Anita Ansari: Overcoming the bias

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      By Anita Ansari

      Ever feel like you need credentials to be taken seriously? Two recent experiences have me reflecting on a “qualified bias” and the work required to have a solid footing for others to value our experience.

      Last month, I sprained my foot and went to get it checked at a clinic. While waiting for my turn at the walk-in, I started running through all the preamble for the doctor in my head. As a woman going into a random physician’s office, I have qualifying statements ready to make sure my concerns are not dismissed.

      My qualifying statements are that I’ve had two home births using just Tylenol, and I’m an engineer with a few letters after my name. I then prepare to explain what’s wrong with me, after I’ve established that my pain threshold is high and I have technical credentials.  

      I get called in the room. I’m sitting and mentally reviewing my qualifying statements, when in walks a female doctor. She looks a bit hesitant, then nervously asks me what’s wrong. I skip past my qualifiers, and she listens to my concerns then checks my ankle. She notes it is indeed a sprain and explains why it’s not a broken bone. She tells me what I can do to fix the swelling, how long it might take to get better, and what probably caused it. The discussion takes five minutes.

      When the doctor entered in the room, it struck me that she looked a familiar kind of worried. I would bet that she was going over her own qualifying statements, since she is also systematically dealing with the same gender biases I am. It just so happened that this time her patient was a woman­, so we skipped past validating ourselves and went straight to the important part.

      This got me thinking, how many of us have these qualifying statements lined up? I’m lucky, even privileged, to have the tools to be heard—an education, a secure place in society, an appetite and tolerance for dialogue. What about women who don’t have these things?

      What about the women who spoke at the June 26 New Westminster public hearing for temporary modular housing that would provide support for women without homes? How many of those women spent time qualifying themselves so they wouldn’t be dismissed? How often in their lives do they have to prove they are worthwhile individuals before discussing their basic needs for survival? And how many people dismissed them before they even spoke? 

      I feel lucky to live in a community where our city officials heard the women and listened to what they were asking for to fulfill their basic human needs, and then followed through, without requiring qualifying statements. I hope one day, all of us women will be fortunate enough to be heard, without first having to explain our legitimacy in the arenas where we advocate for ourselves and others.  

      Anita Ansari is an engineer, mother and tireless volunteer, currently serving as both an administrator of the 3,000-strong New West Mom's Group as well as the co-chair of New Westminster's oldest daycare society. She is making her first attempt this fall to be elected as a New Westminster school board trustee.