The majority of gender-based stereotyping has always been centered around the conceptions of masculinity and femininity.

As a young man growing up in the early ’80s, there was no shortage of testosterone-laden examples of what a man could and should be, and the way my TV heroes showed they cared for others was by beating up the bad guys.

In my mind, caring for someone or nursing them back to health was something that females did, and I’m sure that the television commercials depicting young girls caring for plastic babies and sick teddy bears helped to solidify my opinion.

A whole lot has changed over the last three decades and we now find ourselves in the midst of an era where gender roles and even the concept of gender itself has become a topic of hot debate.

Regardless of whether you believe the way we view the world is determined biologically or a result of a social construct, unfortunately, nursing and caring are still very much ‘female jobs’ from a statistical standpoint.

At present, 90% of nurses and carers in the Australian aged care industry and healthcare system are female, and these numbers are almost identical across all western countries.

Research has found that a man’s entry into a predominantly-female environment like care work can result in assumptions from potential employers regarding their skillset and personal traits.

According to Australia’s aged care workforce strategy entitled ‘A Matter of Care,’ strategies to attract more males into these kinds of roles would need to challenge the perception that care work is ‘women’s work’ and emphasise activities and roles that may appeal to men.

Last year the Royal Commission heard that the aged care workforce will need to triple in size to accommodate Australia’s ageing population in 2050, and attracting more men to the aged care sector could play a vital role in ensuring that the needs of elderly people are being met.

Flaws of Attraction

Although there has been a very slight increase in the number of males entering nursing and caring roles in Australia over the last few years, this may have more to do with limited options rather than an urge to pursue a career that involves care.

As US study from 2018 indicates that men who move into predominantly female job roles are more likely to be disadvantaged in the labor market due to their having less education and recent migration.

Even though this study was conducted in the US, the percentage of Australian care workers who also happen to have recently migrated from foreign shores suggests that the results may be very similar.

Assistant Secretary of the Victorian branch of the ANMF, Paul Gilbert, spoke about this issue with HelloCare recently and he believes that a lack of examples of men in caring roles and low pay may contribute to men avoiding a career in a field like aged care.

“Obviously men are perceived to have wider career opportunities than women, and many men will see their father or older male siblings, or male friends as setting something of an example in terms of career options,” said Mr. Gilbert.

“With only 1 in 10 or so nurses and carers being male, it follows that men are less likely to follow male friends or family into the same or similar careers.”

“When presented with a myriad of career options there is little doubt that income plays a part in which path people follow. With aged care as undervalued as it currently is in terms of income, it is unlikely to be seen as a popular long term career choice.”

One of the more recent studies on the factors that deter men from nursing and caring roles highlighted the difficulties that some men face in these positions.

Some men report experiencing feelings of isolation and hostility from their female colleagues and others describe feeling pressure to understate their own masculinity in order to feel accepted.

Mr. Gilbert worked as a nurse himself earlier in his career. “I can personally remember it being said ‘oh, there’s a male nurse on the roster’ in derogatory tones, which meant that you felt that you needed to prove yourself more,” he said.

“I am sure that many women in male-dominated industries would experience something comparable.”

Daring To Be Different

Eamonn Fitzpatrick is a registered nurse and former aged care facility manager who now works as the Placement Services Coordinator at Vasey RSL Care.

Although pursuing a career in nursing may not be high on the list of most young boys, caring for other people was something that Mr. Fitzpatrick was born into.

Eamonn’s grandfather was a pioneer in terms of male nursing, so much so that he couldn’t recall meeting another male nurse throughout his practice which began in 1949 after he trained at Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

Eamonn’s father was also a nurse, and his family owned and ran an aged care home.

A young Eamonn spent his formative years living and interacting with the elderly residents in the aged care home and this environment, coupled with his father’s example, spurred his decision to pursue a career in nursing himself.

“Early on I definitely got a lot of stick, but I know when my father did his training it was only him and one other man that he knew of,” said Eamonn.

“The general thinking back then was that if you were a male nurse, you were a gay man, and when people insulted you they used some pretty harsh language.”

Although gender stereotyping has regressed over the years, the same kind of gender-based expectations that deter men from caring roles may also push women towards them.

In some ways, being a mother is looked upon as the ultimate expression of what it means to be a woman.

This blurring of the lines between motherhood and womanhood enforces the notion that having a proclivity to nurture and care for others are traits that are inherently female.

According to Eamonn, stereotyping can actually play a part in the way a woman may feel that she has to approach her role as a carer in the workplace.

“Women are perceived to be more caring, and therefore have to appear to be extremely caring in order to fit the stigma,” said Eamonn.

“Whereas a man can be a bit more irreverent and humorous while delivering care and still meet expectations.”

“There are more men that naturally have a really caring nature, and I hope that the removal of these kinds of stereotypes for both men and women results in more people looking at nursing as a career and I think that this will result in better overall care for people.”


Photo Credit: istock – RichVintage

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