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

Article excerpt


There continue to be assumptions within the nursing literature that nursing is synonymous with a feminine sex role identity. A comparative cross-sectional survey consisting of the Bem Sex Role Inventory and the Australian sex role scale was used to determine sex difference in gender characteristics of Australian nurses and with male engineers. A statistically signifi cant difference in femininity was found between all the samples (F(2,908) = 20.24, p < 0.00001; F(2,908) = 60.13, p < 0.00001). A statistical difference in masculinity was found between female nurses and the two male samples on the two masculine scales (F(2,908) = 12.48, p < 0.000001; F(2,908) = 6.94, p = 0.001). Path analysis found strong signifi - cant direct relationships between the samples and expressive orientation (t = 27.67) and self display (t = 12.42). Whilst differences in expressive characteristics were found between male and female nurses, a similar difference was found between male nurses and male engineers, supporting the notion that male nurses perceive themselves as having feminine characteristics essentially required for nursing.

Keywords: caring; gender; male nurses; role stress; role theory; sex role


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). …


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