GENDER ROLES

Published: 01/09/2005, Volume II5, No. 5971 Page 27

Research has found that men are starting to call the shots in areas conventionally dominated by women.

Alexis Nolan reports

Men are gaining the upper hand in the gender war in traditionally female caring professions, according to research from Brunel University's business school.

The researchers say that men in caring professions are now carving out their own niche areas in jobs such as nursing. They are opting for more 'masculine' activities, and more emotionally challenging areas of work.

What's more, men seem to be getting more respect than women in the same roles, say the researchers.

In nursing, for example, over half the 30 men surveyed chose to specialise in mental health or accident and emergency, two areas which are perceived as more exciting and demanding than general nursing care.

In another blow to perceived female sensitivities, men were also frequently given difficult tasks, such as breaking bad news to relatives or dealing with suicidal patients.

One male nurse said: 'Looking at people I've broken bad news to, they appreciate that It is a man who is doing it.

It seems as if they are being taken more seriously.' The value of masculinity in terms of the respect commanded within the caring role was a common theme, according to research.

One nurse pointed out that 'if the charge nurse is male, he gains more respect than the ward sister'.

Many of the male nurses also commented on the 'male bonding' between doctors and male nurses, enabling them to socialise more easily with people in more senior positions.

'From our qualitative research it was clear that male nurses are moving away from a subordinate role towards a status that has equal value to that of a doctor, ' says Ruth Simpson of Brunel University's business school.

The researchers say female nurses were seen to be deferential and unassertive, so were not always taken seriously by male medical staff.

'Women are definitely losing the gender war in the caring professions, ' adds Ruth. 'While the caring performed by a woman is often devalued as a 'natural' part of femininity, the emotional labour performed by men is often seen as an asset.' But while men may be making inroads to traditionally female-dominated professions, it is not always something they want to crow about outside work; there is still tension between gender identity and occupational stereotyping.

Many men expressed the sense of selffulfilment and satisfaction they gained from their caring role, but a common theme was concern about the negative external perceptions of the job.

Many changed their job title when talking to friends. Others identified a split in how they presented themselves at work and in a social context, where they tried to be 'one of the boys', moving away from their more caring work personalities.

www. brunel. ac. uk