Sign the petition demanding accountability from the profession about taking real action on diversity initiatives: http://chng.it/kvmqpHyXpp

My first year of vet school, our endocrinology professor started the year by saying the word “bitch” as many times as possible in one hour. It wasn’t done antagonistically- the proper word for a female dog is “bitch”, after all, so he was trying to get us used to hearing the word.

I sighed, as did most of the women around me. We were more than used to hearing the word. Is there anyone more intimately familiar with that word than a woman in the dog world?

The first time it was directed at me by a much older man, I was 17 and, much like Representative Ocasio-Cortez, I was in the process of minding my own business when it was directed at me in return for some past transgression. In this case, I believe it was beating him in a game of doubles tennis at the local community college. He waited until my father left the room, but my boyfriend heard it loud and clear. Bewildered, I let it slide. Like most daily aggressions directed at women, you develop a callus to it because you really don’t have a choice.

When men erupt, they’re ‘passionate’ (I believe that was the official line from the Yoho campaign). We, of course, are bitchy. Or shrill. Or out of our minds. How unfortunate for our profession that one of our most visible members is now part of the national news for his ‘passion’, directed at a young Latina woman.

I wish I could say I was shocked. I’m not. One of the ugly truths of the veterinary profession is its long history of misogyny dating back from the very first rejection letters sent in the 1950s telling women “we can’t accept you because you’re physically weak and you’d take the place away from a more deserving man.” You don’t belong. And when someone insists on a seat at the table, they pay the price. Bitch.

Here’s another ugly truth. Our profession is filled with unhappy people- unhappy for a variety of reasons both in and out of our control- tasked with the duty of being professional at all times. We manage it pretty well in front of our clients. In front of each other? Not so much. It is a tried and true tradition for people one level above to take out their frustration on their team members- mostly women- who have no real recourse.

I’ve been yelled at, had things thrown at me, belittled, dodged needles and scalpels, and responded by saying nothing because otherwise, I’d be being a bitch, and the man doing the yelling and throwing and abusing is simply having a bad day. Rinse, repeat. We normalize it and, because even now we feel like we have to prove we deserve that seat at the table, we ignore it. I don’t know Ted Yoho personally but it’s not a stretch to assume this isn’t the first time he’s treated women this way. Veterinary medicine likes to pretend our legacy is James Herriot, and in reality- we get Yoho.

You don’t get to put yourself in the public eye, call yourself a leader, and accept backpats for being a titan of the profession while refusing to accept responsibility for the actions you then take in public as a leader. After I got home each day from being yelled at, I’d cash my check, send in my dues to AVMA, who would then write a check to Ted Yoho through their PAC to go to DC and represent our profession. So yes, we get to react to this. He is currently the nation’s most visible veterinarian for all the wrong reasons.

In addition to all the struggles surrounding the gender imbalances in the profession, we also have a massive diversity problem. It is not going to solve itself, which we know from the successful outcomes on the human side, but it will take an acknowledgement from leadership that there is a problem and some concrete steps to rectify it. It is the foundation of the #wakeupvetmed movement and the reason we are all asked to sign this petition asking AVMA to engage in the conversation in a meaningful way. If we let this slide, what message does this send to the men and women of color who have found this to be an intimidating, unwelcome profession?

If you could engineer a situation to test our profession’s genuine willingness to take a stand and to actually face some uncomfortable truths, I can think of no better scenario than its reaction to one of its most visible leaders, an older white man with a substantial amount of clout, calling a young Latina woman an effin bitch on the steps of the Capitol. This isn’t just any old veterinarian. He represents all of us- quite poorly, it would seem.

In a time where our faults and inequities are being laid bare, our leadership has already fumbled once with a lackluster response to Black Lives Matter that backfired spectacularly. Here’s your second chance to get it right. There likely won’t be another.

This is the litmus test for AVMA and everyone who has maintained the status quo of people like Yoho for years. The people paying into this organization are by and large women these days. We have been told our ideas matter. We have been told AVMA understands the impact of a lack of diversity has on animal and population health, and wants to commit to making this a more inclusive organization at the leadership level to women and underrepresented minorities.

Did you mean it?

What actions are you going to take next? Hint: Lack of action is, itself, an action that speaks for itself.

We are watching, and waiting.