Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Manners maketh the man



By Colette NiReamonn Ioannidou

For some women removing their clothes in front of a stranger may not be a big deal; they’re relaxed about their bodies. Others, however, are reluctant to visit a gynecologist to expose that part of their anatomy, even risking cervical cancer with conscious avoidance. For most of us there’s a knees-up-Mother-Brown necessity sooner or later. As one friend termed it, putting the baby in is the sweet end of the deal for a woman. Pushing it out is the Eve punishment for having supposedly originated the ‘sinful’ fun while Adam gets away with walking the floor or standing over her saying, ‘Breathe, darling,’ as if stopping is an option.

For me at least, having that first medical invasion of privacy and body is filed as an ‘I remember it well’, along with the easier memory of my first kiss: neither was what I had expected at the time. My fist boyfriend was a bit older than me and more experienced in mouth-to-mouth exploration. My Roman Catholic lips were firmly sealed against the threat of a French kiss while he opened his, and that anticipated first delight was a trifle damp and disappointing.

My first experience of a cervical examination also came in my early teens. My widowed mother was working, my older sisters looking after young families. So, when I needed a problem checked out as menstruation became a present nuisance, I had to go alone to our family doctor, a trusted man who had seen to our medical needs over years. I explained the symptoms and expected, as had my mother, that any examination would be a tummy prod. But no, I was asked to remove my lower clothing and lie on the couch. He then proceeded to give me an internal examination.

I remember very well what I was wearing that day: a red cotton summer coat and walking home my face competed with the coat as to which was the deeper shade. I felt violated even though that wasn’t a term we used then. I was conscious of that intrusion as I walked and wondered if my stride showed that my virginity had been invaded; I hurt. I also recall my mother’s expression when I told her what had happened.

There was nowhere to go with that, a doctor was a revered species in a small town, but she felt my distress deeply. I am not for a moment suggesting the man was a lecher, I have no lasting impression or sense of him taking advantage, it was all very swift. But overhearing family talk about it later, I knew he shouldn’t have done that without an adult present. It was a small cyst, dismissed like a hand wave as nothing to worry about… from his point of view.

In Cyprus I found a gynecologist reputed to be one of the best. His manner immediately put me at ease and his examination was respectful, he covered my naked bits with a cloth, and was always courteous. Older, I was at a loss when he retired and was recommended another by a friend; he was the total opposite. He told me to take my things off and hop up. He offered neither manners nor a discreet cover to a woman old enough to be his mother. When he had finished the internal, I was told to remove my top clothing so he could check my breasts for lumps, which would leave me utterly nude. He stood looking at me and I had to ask him sharply to turn around as I wanted to dress my undressed half first. I did not go to him again.

A routine check in the Nicosia system offered a very nice, respectful young man and his kind, fresh trainee. Pre Gesy, the cubicle was about the size of a giant’s shoebox and awkward, but I came away feeling it had been a positive experience. For a gynecologist an internal examination is as routine as it gets in any other job and now, with many women in that field, there is wider choice, and some of us feel they are more understanding of what it means to be very shy or very young, or both.

I have also known one who gave the impression he liked the perks of his profession a bit too enthusiastically. The friend who used him passed off his jokes and behaviour as ‘putting us at ease.’ He put me on guard, his handsome face no compensation for his leery attitude.

We’re all different, and how we see people is naturally subjective, tuned to our own instincts and what we are willing to allow as acceptable behaviour. There is a difference between the doctor who treats you as a person and the one who treats you as a piece of meat. For some women an intimate examination will be a shrug of the shoulders; for others it will be a dreaded encounter. The skills are learned in medical school, but how a man approaches examining a woman, or her impressionable daughter may stem from an attitude of respect learned in the home – or not.


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