Female Moxie

I’ll confess that I had to look up the meaning of today’s one-word prompt to be sure of its meaning: Moxie.  I may have sporadically heard the word before but it’s just not a word I use in everyday conversation. Turns out it means courage, guts, competence, determination, attitude, ability to face difficulty with spirit, courage, boldness, nerve, and fortitude.

I don’t watch much TV at all these days.  There’s absolutely NOTHING on that interests me anymore.  Well, maybe I watch The Big Bang Theory occasionally but that’s about it. That show does make me laugh and laugh hard sometimes.  I don’t even watch the news anymore (I know my mother’s turning over in her mausoleum right now— sorry Mom). The news is just depressing.  And scary.  So I don’t watch it except maybe to find out what the weather is supposed to do.

When I do watch TV, it’s usually DVDs of shows from back in the day. Shows from the 70s, 80s, 90s when TV was much more family oriented and clean. I’ll admit, I binge watch episodes of The Golden Girls and Little House on the Prairie, and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman until my husband probably wants to pull his hair out. I have the entire series of all of those and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve watched them. Dr. Quinn is definitely my favorite.  I’ve always been partial to the old pioneer/Western type shows. I’m guessing I’ve watched DQMW all the way through maybe 10-12 times? My husband says I’ve watched them so much that I’m wearing out the DVDs and will soon need a new set. I never tire of them. I often wonder what life would have been like living in those pioneer days.

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Last night, I watched the Pilot episode of Dr. Quinn (hey, it had been a couple of years since I had watched it). I think one thing I like about that show so much is Michaela Quinn’s moxie. She was a wealthy Bostonian doctor living in the late 1800s. Female doctors were quite rare in those days and not generally accepted. Her dad was a successful wealthy physician who had taken Michaela on as his partner in his medical practice. When he dies suddenly, the practice dies along with him. So Michaela answers an advertisement for a doctor in Colorado Springs. It’s the frontier, a place that is totally foreign to her. But she had moxie, and so she goes out west where she runs head-on into one difficulty after another. The townspeople of Colorado Springs were expecting a Michael and not a Michaela and are less than thrilled to get a female doctor. They don’t accept her and prefer that the local Barber treat their medical woes. Even the Cheyenne Indian chief didn’t have much faith in her and called her “a crazy white woman” because “only males are medicine men.”  It wasn’t until he was shot and Dr. Mike saved his life by performing a tracheotomy on him and removing a bullet lodged in his neck that he developed trust in her and gave her the Cheyenne name of “Medicine Woman.” I loved how Michaela had guts and courage and determination. She was skilled and confident and she persisted. Eventually the townspeople come to trust and admire her.

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I remember when I first watched Dr. Quinn when it first aired back in 1993, I identified so much with Michaela (or Dr. Mike as she was called). I graduated from veterinary school in 1985. Women didn’t start entering the veterinary school scene much until the 1970s and started dominating the profession a decade or so later. When I entered veterinary school in 1982, our class of 60 was the very first class in this veterinary school’s history to have more females than males (31 females to 29 males). I believe in 2007, nationwide, the number of female veterinarians equaled the number of males. Now veterinary school classes are predominantly female and it is without doubt a female dominated profession. The small animal practice I went to work for after graduation was owned by a male. He had one associate who was also male. I would be the first female veterinarian in the practice. And since it was the mid 1980s, I expected I would be readily accepted as a female practitioner at this clinic. I was wrong. 

I’ll never forget my first day as a neophyte veterinarian.  Feeling both nervous and excited, I walked into the exam room to see my first client— an older man (70ish maybe). I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. I greeted his enthusiastic little tail-wagging pooch, then reached out my hand, smiled, and introduced myself and told him I was the veterinarian who would be seeing his little dog. I’m telling you, the man leered at me as if I were a timber rattlesnake and backed away like I was about to spew poisonous venom at him. He shuffled his feet, snarled a bit, and said, “I want to see a male doctor.” I kid you not…. those were his exact words. His little dog had accepted me. He had not. I felt an awkward silence come over the room. I could understand if he had said he wanted to see the vet who he was used to seeing, but to boil it down to a gender issue was hurtful. But I honored his request, went and got one of the male veterinarians, and then I went into the bathroom where I angrily fought back hot, salty tears.

That day, I thought back to a time when I was in the fifth grade and had decided I wanted to play a musical instrument. It was not a hard decision for me. I wanted to play the trumpet. My uncle had played the trumpet and he had told me if I wanted it, I could have his old trumpet which still sat in my grandmother’s basement. Boy did I!  Back then in 1969, there weren’t many girls who played the trumpet.  I can’t tell you the strange looks I received when I would tell a friend I had chosen to play the trumpet.  Or how many people tried to encourage me to play a “more gender appropriate instrument” like the flute or clarinet. Hearing those things made me more hell-bent than ever on playing the trumpet. And I did. My parents were all for it and supportive just as they were when I told them I wanted to be a veterinarian (my mother was just thankful I didn’t go with the tuba).  I worked hard at playing that trumpet, begged for trumpet lessons which my parents graciously provided.  I took lessons for years and I excelled. No one and I mean NO ONE was going to tell me I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl.

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Unfortunately, that first client who refused to see me just because I was a female, wasn’t the last. Despite the fact that I wore a name tag that clearly identified me as Dr., and despite the fact that I just about ALWAYS introduced myself as Dr. _____, (as I had learned in my interview class in veterinary school to always do),  I was often referred to as “the nurse,” or asked, “When is the doctor coming  in?” Or, “Will the veterinarian be examining my animal too?” My boss knew it got to me and he would try to console me by telling me it was only because I looked so young (I was 26). But I knew better. It did get better as time went on, and though it took a lot of fortitude, I was finally accepted and eventually clients started requesting “the lady doctor.”

So yeah, I identified with Michaela Quinn well and I liked her sass and spunk when she ran up against those stubborn townspeople who wanted a male doctor. Sometimes it takes just that—moxie— to survive in a typically male dominated profession.

Gail ♥

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About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Daily Prompt, Life, Veterinary school and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Female Moxie

  1. Relax... says:

    Excellent post! Can we call you “Nightowl Gail, Medicine Woman”? 🙂

  2. Great post! I can relate… when I was a senior in high school in the late 70’s, and for years after, I had a motorcycle.I never knew why it was so shocking to people. I lost count of how many times I got pulled over just because I was a girl on a motorcycle. I do remember the first time I had a female vet. I was surprised but thought it was awesome! Good for you for sticking with it!

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