Individuals pursuing a nursing degree or interested in doing so may have noticed that male nurses seem to be anomalies. The widespread perception that nursing is a female profession is far from a natural conclusion, however, and digging into the predominance of women in the field reveals some rather startling and disturbing features of western culture. This article explores the stereotypes and the often-willful blindness to men within the nursing world.

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Rooted in Patriarchy

While the nursing profession has always had male practitioners, the perception that the field is feminine is an excellent example of embedded misogyny. Simply put, caregiving and nurturing are perceived as primarily female pursuits, one that is subordinate to the authority figure of a medical doctor. That the archetypal perception of a doctor is also incorrectly perceived to be male is another facet of this ingrained stereotype.

The observed predominance of female nurses is not due to any natural suitability, but rather the fact that western culture essentially excluded women from most professions seen as masculine. This may be read that women have traditionally been excluded from pursuing any field that accorded authority or social mobility to an individual. Nursing was seen as an occupation or pastime that was suitable but second to a woman’s primary cultural role as subordinate caregiver and the fruitful bearer of a family.

In Euro American modernity, women have been cast as supporting characters to whatever ambitions or earning power a male partner possessed. The role of women as natural nurturers acting in supportive roles rather than those of authority is reified in early education—presenting gendered imagery of these roles: nurses are women and doctors are men. This is only one example of the initial structure embedded that genders the perception of professions and pastimes, but it is a hallmark of patriarchal domination that dictates sex-based genders and sets the stage for restrictive and static ideations of men and women.

Repercussions and Reactivity

This cultural construction essentially disempowers male nurses and discourages many men from pursuing a nursing degree. The ideation of nursing as a strictly female role in society renders men in the field effectively invisible. Their essential work, for nursing, is a vital facet of the caregiving community, is devalued or disavowed entirely, because popular perception says they do not exist.

As has been asserted by J. Evans in an article published by the Journal of Advanced Nursing, the failure to recognize the participation of men in the field of nursing renders examination of gender dynamics within the healthcare sphere opaque, perpetuating inequality and other aspects of disproportionate authority. Because of this opacity, neither can the problems be identified clearly, nor can researchers examine them critically. A literature review of gender discrimination and nursing published in the Journal of Professional Nursing asserts that adult portrayals of nurses in the media further complicate the matter because nurses are characterized as sex objects. They are always women who exhibit little mature self-determination, agency, or resistance to the blandishments of males in general.

Male practitioners of the nursing profession are a fact, unlike the stereotype of the Nurse as a woman. Misunderstanding of feminist principals leads many to believe that recognition must act as a zero-sum game. However, modern feminist ideology applied to male nurses insists that they must be recognized in order to rectify the gross imbalance of power in the medical sphere. With current shortfalls in active practitioners, the nursing profession must address this misapprehension, permitting recognition for both male and female nurses, opening what is popularly believed to be a feminine profession to all individuals seeking a nursing degree.