A Reaction to Jennifer’s Garden: Does the Medical Profession Accept Women As Equals?

Dianne Venetta’s Jennifer’s Garden tells the story of Dr. Jennifer Hamilton, an accomplished and ambitious cardiologist in Florida.  She is engaged to Aurelio, a wealthy man who treats her well, but whose plans for their future will likely limit Jennifer’s ability to balance her career and her personal life in the way she had envisioned.  Feeling pressured to marry before her mother passes away from cancer, Jennifer hires a landscape designer and builder, Jax, to transform the dirt surrounding her house into a magnificent garden, where she plans to hold the wedding ceremony.  Jax is attractive, intelligent, and considerate, but, in Jennifer’s condescending opinion, merely a gardener who bartends on the side.  Nevertheless, could he be a better match for her than Aurelio?  This is a romance/women’s fiction novel, so everyone already knows the answer.

I liked the novel much more than I thought I would, having had a poor reaction to romance novels in the past.  I decided to read it after coming across a positive review.  Some of the characters annoyed me at first: Jennifer is too snobby for me to root for her, and her best friend Samantha is too overbearing.  The novel dragged at the end, too, when miscommunications between Jennifer and Jax prolonged the drama unnecessarily.  The novel’s strong points, however, include its compelling non-romantic relationships, such as friendships, a sibling relationship, and mother-child bonds, and its underlying theme of what should constitute a good marriage: one based on mutual compromise or one based on traditional gender roles, where the man is the dominant partner.

Jennifer is committed to her career, having followed in her parents’ footsteps.  Both had been doctors; her mother, Beatrice, practiced medicine, while her father, Arthur, taught medicine, a more flexible career choice that allowed him to shoulder much of the burden at home to accommodate his wife’s demanding career.  Beatrice tells her daughter, “If anyone can juggle career and family, I know it will be you,” later telling her that “Women physicians were not as accepted [when she entered the profession] as they are today.”

While I agree that women have made great strides in all professions in the last 30 years, I highly doubt that the medical profession accepts female and male physicians as equals.  Almost half of medical school students are women, who graduate to find themselves facing obstacles as they climb from resident to attending and beyond.  Inflexible work schedules disproportionately impact women in a negative way, as they continue to bear a higher percentage of parenting responsibilities as a result of traditional gender norms, thus forcing some women to shift to part-time and others to forego either their careers or their family life.  A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that female physicians are paid nearly $33,000 less per year on average than men.  I wouldn’t call such a wage discrepancy “acceptance” of women in the medical profession, and it suggests the price women pay for becoming (or for having the capacity to become) mothers.

When people ask one of my four-year-old twins whether she wants to be a mommy when she grows up, recognizing how “motherly” she is towards her younger sister, she replies firmly: “No.  I want to be a doctor,” as though motherhood and a medical career are mutually exclusive.  If she still wants to be a doctor when she’s older (that’s if my sister, an emergency room physician, and my father-in-law, a general surgeon, don’t talk her out of it), I hope that the profession she’d enter is far more equitable than the one that exists today.  Incidentally, her identical twin, has consistently said she wants to be a firefighter when she grows up.  Don’t even get me started on the sexism in that traditionally male-dominated field.

Pictures: My then 22-month-old twins dressed as neonatologists for their NICU reunion (a halloween party) in the fall of 2009.

4 thoughts on “A Reaction to Jennifer’s Garden: Does the Medical Profession Accept Women As Equals?

  1. Pingback: Women Can’t “Have It All” Even in Fiction | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  2. Appreciate your frank review. While I love a good romance, I want my novels to be more than hero and heroine, love and romance. I want life’s true struggles to be reflected in my themes. And you’re quite right, women have made great strides in the field of medicine but have yet to reach the mark of 50/50, namely in the role of physician.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I’m probably too harsh on romance novels because it’s not a genre I usually read, although the genres I do read often include an element of romance. Your novel felt more like a women’s fiction novel to me for the first 3/4 of it than like a romance, and I think it would be an ideal selection for someone who wants to read a romance novel with more substance.

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

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