Growing up in an environment filled with a strong technological presence, one thing I remember from learning in elementary school was to watch what you put on social media. Every social media account you made, I learned, had the potential to become a reason for expulsion, or even worse… getting fired.
I was taught that a good employer would always check your socials to make sure that there were no so-called “unprofessional” posts. There was no definite standard for an “unprofessional” post — it is completely objective to the employer or company.
Some generally well-known no-no posts are any post involving alcohol and any controversial political opinions. Other than that, it was free reign. Some companies don’t want their employees to post associating themselves with religious affiliations, some say they don’t want certain clothing, while others just don’t care. Not only does that leave plenty of gray areas, but it also creates a gigantic pathway for sexism in the workplace.
A recent publishing in the Journal of Vascular Surgery regarding unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons sparked media outcry regarding — rightly so — between medical professionals. This study, meant to help remind young surgeons that unprofessional content on social media “can be accessed by peers, patients and current/future employers.”
It went as far as to state that any media posts that contain “unprofessional” content include posts with “Inappropriate attire […] pictures in underwear, provocative Halloween costumes and provocative posing in bikinis/swimwear”— regardless of the fact that these pictures would only be taken outside of the workplace.
There’s truly only one thing to say about this statement. That it’s sexist and invasive. Whoops, that’s two.
Before I breakdown how problematic this is, let’s talk about the way this study was conducted. Many were quick to call out the clear bias in methodology while conducting the study. Not only is the way they conducted the experiment unethical, but it cannot be considered an experiment.
By definition, an experiment is research done through the manipulation of a variable and nothing was manipulated here — well aside from the doctors who allowed “neutral” aka anonymous social media accounts to follow them.
Thinking these accounts were run by the average Joe, and not a medical colleague already created a bias in the “experiment.” I don’t like the idea of my aunt following me on Instagram, let alone my boss. Most people would not have accepted this fake follow request knowing their posts would be used as data about professionalism.
Even if they knew their posts would be used in the study, they could have easily hidden, archived or deleted some especially “unprofessional” pictures, skewing the data. A group of doctors essentially went undercover, made fake social media accounts, followed doctors then reported how many posts fit into their definition of “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.”
Because stalking your coworkers under a fake name is completely appropriate professional.
Along with questioning the legitimacy of this article, many doctors were quick to respond with posting pictures of themselves on vacation (visible mimosas in hand) or at the beach, but more importantly, the hashtag “medbikini” was created.
This hashtag, used primarily among female doctors who posted pictures in swimwear or “inappropriate” clothing, alongside a picture of them in scrubs, helped prove an important point: wearing a bikini does not invalidate years of schooling and medical training. It also addressed how the statement was blatantly being used as a way to control what women do during their free time.
It’s bad enough that most employees are held to standard or not posing with alcohol in their pictures (it’s not like they’re showing up to work drunk, it’s during their free time), but on top of that, the statement the journal published polices how doctors spend their free time even more.
Going to the beach and posting a cute bikini pic already has negative societal connotations regardless of your profession, but specifically labeling these as “provocative” create unnecessary fear for women, who are afraid of others questioning their legitimacy as doctors.
“Medbikini” drew the necessary attention to the article and caused outrage amongst young doctors, leading to the journal to quickly retract it, according to CNN, followed with a statement, despite being publishing the article in late 2019. Their statement, more of damage control for their reputation, is not a proper apology. It fails to acknowledge what harm these types of statements have, and it especially fails to address the already prevalent sexism IN medical workspaces, forget outside of it.
As a girl growing up with an interest in STEM, the Journal of Vascular Surgery should be ashamed of themselves. Their statement completely undermines the efforts of any conversations around gender parity in healthcare. Not only does their statement deter future doctors, nurses, and health care workers, but it closes off such an important field of study from such a broad audience — young women.