With a combined background in gender studies and sociology, I can't help but perform gender analysis of any given situation, especially when a gender divide is glaringly obvious. Like at AO. On International Women's Day.

A great gender divide exists in dentistry.  According to the ADA, women account for a paltry 17% of active practitioners in the US as of 2003. The numbers are a bit better when you look at recent grads. Here, women make up nearly 35% of active practitioners. Women are also underrepresented in specialized dentistry? I need only to flip through the AO program guide to see that this is true. There is less than a handful of female presenters at this meeting, out of many dozens over the course of three days.  Naturally I made it a priority to attend a lecture given by one of these few women.

On Friday I arrived at the convention centre bright and early, grabbed some Cinnamon Toast Crunch (seriously this is what they're serving dentists for breakfast!) and settled in for Dr. Ingeborg De Kok's presentation, Abutment Design: Problems and Solutions. Here was a woman who had overcome a number of barriers in order to succeed in implant dentistry. She must be progressive, I thought. She must be smashing conventional gender roles, I presumed. Boy was I ever wrong. You can imagine my dismay when she made a joke at the expense of all women when describing how to choose an appropriate abutment in the face of a dearth of information about the products.

Well, I'm a woman, right? So I choose it the same way women choose cars. I picked the prettier one.

Needless to say, the joke fell flat. Or maybe it was not meant as a joke at all, but as a viable explanation for choosing abutments. Regardless, here was a woman who, despite her obvious successes in a traditionally male-dominated field, had relied on conventional gender roles to explain how she makes important decisions about her work.

Naturally, I had to ask myself why she would do this. Is this a survival tactic for making it in dentistry Females are more likely than males to engage in self-deprecation. Perhaps this is a way for her to hold on to her femininity while operating in a field that is largely dominated by men. By adopting this narrative, she is telling the world that she still espouses traditional gender roles despite her role in a field where few women succeed.

So here I am, on International Women's Day, analyzing the role of women in dentistry. While it's clear that women have made great strides in terms of representation in this field, there is still room for improvement. It is my hope that some day in the not-too-distant future, women will not have to rely on self-deprecating narratives in the professional world, or really, any world at all.

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