Discrimination against male gynecologists?

Swedish clinics ban women from choosing female doctors.

Published January 29, 2007 10:00PM (EST)

Clinics in Sweden have banned the practice of women patients requesting female gynecologists out of concern that it discriminates against male doctors. According to UPI, clinics in Skane, Halland, Blekinge and Kronberg will now assign patients to doctors regardless of the gynecologist's gender.

Exceptions will be made for patients who have been victims of sexual assault, or women who come from traditional cultures that frown on such exams being conducted by men. Unfortunately, there was no info in the story about the relative numbers of male and female gynecologists practicing in Sweden.

Here in the United States, there are still more male OB-GYNs than female ones. In 2003 -- the most recent data -- there were about 25,000 male and about 16,000 female OB-GYNs, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Yet, nurse-midwives also provide gynecological care, and there are about 6,200 of them currently in practice in the U.S., according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Fewer than 1 percent of those -- about 70 total -- are men.

I've been to both male and female gynecologists, and I'll confess to an irrational preference for the women. Maybe it's normal to assume a woman gynecologist will just understand your concerns better. Or is that just a convenient excuse to bow to dated notions about feminine modesty? On a related historical note, male obstetricians used to actually deliver babies while keeping the laboring mother's nether regions covered up with cloth, according to "Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born" by Tina Cassidy. When doctors started attending at childbirth instead of midwives, she reports, it was considered immodest for the laboring mother to be seen "down there" by a man, even when he was employing forceps or other instruments during the birth of her child. So the doctor would cast his gaze elsewhere and do his job entirely by feel.

Do you choose doctors based on the physician's gender? If so, why? And do you agree with the Swedes that doing so amounts to a form of discrimination?

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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