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Shifting Gender Roles

Shifting Gender Roles Published Date : 05 Jun 2018
Nursing is often associated with women, but many men are now part of the profession around the world.

Weare witnessing a sea change in gender roles with women dispelling traditional beliefs about what they can or cannot do. Some biological differences, as I have discussed before, are hard to ignore, but women nevertheless are handling many so-called male responsibilities and jobs better than men.

There was a time when women were not provided access to higher education, particularly in the fields of law and medicine, and were denied entry to universities. Cambridge University started awarding degrees to women only in 1947. Earlier, women were limited by significantly lower salaries compared to men for the same job. The argument then was that in some businesses, construction for instance, women cannot handle the same workload or weight as men. But I often see women labourers outperforming their male counterparts. I wonder if they are paid equal wages now.

Conditions and policies are also stacked against women in office jobs simply because they choose to become mothers at some point. Parenthood doesn’t rob men of professional growth and opportunity. According to a 2011 report in the European Sociological Review, female employees in Britain lost 9 per cent of their wages after the first child and 16 per cent after the second child. Even today, many companies do not offer equal opportunity to women workers, and some business leaders are reluctant to hire them fearing a misuse of new laws against sexual harassment. This is a severely flawed outlook and needs to change.

Nursing is one profession that is universally associated with women. I think women are generally more compassionate and empathetic than men. Perhaps the role of childbearing and their hormonal makeup play a part in the development of these qualities. Years ago, nurses were called sisters in the West because many hospitals were supported by Christian missionaries and were staffed by nuns. (In India, most people still call nurses that.) The term was initially used to describe a nurse who was in charge of a ward or an operating theatre, but slowly it became the common title for all nursing staff. (Today, a number of men are part of the profession around the world and in India, they are sometimes called brothers, which I find quite amusing.)

Many medical facilities in the UK, including Birmingham Women’s Hospital, have dropped the title ‘sister’ because it is considered sexist and old-fashioned. Senior nurses are now called ward managers or charge nurses. Ward nurses, male and female, earn about £30,000 a year in the UK, according to a 2010 news report. More men are entering the nursing profession and about 1in 10 nurses in the UK is a male compared with 1in 100 fifty years ago, the report said.

Last month, The Royal College of Nursing said the titles ‘sister’ and ‘matron’ were putting off men who wanted to join the nursing sector. The organisation’s chief executive, Janet Davies, said a number of terms in nursing were still “very female” and this historical “hang-up” might not be suitable to the changing face of the profession, The Independent reported. Davies was speaking ahead of a debate on whether there was a need for a targeted male nurse recruitment drive. While women still make up the majority of the nearly 300,000 nurses in England, there are currently 38,000 vacant full-time nursing positions. More men in the role could help fill up the posts.

“We need more Charlies,” Davies said, referring to Charlie Fairhead, the long-running male nurse character in the BBC television series Casualty.

Though I now see more male nurses in India, I am not sure if their numbers will swell.

One reason is biases in society. Another factor: female patients may not feel comfortable with a male nurse. We often see that women prefer female gynaecologists and obstetricians. I sometimes joke with my male students that if they pick gynaecology or obstetrics, they would be better off practising abroad. On a serious note, we, as a society, need to overcome gender-based biases.



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