Women Physicians, Scientists No Longer Need to Be in Disguise

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Athena_200.jpgDid you know that Mentor, the teacher of Telemachus, Odysseus' son, was actually Athena in disguise? I didn't, until my friend and colleague, Janis Apted, and I were discussing a mentoring talk I was preparing and she related this startling factoid.

The story goes like this. Mentor was an old friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus joined the alliance that sailed against Troy, he left Mentor in charge of keeping his household safe. Several times during that period, Athena assumed the shape of Mentor and became the guide of Telemachus, giving him prudent counsel. Since then, wise and trusted advisers have been called "mentors."

This made me reflect on the times through the ages when women have disguised themselves as men, both literally and figuratively, so they could be taken seriously as professionals. And we're still doing it today.

business suits.jpgRemember the blue suits and little bow ties that professional women wore? When I started my career, I told my mother not to buy me anything for work that did not have a jacket. I never presented a talk in anything but a suit. And although things have changed for women in all fields, there's still a sense that we must disguise ourselves -- how we look, how we speak and how we act.

Take for example the photo below of the 26 authors in our book, "Legends and Legacies." These are accomplished women. They're physicians, scientists, department chairs, division heads, vice presidents. However, many of them thought we should dress professionally, in suits and lab coats, to take this photo. But Maria Dungler, the artist behind the book, convinced me and then them, to be seen as women -- and physicians and scientists -- and we produced the Annie Liebovitz-type photo you see here.

Legends and Legacies Authors640.jpg

I'm so glad that no longer does Athena have to disguise herself as a man.

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