Yshai Amichai
Yshai AmichaiCourtesy

I read a recent story about a respected Israeli gynecologist who was accused of sexual assault by multiple patients during examinations. As related by the patients, their complaints went unheeded.

When enough people complain, and especially when their stories are publicized by the press, they get taken more seriously. Until then, what can you do to such a doctor? He is paid to treat women and touch them. He is even highly respected for this. That is precisely the problem, although the above story is a rare phenomenon and I do not intend to cast aspersions on all those in the field..

The History

Historically, the roles of obstetricians and gynecologists were filled by women, often known as midwives. The Bible mentions them, but so do ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman sources. Some of them were professionally trained, and even considered doctors, and yet it was a profession reserved exclusively for women.

The Greek and Roman medical philosophers focused mainly on the health of men, or of people in general, leaving women’s issues in the hands of women. In fact, throughout much of history it was considered taboo for a male physician to treat pregnant women or deliver babies.

This changed a bit in the late middle ages, due to the church’s distrust of midwives and its desire to regulate the practice of midwifery. There was a distrust of folk medicine with the rise of professional medicine, but the church also wished to regulate the field religiously, placing midwives at a disadvantage.

There is even a possible connection between the witch trials of the early modern period and midwifery. Women were literally chased out of the profession because they were not trusted, and they were deprived of the proper education required to compete with male doctors.

The use of modern anesthesia in the early 20th century, along with lifesaving surgical procedures, attracted women to the male dominated modern hospitals. At the same time, midwifery was severely regulated and restricted in America, such that by 1940, over half of all US births occurred in hospitals, while very few women were trained as doctors.

Modern Figures

By 1969, 99% of all US births occurred in hospitals, while few women were trained as doctors. But times are changing. Today about half of all new doctors in America are women, and they make up an ever growing percentage of the physician workforce (36.3% in 2019).

58.9% of US OB-GYNs (obstetricians and gynecologists) are women, which shows that women are reclaiming a profession that was once theirs. A similar trend is reported in Israel, with 46% of Israeli OB-GYNs in 2020 being women, up from 37% in 2015, 28% in 2010, 16% in 2000, and 13% in 1990 (see this Hebrew pdf file for information from the Israel Ministry of Health).

Among new interns, there is also a positive trend of female representation in Israel’s OB-GYN figures, with 47 out of 69 (68%) in 2010, and 78 out of 103 (75%) in 2020, although, overall, only 41% percent of new doctors in 2020 were women.

On the other hand, a growing percentage of new doctors in Israel are Arabs and Druze, 46% of all new doctors in 2020, as opposed to 18% in 2010 and 11% in 2000. About 75% of them were men in 2020, such that women in Israel can expect to be treated by a higher rate of Arab and Druze men.

The Problem

I am not rooting for female OB-GYNs because I am a feminist. Quite the opposite, you can call me an overprotective husband and father. I am a conservative and traditional minded man. I don’t want women to be treated intimately by men if there is another possibility, although they are allowed this halakhically and have the legal right to have someone else in the room with them if treated by a man.

A religious family might strictly guard their daughter’s modesty. She will be required to dress modestly and cover nearly every part of her body. She will go to an all-girls school. She will not be left in the company of men or go on dates without parental guidance and oversight. An engaged couple will not be able to touch each other before marriage, and clearly not expose any nakedness. Then her parents will send her to the doctor for whatever reason, and she will be required to undress before a strange man and be touched by him?

What kind of modesty is that? What kind of sensitivity is this to the girl’s feelings? She guarded herself closely for all those years. She is pure and innocent. Suddenly we make exceptions when it comes to doctors?

The same dilemma applies to our wives. They are married women, and we expect extreme modesty from them. They should not have to expose themselves to strange men and be touched by them. They should be given an equal opportunity to be treated by women, particularly when it comes to obstetricians and gynecologists. In these fields, they should be clearly warned when a male doctor is assigned to them, and they should be given the right to opt out: To choose to be treated only by women

When given the choice, I’m sure that most women would choose to be treated by women. On the rare occasion when an expert opinion is needed, they might opt to be checked by a man, since most experts in the field are still men, but that should change with time. The older professors and male gynecologists will eventually retire. The future of the field should be placed in the hands of women, and we need to make sure that happens.

Men can specialize in the many other areas of medicine. Leave obstetrics and gynecology to women.

Yshai Amichai is a father of six and an author with a legal education, whose books advocate upholding the Torah as a national Constitution. He may be contacted at: [email protected]