Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Sex Differences in Gender Characteristics of Australian Nurses and Male Engineers: A Comparative Cross-Sectional Survey

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Sex Differences in Gender Characteristics of Australian Nurses and Male Engineers: A Comparative Cross-Sectional Survey

Article excerpt


Sex role theory ascribes personality characteristics to individuals consistent with social norms. In this framework men and women are required to act in ways that are culturally appropriate for their sex. There continue to be assumptions within the nursing literature that nursing is synonymous with femininity, the female sex role. The ability of men to assume the feminine sex role identity expected of nurses, has become a point of contention (Evans, 1997; Loughrey, 2008). Over the past three decades there has been considerable attention in the nursing literature to the analysis of sex role characteristics (Carlsson, 1988; Culkin, Tricarico, & Cohen, 1987; Galbraith, 1991) and role strain in male nurses (Cummings, 1995; Egeland & Brown, 1989; Fitzgerald, 1995). This is despite contemporary critiques of sex role theory as an inadequate theory of gender socialisation, failing to explain social inequality and power differences between the sexes and within each sex (Carrigan, Connell, & Lee, 1985; Connell, 1985; Kimmel, 1987). A simple assumption that nursing and nursing work is associated with the 'feminine sex-role' has provided some with a feminist standpoint to critically analyse the position of men in nursing. Examples of this include studies by Egeland and Brown (1988, 1989) and McCutcheon (1996).

Despite a growing number of studies investigating psychological sex characteristics in nurses, the results reported in the nursing literature are unclear and are contradictory. Like the general literature, the results on nurses are not defi nitive; some studies indicating no sex differences for masculinity and femininity (Fisher, 1999; Pontin, 1988; Sprouse, 1987) and one study reported a sex difference (McCutcheon, 1996). Few studies report role strain associated with being a male nurse. The results of the studies are further blurred by methodological concerns, such as small sample sizes and validity issues of scales.


Gender ideology and identity, coupled with the culturally constructed feminine nurse creates tensions for and stereotypes of male nurses. The stereotypes male nurses experience are well documented in the nursing literature and include: ladder-climber or underachiever (Gans, 1987; Groff, 1984; Heikes, 1991; Rallis, 1990; Wilson, 2005), he-man (the use of men to undertake heavy physical work; Gans, 1987; Heikes, 1991), and homosexual (Bush, 1976; Evans, 1997; Gans, 1987; Heikes, 1991; Hesselbart, 1977; Isaccs & Poole, 1996; Lo & Brown, 1999; Nelson & Belcher, 2006; Rallis, 1990; Williams, 1995). Male nurses are continuously scrutinized for their ability to display both the feminine characteristics of a nurse whilst conforming to the hegemonic masculine ideology (Fisher, 2009).

In studies examining student nurse's perceptions of the 'ideal nurse', the androgynous nurse (a nurse who displays both masculine and feminine characteristics) was described by students as the 'ideal nurse' (Holroyd, Bond, & Chan, 2002; Minnigerode, Kavser-Jones, & Garcia, 1978; Sprouse, 1987). Several studies have found no signifi cant difference between male and female nurses in masculine and feminine characteristics, with both groups displaying a tendency towards androgyny (Fisher, 1999; Pontin, 1988; Sprouse, 1987). The diffi culty with the interpretation of these studies is their small sample sizes and the failure to establish statistical power. In a recent descriptive study on Irish male nurses, Loughrey (2008) found that male nurses identifi ed themselves more strongly with the feminine sex role than they did with the masculine sex role.

According to some, the confl ict between occupation and gender identity produces role strain in male nurses (Cummings, 1995; Davis-Martin, 1984; Fitzgerald, 1995). When individuals violate the traditional sex role for their sex, they may feel personally inadequate and insecure (Pleck, 1987). In contrast, studies suggest that adjustment, depression and anxiety are associated with the nature of the masculine and feminine scales rather than role confl ict. …

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