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OPINION EXTRA

Gender typing of roles has to stop: Caring is not a feminine trait

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Barbara Corney asks how many times have you heard someone say “a male nurse” or a nice “lady doctor”? 

Thank goodness that someone has put pen to paper to underline the fact that nurses are not the poor relations of doctors, and that they too have a dedicated university education that places them, academically, on an equal footing.

As Bill Whitehead argued, “something deeper than the educational and legislative process must be going on”.

Previously it fell women to nurture the child, as no other nourishment was available.

And once the carer and nurturer label was firmly attached, the course was set - women got married, procreated and stayed in the home, looking after not only children but also the sick and elderly.

This served as a good reason to exclude women from public places, for example, education and the job market.

“How many times do we see nurses portrayed as angels? Why can we not simply be ‘nurses’?”

It involved the mythologising of women, who were made out to be the archetypal mother figure that was almost akin to an angel or a goddess.

Thus women were categorised, according to men, and we can still see this happening today within nursing. How many times do we see nurses portrayed as angels? Why can we not simply be ‘nurses’?

Women were allowed out from the home when they were required, as we saw in World War II, and did many jobs previously performed by men. An unfortunate corollary was that, when the men returned from war, women had to resume their places in the home.

With the second wave of feminism came the choice for women who wished to decide when and if to have children. They entered the job market and maintained some degree of independence, at least financially.

“Nurses have traditionally been perceived as uneducated, doing a job that all women do as a natural act”

But a lot of women did the same jobs as men for less pay, and some had to leave their employment if they got married. This again restated the message that women should be kept in the home, and that men were in fact, the “breadwinners”.

We can now see how women, through countless ages, have been exploited and marginalised by a patriarchal society.

“Male nurses suffer from these gender stereotypes as much as females: they are perceived as having stepped out of the male arena into the feminine arena of caring”

Lady Thatcher, if you remember, was always portrayed as a man in a suit in a popular comedy programme of the day.

Some critics questioned “is she a woman at all?” This shows how she was feared for her intelligence and acumen. If a woman acts in such a way and displays the trappings of power together with a fearsome intellect, she is said to ‘act like a man’.

Similarly, nurses have traditionally been perceived as uneducated, doing a job that all women do as a natural act, not one that requires academic education.

This need for education is called for more than ever, as women take up hard won places in roles that are not always female dominated, if we are to get away from role and gender stereotyping.

Women and nurses, male and female need to break out of their boxes and escape this – how many times have we heard “a male nurse” or a nice “lady doctor”?  This gender typing of roles serves to underpin the strangeness of the occurrence.

Male nurses suffer from these gender stereotypes as much as females: they are perceived as having stepped out of the male arena into the feminine arena of caring.  

This antiquated ideology must cease if we are to play our parts in providing seamless, high quality episodes of care to our patients.

Collegiality is the key to this concept, which is unobtainable without equality and respect for each other’s disciplines. Creative discussion, openness and transparency will make it possible to question decisions made by other parties without fear of criticism for stepping out of line.

Patients should and must come first: is it too much to ask that we drop these ridiculous hierarchies for their sake, if not our own?

I think not.

 

Barbara Corney is a PhD student at the University of Bradford

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • angels? female? name one! (gabriella? michelle? satani?) even when hollywood portreys god as female, the angels are still blokey.

    may seem pedantic but feminist debates often hinge on the role language plays in maintaining inequality.

    still, probably best avoid the angel tag. they more often weild swords or pitchforks than syringes or bedpans.

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  • The media - especially the tabloid papers - are probably the worse culprits for stereotyping nurses here in the UK.


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  • Females DO have more sympathy, generally, or that was how it used to be before boys were made to play with dolls, wear dresses and girls play rugby. Each gender has something to offer to the world, but they do not have the same qualities to be treated identically in all walks of life. Some females make bad nurses, some males make excellent nurses, as in all other walks of life, nothing is perfect

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  • bill whitehead

    Thanks Barbara Corney for quoting my words in your excellent article. All the best with your PhD.

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