Articles, blogs, and stories that focus on women in traditionally male-dominated careers are nothing new – women as engineers, construction workers, and even doctors are popular focal points, for example. However, there is one career field traditionally led by women that is being amped up by an influx of men in recent years, making its own new, fresh headlines: Nursing. These days, male nurses are not only entering the field in record numbers, but they are also excelling in what has been a stereotypically feminine line of work.
Claire Cain Miller, a correspondent for the New York Times, often writes about gender topics and issues for The Upshot, a Times website. She reports that people often assume that writing about gender means writing about women. However, writing about men is just as urgent, she explains.
In her article in the New York Times on January 8, 2018, Turning Up the Pink Collar, Miller recalls how she was interviewing male nurses about their careers when the #MeToo movement was just taking off; she relays how the men she interviewed seemed vastly different than those at the focus of the movement. “The men who talked to me about their call to caregiving bore little resemblance to the men preying on women,” she explains.
While many people today would equate men with the traditional, stereotypical male character traits of toughness, sternness, and a lack of emotional show, male nurses define with that a different and unique addition: compassion. The men she interviewed were wrestling with the tension not only of the cultural attention to the #MeToo movement, but also of the fact that they were men working in a traditionally feminine profession.
“Pink-collar jobs” is a term that was first coined during World War II to describe jobs held predominantly by women. Back then, it included jobs such as transcribers, typists, teachers, secretaries, and – you guessed it – nurses. Coincidentally, it’s also been used to describe those same jobs that are historically less valued, both in prestige and in pay. While these pink-collar jobs are now growing in number and in respect, the jobs that are traditionally dominated by men are doing just the opposite.
First, there are growing numbers of men who want to be more involved as fathers with their children than those of previous generations, and many “man careers” don’t allow time for that. Second, the manufacturing labor market that supported families after the Second World War for decades has largely disappeared. This shift is forcing people to change the way they work; many men are moving away from the vanishing blue-collar jobs to gravitate toward the pink-collar careers in order to remain part of the workforce.
Equal Still Doesn’t Mean Equal
Most male nurses seem to be aware of the issues surrounding the current push for feminism, and many acknowledge the fact that even though they are the “minority” in the field of nursing, they still hold and benefit from societal “male privileges” – such as the fact that on average, male nurses still earn more than female nurses.
What else are male nurses most often aware of? Not only do they know they don’t fit the traditional role of a nurse, but they’re also aware that they don’t always fit the general traditional role of masculinity. Many male nurses interviewed by Miller stated that they were bothered by the recruitment campaigns out there for male nurses – one in particular that bothered many men compared the adrenaline rush of the nursing field to that of mountain climbing.
Masculine + Feminine = Human
Most men interviewed by Miller agreed that being a caring individual should be considered a masculine trait. Compassion, therefore, should be considered a human trait, and not expressly male or female, right? The nurses had no issue discussing their passion for their jobs, but many were more ill at ease and unsure about discussing gender roles. Male nurses most often agree that while it’s important that all patients, regardless of gender, are able to talk about their feelings, they know that most boys still aren’t raised to do that. The stereotype still largely holds true that men are to be unwavering, untiring, stanch, unemotional, and rock-like.
Adam White is not your stereotypical nursing student: He is large, bearded, and is deeply passionate. During the interview with Miller, White explained, “I think we need to encourage our boys to expand the things they are culturally allowed to be interested in, to support their expressions of emotion and empathy, and permit them to be vulnerable.”
Jake Creviston, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and former Coast Guard boat captain, would agree. As he once attended a group session with fellow veterans, one of them brought up his experiences as a soldier. Creviston explains, “This strapping dude was like, ‘As men, we’re taught to contain our emotions, and I just got back from war – and you know how scary that was?’” And all the old men, the soldiers, the traditional male “tough guys” were looking at him and nodding in complete agreement as he spoke.
Why We Need Colorless Collars
Why is diversity in the workplace so important? Why should we care if there are more male nurses, or more female engineers than in generations past? One of the most important reasons is because people with diverse backgrounds and different identities bring a variety perks to an assortment of career fields. “Different” can often serve as a synonym for “new” and as barriers are broken, new points of view, new auras, new strengths, and new vantage points are introduced. These additions are slowly but surely leading the way for a more diverse, stronger workforce altogether – regardless of the color of the collar worn.