Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Men Choosing Nursing: Negotiating a Masculine Identity in a Feminine World

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Men Choosing Nursing: Negotiating a Masculine Identity in a Feminine World

Article excerpt

Nursing as a profession traditionally has been, and continues to be, largely dominated by females both in terms of the demographical profile and the common perception of nursing being a job for women (Evans, 2004; Macintosh, 1997; Maggs, 1983; C. O'Lynn, 2007). The minority of men within the profession face not only issues of numerical disadvantage but also issues of gender identity in that their chosen profession is commonly equated with women and femininity. The complexity of how individuals identify with gender is a subject which in recent times has become more open to debate (Connell, 1994, 2005; Mac an Ghaill & Haywood, 2007; Whitehead, 2002). The creation of modern nursing, by Florence Nightingale and others, as a suitable occupation for young women has led to the modern distinctly feminine view of nursing as an occupation (Maggs, 1983; McLaughlin, Muldoon, & Moutray, 2010; C. O'Lynn, 2007; Villeneuve, 1994). Nursing has provided a rich ground for gender-based research, particularly of a feminist hue (Glazer, 1991; Porter, 1992; Simpson, 2009; Walters, Eyles, Lenton, French, & Beardwood, 1998; Williams, 1992). The more recent focus of gender research based on profeminist analysis of masculinities (Connell, 1987, 2005; Haywood & Mac an Ghaill, 2003; Petersen, 2003; Seidler, 2007) has not been widely carried out in nursing. This article describes the perceptions and views of a group of men in Ireland and how they accommodate a masculine gendered identity while choosing to nurse.

Background

Male nurses number around 10% or less of the total population of nurses in most developed countries. In Ireland, men make up 7.8% of the total number of nurses (An Bord Altranais, 2014); in the United Kingdom, that number is 10.7% (Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2008); wider EU state numbers range from 2% to 15% (Salvage & Heijnen, 1997); and the United Sates 9.1% (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2013). From a historical perspective, nursing is also strongly associated with women; however, as Nuttig and Dock (1935), C. O'Lynn (2007), and Mann (2009) argue, this view may ignore the role that men have played in the profession through the ages. Thus, notable individual and collective nursing contributions from men such as St. Ephrem (circa 350 ce) and St. Basil (circa 370 ce), the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, and in modern times, the Alexians and the St John of God Order, have been largely overlooked.

The formation of the modern profession around the Nightingale model is seen by many to be the principle reason that nursing has been portrayed as being the preserve of women (Brown, Nolan, & Crawford, 2000; Evans, 2004; Macintosh, 1997; C. O'Lynn, 2007). This feminization of nursing stemmed from Nightingale's belief that men were not suited to nursing and that it was a natural disposition for a woman to be a nurse (Macintosh 1997). Nightingale is quoted as commenting that men's "hard and horny" hands are not suited "to touch, bathe, and dress wounded limbs, however gentle their hearts may be" (Nightingale cited in Summers, 1988). Much of her doctrine on nursing commented not only on the abilities necessary to make a good nurse but also the personality and ladylike qualities required. It is worth remembering that Nightingale saw the fonnation of a properly regulated nursing profession as a political project which could demonstrate that women could be equal as professionals and as such, she may not deliberately have set out to sideline male nurses.

Nightingale's views, though undoubtedly influential, may not sit comfortably with men or women in the plurality, individualism, and consumerism of contemporary societies. Feminists have, with some success, argued that there is nothing inherently male or requiring of masculinity about professions which have been traditionally male dominated, such as medicine and law. Yet, despite the shifting narratives and histories, nursing remains firmly aligned with being feminine, pointing to other modern narratives being at play. …

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