‘That’s good for a girl’: facing sexism and homophobia as a same-sex couple

Dentistry speaks to Eleanor and Emily Pittard as part of the Celebrating Women in Dentistry campaign to hear about their experiences as a same-sex couple in dentistry. They discuss homophobia, the stigma around motherhood and hiding their relationship from patients.

Please introduce yourselves

We are Emily and Eleanor Pittard, and we co-own Hive Dental Laboratory and Dental Clinic based in Bournemouth.

Emily is a CDT and Eleanor has managed private implant dental practices in the past.

How did you meet?

We met at work. I (Eleanor) was working in admin at a specialist implant practice at the time (she’d only just started in the world of dentistry) and Emily was working for a dental lab in her capacity as a dual-qualified technician and nurse.

Emily would come with the CDT she was working with at the time to help nurse at the practice I was at, and we started getting to know each other.

How did you both enter the world of dentistry?

Emily trained as a dental nurse at the age of 16 after her mother suggested it might be a good way of eventually becoming a dentist. She then qualified as a technician and later as a CDT.

I started working part-time in a specialist practice, helping out with their admin and marketing and soon took over as manager.

How has your experience been as women working in dental technology/dentistry?

There is an air of superiority or arrogance to some male dentists – primarily those in the generations above us – who have felt the need to patronise a little to us throughout our careers.

This has included how to respond to complaints, how to use a dental system or a spreadsheet, or the age old ‘that’s good, for a girl’ which Emily gets quite a lot of the time.

For the most part, though, dentistry is not that bad. Dental technology, however, is still incredibly male-oriented.

It’s a bit of a ‘boy’s club’ sometimes. But we’ve noticed a shift in the last few years led by the younger generations and some seriously incredible female technicians.

How has your experience been as a same-sex couple working in dentistry?

You sometimes get a surprised reaction. And then they don’t know how to talk to you because they don’t know who to direct the ‘man questions’ to and who to direct the ‘woman questions’ to.

Or they are so okay with it that they feel the need to tell you about their LGBTQ+ cousin twice removed just so you know they are an ally.

For reference, Emily gets the man questions because she is the technician, so that automatically make her more masculine apparently.

But you get a lot of positive reactions too. One dentist we work with is so welcoming and checks his own sentences mid-way through to make sure he is inclusive. Other nurses we have worked with in the past sent us a one-year wedding anniversary card which was so lovely to receive.

We’ve had a few people who, while at first seemed very interested in working with us, once they found out the nature of our relationship seemed to lose interest swiftly. But otherwise, we’ve been very lucky in that we’ve not dealt with a lot of hate and our team members have always been fine with it.

The one area we tend to hide our relationship from is the patients, unfortunately. You never know how they will take it – some have been incredible and given us so much lovely support, but others have not been so kind.

Can you please tell us about your plans to have children?

Ideally, we would love to extract our eggs, fertilise them outside of the womb and each carry the others egg so that our children would have a different blood and birth mother.

However, as Emily will find it much more difficult to have time off (being the clinician) at the moment we are looking at just Eleanor giving birth to both.

We wanted to start a family last year but we couldn’t due to a traumatic situation throughout the year. We’re hoping we can start the process this year.

You are both co-owners of Hive Dental Laboratory. How do you plan on balancing being mothers alongside your career when the time comes?

It’s definitely not going to be easy! We don’t have a lot of family nearby to rely on, but we are lucky in that we have a solid group of friends to help out when needed.

Neither one of us wants to completely stop working, so the aim is for me to take a few months maternity leave and then come back in slowly and rely on our team a little to entertain or help out (those that like children of course!).

We are lucky enough to work with people who we like and trust, and they have already offered to take turns entertaining when the times comes.

We would rather our children get used to multiple different people from an early age and to build a community of people around them they can trust and feel safe with.

Do you feel there is a stigma around the topic of motherhood as a same-sex couple in dentistry/dental technology? What experiences have you had?

There is a stigma around this topic for same-sex couples full stop. Dentistry is no different.

You always come up against the usual ‘but what about a father figure’ – as if single women haven’t been raising children effectively for decades.

Or ‘what will you do if you have a son’ – to which we say that we will raise them to respect all genders and treat everyone with the respect they deserve, as should everyone.

Mostly those who have an issue with it just ask us why we would even want to have children. It’s seen as a natural transition for straight couples, but there is a concern for some that bringing a child up in a same-sex relationship will somehow negatively impact their life.

The shift in the last few years has been dramatic though. Take this article for example – a few years ago a same-sex couple wouldn’t have been considered for this topic.

The amount of discussion around this topic, the courses and CPD available now on inclusivity and diversity and the openness people have to talking about it is encouraging.

Do you have any concerns about being mothers as a same-sex couple? If so, what are they?

Our main concern is that it will create another layer of difficulty for our children as their family won’t conform to who society as a whole thinks it should. This may result in bullying at school.

However, one thing that dentistry is showing us is just how open the younger generation is. Gen-Z is leading the way for inclusivity, equality and just allowing people to be who they are.

We find this incredibly exciting and it makes us hopeful for when our children will go to school.

What advice would you give to other same-sex couples who are considering having a family in dentistry?

Find your tribe. It’s important to have a variety of people around you from different backgrounds and with different life experiences who can support you.

There are a lot of good people in dentistry – a lot of allies.

Just move swiftly on from the haters because they aren’t worthy of your time anyway. And you can always give us a call if you need to chat!

Keep an eye out on Dentistry.co.uk throughout March for all of our Celebrating Women in Dentistry stories:

  • ‘Being a mother is the hardest job I will ever have’
  • Choosing to be child-free – ‘I was told I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose as a female’.

Follow Dentistry.co.uk on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

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