Have you ever played the game Taboo? The goal is to get your teammate to guess a hidden word by giving them clues, but there are certain words you mustn’t use in guiding them. So, if the mystery word is “lemon,” the words “tea” and “car” might be taboo – if you say either of those your turn ends.
Our society has started resembling a game of Taboo. I thought of this when I read about the recently reported scandal at Japan’s Tokyo Medical University. Entrance scores were rigged to penalize women so that they had to score much higher than men in order to get into the medical school. I’m not a fan of cheating, but I admit to feeling sympathy for those who are trying to run schools, businesses or organizations in the real world while hampered by high-sounding, unrealistic pronouncements unrelated to actual life and which are intended to signal virtue.
While we lived in Los Angeles, there was a period when newspapers were banned from stating that an apartment had a scenic view. The elite powers-that-be decided that this was a hidden form of discrimination against the handicapped, discouraging those who were blind from renting. Foolish as that sounds, the absurdities of anti-discrimination laws has only abounded.
The outcry at Tokyo Medical University’s manipulation of applicants’ data seems to be less at the dishonesty than at reviling the premise that led to the action. In apologizing for what the school did, managing director Tetsuo Yukioka, said, “I suspect that there was a lack of sensitivity to the rules of modern society, in which women should not be treated differently because of their gender.”
Similarly, we are constantly being told that government-mandated parental leave and day-care is needed so that women can pursue careers without being penalized for having children. Diversity is flung about as a conversation-ender. Once that word has been uttered words such a freedom, experience, competence or profit are taboo.
Discrimination is real. It is not automatically without basis. When we were emptying out our flooded storage room last week we discriminated against one of our granddaughters who wanted to help. This was both on account of her age and gender. We favored her older brothers because we thought they could do the work better and more quickly. Fortunately, she did not complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
There is a very real fact that, on average, female doctors work fewer hours than male doctors. This is one of the reasons the Japanese medical school preferred the latter. Providing more maternity leave, legally mandating that jobs must be held for mothers when they want to return to work, raising taxes so that elderly parents have non-family care, instituting split shifts and other proposals aimed at making life easier for female physicians don’t change that original fact.
We accept that experience and time on the job make a difference for virtuoso violinists. If equal talent is a given, the musician who practices more is going to excel. If one violinist has a second passion for scuba diving and spends two months a year doing that, we do not insist that Carnegie Hall not be allowed to discriminate against his less developed violin skills. Why then is it wrong to ask if society is served more by a doctor who has seen 5,000 patients than 2,000?
In many fields, including medicine, more hours generally equate with greater competency and expertise. Author Malcolm Gladwell famously described how once a professional has reached 10,000 hours of experience, they become qualitatively more competent. Female doctors, as an aggregate, work fewer hours over the course of a lifetime. Changing that will mean forcing women to work even when they don’t choose to. Indeed, in some European countries with maternity policies that make American women drool, staying home with children beyond the mandated leave time is discouraged and made terribly difficult. Women are forced to go back to work against their will by the taxation that pays for these leaves and other policies.
We don’t want to move to a dystopian society that makes childbirth a restricted occupation. Nor do we want to prohibit people from choosing to spend time with family. Only draconian laws will force men and women to choose to allot equal time to those endeavors. Not allowing this to be discussed doesn’t change the facts.
Experience is not the only factor in choosing doctors, of course. Many patients, especially women, choose female doctors (discriminating against male doctors in the process) because they are more comfortable with a female or they equate women with more compassion. Individual doctors develop reputations which make patients want to see them. There are women doctors who excel at what they do and on a level playing field shine far above almost all their male counterparts.
However, it valid to ask what the goal of a medical school is. Is it to make money by providing a service for which tuition is paid? Is it to equip people to provide a service to their community and country? Is it to allow intelligent people with an interest in medicine to pursue that interest regardless of whether they will then use those skills? Is it to enable diversity even if the end result is less qualified or fewer available doctors? All I know is that those questions are taboo.