bias

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