Dear Nurses: You Are Amazing
Written By Maddy Crehan
There are few occupations as physically and mentally challenging as nursing. To add to these challenges, nurses are often faced with discrimination due to their gender. Historically, the nursing profession has been largely female dominated, with roughly 90% of Australian nurses being female, and around 10% male today.
The profession is often associated with care-giving and support, which are commonly seen as female traits. While these characteristics are an essential part of nursing, stereotyping nursing as a solely supportive job completely undermines the knowledge, ability and credibility of all nurses.
As 25-year-old nurse, Kate, says “Nursing is seen as a feminine role purely because it has been predominantly women in the field since forever, even though none of the stuff we have to deal with is ‘girly’ or ‘feminine’ at all.”
The lack of respect towards nurses is likely associated to the lack of social value placed on women and their work. Viewing nursing merely as an extension of the stereotypical domestic role of women devalues the profession and unfairly categorises both female and male nurses.
Despite the vast majority of nurses being female there are still significant disadvantages faced by women including the gender pay gap, and a disproportionate percentage of male nurses in higher level roles. This is also the case in many different occupations and fields, but for one that is largely dominated by women it is particularly concerning. The idea that men are more suited to authoritative and leadership roles is the reason that this percentage is so disproportionate. It may also be the reason that nursing, a vital part of the health sector, is so undervalued in our society, because it predominantly employs women.
While female nurses have long been undervalued for doing ‘women’s work’, the same can be said for male nurses. Due to the association nursing has with femininity, male nurses are often in the position of defending their masculinity. These out-dated gender roles are harmful and offensive to both genders. As Kate said there is nothing ‘feminine’ about the hard work nurses do, though there is also nothing wrong with being feminine anyway. The problem is giving someone the label purely based on their gender or occupation.
The undervaluing of nursing is not a new phenomenon, with the most prominent example in history being the forgotten women of war. Each year a day is dedicated to remembering the soldiers who fought for Australia in the war and their brave efforts in battle. However there is little to no mention of the women who went to war as nurses, surely a journey just as brave and strenuous. This refusal to acknowledge the work and ability of women and nurses continues today.
Gender roles are so deeply embedded in the medical field that female doctors are continuously mistaken for nurses, and male nurses are confused for doctors. This assumption often comes from believing nurses are simply there to assist and support doctors, linked to the traditional stereotype of women being submissive and secondary to men. In a field that is progressing as rapidly and continuously as medicine, it amazes me that the workplace culture is still so out-dated. There are countless amazing female doctors, as there are male nurses. So why are these occupations still associated with specific genders?
In no way is the work of nurses feminine (in the insulting way the word is often used to imply). If anything their ability to being caring and supportive whilst also retain a wealth of knowledge and ability speaks to their strength of character as a professional and an individual. Nurses deserve more respect. The work of women deserves more respect. It’s time for gender roles to become a thing of the past.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.
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