Women only? an Exploration of the Place of Men within Nursing
This dissertation came out of my wondering why there are still so few men going into nursing especially when one considers that the history of nursing reveals men have been a part of nursing for a long time. In New Zealand it is only since the mid seventies that men have been able to gain the exact same nursing qualifications as their women colleagues.
Men in nursing are still seen as unusual in that they work in a predominantly female occupation and have had their masculinity questioned by the myth that all men in nursing must be gay. There is also the notion that caring is a difficult task for men and is seen by society as a uniquely feminine ability. Both issues are related to dominant notions of masculinity. In addition to this there is currently a crisis in terms of a nursing shortage and it has been suggested that one way to resolve this crisis is to encourage more men into nursing. Thus this exploration as to why there are so few men in nursing is timely.
Men who choose nursing as a career risk challenging the traditional roles of their gender stereotype. A comprehensive search of the literature from different disciplines reveals deeper issues than just the commonly held assumption that nursing is not masculine. Exploring the issues of gender with a particular focus on masculinity has uncovered the concept of hegemonic masculinity. This describes how gender is practiced in a way that legitimises patriarchy, reinforcing the dominant position of men overiwomen as well as over other groups of men. It is these patriarchal attitudes that have seen men marginalised within nursing. On the one hand men in nursing could be seen as challenging the current dominant masculine ideal. However, on the other hand men in nursing may not challenge this hegemonic masculinity; instead often supporting the status quo in an effort to maintain their own masculinity.
The implication for nursing, if it is to increase the numbers of men in the profession, is to challenge this notion of hegemonic masculinity. This needs to be done appropriately by critically examining this concept rather than by merely replacing one hegemony with another. A greater awareness of how hegemonic masculinity and notions of gender have historically affected, and continue to affect the development of nursing is important. However, issues of gender and masculinity have often been overlooked in nursing education. It is now time for nursing education to include a critical exploration of gender issues and how it relates to men as part of undergraduate nursing education for both men and women students.