During the weeks last fall when I was interviewing male nurses for my recent article about how more men were entering nursing, the #MeToo moment was just beginning. It felt as if I were reporting in an alternate reality: The men who talked to me about their call to caregiving bore little resemblance to the men preying on women at work.
The tension was clearly something they were grappling with too — not just because of the cultural moment but also as men doing a stereotypically feminine job. As the reporting on sexual harassment made clear how much masculinity can be about power and misogyny, the nurses offered a very different definition of masculinity.
People often assume that writing about gender — my beat at The Upshot and the focus of a new reporting pod at The New York Times — means writing about women. But writing about men is just as urgent.
For example, I’ve written about how some men have been reluctant to take so-called pink-collar jobs — those held predominantly by women and historically less valued, both in compensation and prestige, as “women’s work” — even though they’re growing, while male-dominated jobs are shrinking. I’ve also written about how we raise girls to fight stereotypes, but not boys, and how young men want to be more involved fathers than previous generations, but workplaces don’t make that possible. The world is changing for men, and women won’t achieve equality unless men make changes.
The male nurses I interviewed and the photographer Ruth Fremson shot seemed acutely aware of these issues. Many of them mentioned that even though they were minorities in their field, they knew they had the societal privileges that come with being men. Male nurses, for instance, still earn more than female nurses.
The nurses also knew they didn’t fit in the traditional mold of masculinity. Many said they were troubled by past recruitment campaigns that played up the masculine aspects of nursing, like one that compared the adrenaline rush to mountain climbing. Instead, they said they embraced the notion that being caring should be considered a masculine trait, too.
The nurses were eager to talk about their passion for the job, but some seemed a little unsure about how to talk about gender roles, especially at this moment. They had clearly thought a lot about it, but it wasn’t something many often spoke about — several followed up with emails, because they didn’t think they’d fully expressed themselves when we talked.
Many of them talked about emotions — those they’ve felt on the job, saving a life or watching one end. Some said how important it was for patients to be able to talk about their feelings. But they also discussed how boys aren’t always raised to express them.
One of the men I interviewed, Adam White, a student nurse at the V.A. hospital in Portland, broke several stereotypes. He had been a philosophy major and a banker, and he is big, bearded and deeply compassionate. He told me he had just found out that he and his wife were having a baby. It had made him think a lot about how to teach these values to a son.
“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,” he said.
One question I often hear from readers when I write about gender and jobs is why it matters if jobs become more equal — why we care if there are more female engineers or male nurses. There are many reasons, but reporting this story made one very clear: People with different backgrounds and identities are able to offer different things to those they serve.
Jake Creviston is a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Portland, Ore., and a former Coast Guard boat captain. He told me about a recent group session of veterans. Near the end, he said, one of them began talking. “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 I just saw all these old men turn and look at him, and they were nodding in absolute agreement,” Mr. Creviston said.
By Claire Cain Miller
this article originally apparatus in The NEw York Times titled ‘Turning Up the Pink Collar’