Gender-Related Issues in Nursing

There is little room to argue that gender does make a difference in most aspects of human behavior. Nursing is no exception. It is difficult to differentiate between perceptions and reality. There is only minimal reason to believe that the actual work of nursing is more difficult for men than women. There is no evidence that men drawn to nursing have deficits in caring. Clearly, men experience and demonstrate caring behaviors differently but equal to their female counterparts. The primary issues and barriers men face tend to surround the American stereotypical issues related to gender and nursing. The next few paragraphs provide some amount of detail on both the perceptions and the realities involved in gender as an influence within nursing.

There is a societal perception that masculinity and caring are mutually exclusive. Typically beginning early in nursing school, this attitude creates a conflict for male nurses as they try to balance becoming a professional and caring nurse with maintaining a sense of masculinity. Evans (2004) pointed out that the contemporary hegemonic masculinity paradigm revolves around being white, heterosexual, and middle class. Nurses, on the other hand, are stereotypically portrayed in the media as white, female, single, childless, and under 35 years of age (McLaughlin et al., 2010).

The primary barriers men face tend to surround the American stereotypical issues related to gender and nursing.

Therefore, the dichotomy between being a male and being a nurse seems untenable. In nursing school, being masculine and being a nurse often appears to be an oxymoron (Tillman, 2006). Bartfay, Bartfay, Clow, and Wu (2010) validated this by using a standardized test, the Attitudes Towards Men in Nursing Scale (ATMINS). The results revealed that nursing was not perceived as a very masculine or macho type of career for males. The same research revealed an observation for recruitment: because of the role strain they faced, the majority of men remained neutral toward their willingness to encourage other men to enter the field of nursing. However, because of the same negative gender stereotypes, the majority of female nurses in the study would not encourage male friends and members of their family to enter the field of nursing.

There is a need to modify deeply ingrained beliefs about what constitutes caring in nursing in order to acknowledge the value men bring to the profession. Although there is clearly more than one way to authentically communicate care and concern for patients, this is a central issue in nursing academe and serves as a deep societal reason for excluding men from nursing. According to Loughrey (2007), nursing is viewed as a caring profession and men are perceived as inept as caregivers. Therefore, if men cannot care, they cannot be nurses. Paterson, Crawford, Venkatesh, Tschikota, and Aronowitz (1995) described the process for both men and women learning to care in nursing school as one of the pivotal issues in the ongoing debate about the efficacy of men in nursing. The researchers concluded that, in reality both men and women care equally but differently.

Roth (2008) found that men tended to be older (average age of 42) when starting their career as nurses, were often changing careers, and were viewed by faculty and female students as being tougher and less sensitive than women. Men also tend to have more education than women when they enter nursing (LaRocco, 2007). This perception of tough versus caring could be created partially by the way men have been observed behaving in class. Dyck (2009) noted that male nursing students are more likely to confront, provide a counterpoint, or challenge their professors more than their female counterparts.

In their study, Peterson et al. (1995) found that the majority of male nursing students preferred to be independent and self-directed in their learning styles. Peterson et al. also found that when men worked in teams, they changed the dynamics greatly by taking charge and staying focused on tasks rather than by being involved in the emotional aspects of the team members.

It is important to recognize that a tough persona may be used to cover up feelings of personal insecurities. This is supported by the fact that men tended to ask more questions than their female counterparts (Dyck, 2009; Stott, 2006); men often reported feeling a lack of confidence in the classroom setting. They actually suppressed their curiosity and avoided asking questions in front of their female counterparts because they thought it might make them appear less academically able in a female-dominated context.

Attempts to Masculinize the Nursing Profession

Men who identify with the typical male masculinity may face greater challenges in the field of nursing.

The effeminate stereotype about men in nursing and that it is not a profession worthy of a masculine male are pervasive. In the movie, Meet the Parents, one of the main characters was a male nurse, who although thoughtful and resolute in discussion of his choice of career, was still portrayed as a "bumbler" not worthy of getting the girl. Announcement of what he did for a living was met with snickers and snide comments. In the end, although there was some resolution on this character’s worthiness as a husband, there was never commensurate resolution on the worthiness of his career choice. According to one male nurse quoted in the Bernard Hodes Group (2005) study, "one would think that for an institution that likes to portray itself as progressive and non-judgmental' Hollywood still does a pretty lousy job in how males in the nursing profession are portrayed in movies and on television."

The research supports the notion that men who identify with the expectations of typical male masculinity may face greater challenges in the field of nursing. Rozier (1996) found that men who emulated feminine caring styles were more rapidly accepted into the nursing profession by female nurses. Using the Bem Sex Role Inventory, Loughrey (2007) found that in general male nurses tended to identify more strongly with the female gender role than they did with the male gender role. However, Loughrey cautioned that "stereotypes are not always the stuff of psychological reality" (p. 1333).

Baker (2001) documented the same role strain in 184 male community college nursing students. He also used the Bem Sex Role Inventory and reported that men high in feminine and androgynous traits experienced a better adjustment to nursing than did those with high masculine traits. However, this alone did not impact role strain. The key factor was the man’s level of security in his sex-role identity. Those who were secure in their own masculinity had lower overall role strain when working in the quintessential female-dominated profession.

This was also indicated in earlier research by Blankenship (1991) who found that one variable that decreased attrition was a strong sense of one’s own gender identity and an understanding of the role of nursing. Kelly et al. (1996) suggested that the issue of sexual or gender identity is not an insurmountable obstacle to overcome as nursing education can successfully accommodate all male students be they heterosexual, homosexual, and psychologically masculine, feminine, or androgynous. Validated by McLaughlin et al. (2010), the literature placed the burden for this on the nursing faculty who set the tone of the academic experience.

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