Men in Nursing: Shock and Awe

By Walker, Charles A. | Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Men in Nursing: Shock and Awe


Walker, Charles A., Journal of Theory Construction and Testing


I am a male nurse. Nonetheless, I was startled and offended by the American Assembly of Men in Nursing's 36th Annual Conference theme: "The IOM Future of Nursing: Men Leading Change and Advancing Health." What a preposterous proposition! Men have never accounted for more than 5-10% of nursings ranks, yet they boldly plan to lead revolutionary change. Such audacity must be due to something more than an organization that magnifies male egos.

Because men in nursing often trace their origins to military orders in medieval Europe, the military doctrine ?? shock and awe comes to mind. Through overwhelming displays of force and dominance, warriors paralyze their adversaries by reconfiguring the batdefield and undermining the will to fight. In response to AAMN's audacious plan, thoughtful nurses (female and male) should be asking three questions: How did men become a special interest group in nursing? Why do they make ridiculous claims? And who takes them seriously?

A Special interest

My first encounter with men in nursing as a special interest group was Johnston's (1979) article, "The sexist in nursing: who is she?" Johnston argued that men in nursing were subjects of reverse discrimination in their disproportionate assignment to orthopedic and psychiatric units where their physical strength was exploited. At the time, male nurses were seldom hired in pediatrics or women's services, and those who sought positions caring for children or child-bearing women were suspected of ulterior motives. From the '70s onward, men in nursing and their advocates made gender inequality in career choice and employment a 'men's issue'.

Men in nursing are often portrayed as equal partners in care, but contemporary studies still point to gender role distinctions in workplaces that assign nursing tasks based on social norms (Torkelson & Seed, 201 1). Expected gender differences in role and function require both men and women to make choices that defy deeply rooted assumptions. So why are men in nursing perceived as an oppressed minority? For some, men's presence and involvement in a predominately female profession is sufficient reason to formulate men in nursing as oppressed (Evans, 2004). The argument presumes men's vulnerability as if their proximity to caring or other feminine attributes may wound their masculinity. Claiming to be an oppressed and suffering group permits men in nursing to don "the mantle of victimhood for the sake of maintaining hegemony" (Yudice, 1995, p. 272).

From birth, men are socialized to be tough, to resist tenderness and compassion. If men acquire masculine traits by displaying emotional bravado and repressing empathy, how can we account for their alleged delicacy and oppression? Supposedly men, "masters of the universe, poor things, are crying on the inside" (Brown, 2009, p. 124). The notion of a damaged male psyche enables men's oppression to be constructed in psychological terms. Little more than a vague apprehension, the threat to masculinity ignores broad structural inequities and abuses of a patriarchal system.

Reformulating male privilege as vulnerability and oppression is a clever twist of logic. Despite their minority status, men in nursing rapidly ascend to management positions (O'Lynn & Transberger, 2006); their ascent is disproportionately fast with respect to their qualifications and experience, and they tend to earn more than their female counterparts in senior posts (Hader, 2005). Even so, men in nursing are viewed as a disadvantaged group. This assertion seems at odds with decades of feminist and cultural diversity scholarship, and it further marginalizes women and ethnic minorities, who continue to experience systematic inequality and disadvantage in a sexist and racist society.

Ridiculous agenda!

The American Assembly of Men in Nursing has begun a recruitment initiative coined "20 by 20" (AAMN, 201 1). The goal is to increase men's enrollment in U. …

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