Sexism in Nursing (a male point of view) - page 4

As a male in nursing, I feel that I am sometimes treated differently because of my gender. I believe that I am expected to carry a heavier patient load with less assistance from my female coworkers.... Read More

  1. by   ANnot4me
    Originally posted by sjoe

    IMHO--The main problem is the entire sub-assertive, people-pleasing, don't-make-waves, confrontation-avoiding, I-need-everyone-to-like-me, behind-the-back kind of working environment that is all too widely found in nursing and the fact that we guys are much more likely to simply deal directly with facts and results instead of getting all tangled up in this kind of political stuff. (We have our OWN kind of political style, of course.)

    Sjoe, you've hit the nail on the head. I'm trying to be politic here because I don't want to get everbody in a twirl. I wish I hadn't used the lifting thing as an example because I think it has taken on a life of it's own. In my second post I addressed the more subtle points that are really at issue.

    I may have chosen the wrong word (sexism) and wish I had thought about this more before I posted. I think a better way to describe it would be a sexually biased culture. I know that women have dealt with this for ions; however, they have not done so without seeking and working toward change. The nursing culture is definitely female and parts of it are just plain unacceptable to men. Men have a lot less tolerance for BS and we tend to confront rather than avoid: that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    A lot of women think men in nursing is a good thing because it will result in change (more money, respect and better working conditions). I agree, but it won't happen without dramatically changing the current culture and a lot of people are going to feel threatened.
  2. by   Glad2behere
    I suppose I am a little different and approach the issue differently as compared to many who have posted here. I see no reason to change things much. This is a female dominated profession...did you not know that before you entered? Surely some of these things a male had to realize before becoming a nurse would cause some ambivalence in gender versus role. To me it goes with the territory, if a man wishes to contribute to the profession and his coworkers he should utilize those strengths he has to make that contribution. I think one of those is a position of a natural leadership if he has the desire and focus to earn respect through competence or teamwork. There have been lots of instances where patient had to be moved and the ladies all position themselves hurriedly to accomplish the feat, many times incorrectly. Simply stating "Hold on, let's think this out and do it so no one gets hurt" exerts the power of leadership, control of the situation, and an acceptance of gender identification. This philosophy has served me very well. I do not expect or want to be one of the girls, and there are a lot of things I feel compassion for them for what they have to put up with. One of the advantages that male nurses have that is so easy to do is liason between the male docs, but I have been successfully nitpicked by female docs so I understand the intimidation women feel from male physicians. I do not say that I am trying to save women or anything of that sort, but a man can very successfully work in this profession with respect if he recognizes that his gender is a strength and tactfully applying that strength does have its rewards. Reduce it down to nothing ventured nothing gained.
  3. by   sjoe
    "I wish I hadn't used the lifting thing as an example because I think it has taken on a life of it's own. In my second post I addressed the more subtle points that are really at issue.

    I may have chosen the wrong word (sexism) and wish I had thought about this more before I posted. I think a better way to describe it would be a sexually biased culture."

    Chi--All I can say is STOP THAT! You don't have to feel apologetic for or take back or second guess anything you have posted.

    Why do you think so few men stay in med-surg, or in any kind of nursing, for that matter? Even after spending so much time and $$ in nursing school.

    Sometimes, as you pointed out, it is necessary/useful/good if people "get in a whirl." Avoiding speaking out because that might happen is one of the PROBLEMS. My suggestion: take off the gloves and tell it straight.
  4. by   sjoe
    Glad--very condescending. you illustrate some of the problems quite well.
  5. by   Pete495
    As a male nurse, I have been frequently called upon to lift or pull patients. I endure this as part of a team of nurses in a Cardiovascular surgical unit, where I am only one of two males. I accept it as part of being a male. However, there are some other things that are hard to deal with. Someone mentioned that the female nurses are the ones who always have to bathe the patients. This is not true at all. In fact sometimes, I think the male nurses are assigned these patients because they don't often object to patient assignments. As a male nurse in my unit, I am accepting of whatever patient assignment I get, and it only makes you look worse by complaining or whining to others about such matters.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to working in a female dominated profession. Women tend to exhibit more compassion, and can be more understanding if you speak up, whereas men tend to have the suck it up attitude. I tend to be on the in between, which is why I got into nursing.
  6. by   Youda
    Originally posted by sjoe
    Chi said, I wish I hadn't used the lifting thing as an example because I think it has taken on a life of it's own. In my second post I addressed the more subtle points that are really at issue.

    Sometimes, as you pointed out, it is necessary/useful/good if people "get in a whirl." Avoiding speaking out because that might happen is one of the PROBLEMS. My suggestion: take off the gloves and tell it straight.

    AARRRRGGGGG!!! Please dump the lifting discussion! That isn't what Chi was talking about! He didn't want a thread about who should be doing the lifting! It was just ONE EXAMPLE to support his post that there is bias against men! I think you're missing the point that is trying to be made here!

    Guys, please do take off the gloves and talk about what you're feeling and experiencing. We (females) can't change if we can't get past "lifting" as the only issue here. Many thanks! Peace!
  7. by   sanakruz
    Chigap- As a young woman, (prior to becoming a nurse), my friends and I engaged in some thing we referred to as consciousness raising. We looked at ads on TV and in newspapers to determine if they degraded woman, that type of thing. We talked alot about "getting ours" and our relationships with men in our lives
    As I seriously entered the work force I saw a sexism that was much more insidious. There were only certain careers for women. Teacher,Nurse,Cocktail waitress. The woman that chose to enter traditionally male dominated fields such as police work, law, medicine, construction were met at times with open hostility. More freguently it was underground.
    I went into a CETA program to learn how to weld. Their were 98 men and 2 woman in the program. The other woman was not considered "pretty" and she did well. I did not have such an easy time. I was repeatedly subjected to comments about my buttocks, I was tweaked, pinched and poked, all in the " spirit of fun" This happened on a daily basis. The worst day was when the guys all sat down in a long row of chairs and passed me along and spanked me! My boyfriends take on it was" thats what you get for trying to do a mans job. I could do it too, but I was so demoralized I never even once applied for a job in the field. Today we call this thing sexual harassment, but back in the 70's it was just the way it was.
    The good news is that as I saw the many faces of sexism and as I looked I started seeing racism in the workplace and on TV in magazines etc. I started seeing agism in the workplace on Tv and in magazines... I became a more empathetic and well rouned person for it. I am sorry you are experiencing sexism, and I have no doubt that you are. By saying things like " I only see a team, this doesn't happen where I work or some such, we are loosing an opportunity to take a good look and make it better. If you dont look you will never see.
  8. by   mario_ragucci
    hey psychnurse, I'd say those guys were bad news and extremely sexist and immature! If folks get an excuse to act a fool, they will. Even to actively be a fool, the group dynamic makes it all too easy. Some people don't know how to have fun; they only know how to be idiots.

    Blessed are the idiots, for they shall inherit the earth :-(
  9. by   sanakruz
    Mario what WAS their excuse? They didnt one. That's what I got for being a female welder. There is no excuse for sexism to be tolerated, more so today then ever. Why ? Because hopefully we have grown as a culture and have higher ideals now. It's not ok to single anyone for different tratment because of their gender. In the workplace its just plain unacceptable.
    Those stupid rubes in that CETA program actually prevented me from making a decent living wage in 1979. I can only imagine where I'd be today. I went back to being a cocktail waitress. It wasnt until 1983 that I started nursing school.
    You bet we need more men in nursing! Lets take a look at how we treat each other.
  10. by   sjoe
    Youda--You want it with the gloves off you say? OK. I'll start with a couple of quotes:

    Wurtzel, Elizabeth, B*tch: In Praise of Difficult Women, Doubleday, NY, 1998.

    Page 14 "According to psychologist Robert Cairns, girls, at around age ten, develop a powerful, sophisticated technique that, although not physically assertive, uses alienation and rumor-mongering to vanquish a rival," writes Michael Segell in one of Esquire's periodic attempts to remind its readers why women are not to be trusted. "This style of indirect aggression can emotionally devastate the victim, who often has no idea why, or even by whom, she's being attacked. Organizing social intrigues as a way of ganging up on a peer not only prolongs conflict but kindles larger group discord. As girls enter adulthood, they become even more skilled at using gossip, aspersions, and social ostracism to assault their adversaries."


    Simmons, Rachel, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Harcourt, NY, 2002.

    page 3 There is a hidden culture of girls' aggression in which bullying is epidemic, distinctive, and destructive. It is not marked by the direct physical and verbal behavior that is primarily the province of boys. Our culture refuses girls access to open conflict, and it forces their aggression into nonphysical, indirect, and covert forms. Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain on targeted victims. Unlike boys, who tend to bully acquaintances or strangers, girls frequently attack within tightly knit networks of friends, making aggression harder to identify and intensifying the damage to the victims.

    (Following is my 9/24/02 response to a post on another BB, where the question was asked about nurses being paranoid and defensive.)

    In my experience--YES, a lot of nurses are paranoid and overly-defensive. But there are several reasons for this, reasons which also help to explain a LOT of stuff about nurses and nursing in general. Here are some reasonably accurate, if overstated, generalizations that come immediately to mind.

    1) The focus is on "pleasing people," no matter now neurotic those other people are. They don't want to make any waves, and they have little or no experience/skill development to deal with any waves that do occur. They just want things to appear to be running smoothly, without problems, everyone smiling, in CONTROL, so they can feel more comfortable (or at least less anxious) that no one could criticize them--everyone will be pleased with them (particularly THEIR supervisors, however unprofessional, uncaring, focused on profit). Anything that MIGHT change their plans is seen as a threat--as a possibly out-of-control threat (since they don't know how to deal with such things). Thus the knee-jerk reaction of fear against " alien invasions" of all kinds.

    2) They have little or no experience or training in supervision, and don't know how to lead others. Mothers in nuclear families can have near total control of their children and this is the primary supervisory/leadership role women have ever known for themselves. Being aware of this skill deficit any seeking of appropriate training only makes this personal deficit a public one and exposes them to criticism and belittling from other women. Any exhibition of supervision problems, therefore, automatically become the fault of the employee, whom they will try to intimidate if they can't get him/her to play the game described above. Rather than developing leadership skills, they just want to have no problems occur, which often means getting rid of the "troublesome" employees and keeping their heads firmly in the sand. (And, no, I've never been fired.)

    3) The second reason that "problems" create fear in these people why are supervising at any level is that they are frightened someone who knows what he is doing will notice the situation, and realize that the supervisor is incompetent. (A lot of high school and college instructors have this same dynamic.) So they immediately react to eliminate any such problems (like an employee suggestion on how to improve things, wanting to change her schedule, etc.). And, since they are afraid of being "found out" they are always on guard and living in fear of being discovered.

    4) The widespread interpersonal divisiveness that permeates nursing plays directly into the hands of such supervisors, and the hands of non-nursing management, of course--"divide and conquer" being a common, if primitive, management tool used throughout the centuries, most notably and successfully by Britain.

    5) Much of nursing "education," as you no doubt noticed during your stint in school, is simply taking in information as though it were fact instead of the collection of theories which much of it actually is, and hanging on to these "truths" for dear life. In other words, it is training, not education. Thus these "true believers" (I assume you read the book years ago) can feel both superior to those without this information and as though they are a part of a small group of people who know the "real" truth. Since this makes them feel special, so long as they are not open to questioning or developing these theories, anything that DOES so is experienced as threatening. This attitude tends, also, to contaminate the entire personality, where they KNOW that their religious beliefs, social theories, intuitions, and whims are the RIGHT ones and everyone else is a butthole (though they are too "nursey" to actually say it out loud).

    6) Training in sterile and "clean" technique causes nurses to focus on everything as potentially being "the enemy" and possibly creating healthcare problems. The focus is, again, on controlling every last little detail of the environment, and anything they are not controlling is threatening. This kind of thinking can become a lifestyle, of course, and again, since it can help nurses to think of themselves as wiser and "more special" than the ordinary person, they often hang on to this kind of control at every opportunity.

    7) In many (if not the majority of) nurses I have known, their personal lives are catastrophic. Either they are stunningly co-dependent and taken advantage of by their children, spouses, boyfriends, whatever or they repeatedly set themselves up for abuse--physical, emotional, financial, alcohol and drug-using. They want to buy the line that nurses are in a profession, that they are somehow angels and morally superior to others, but don't seem to be getting this feedback from society at large or from their families and friends. So they expect all their emotional needs to be met at work and are quick to attack, criticize, back-bite, etc. others who don't provide it. Meanwhile, of course, this very attitude is causing all their coworkers to not find what they seek at work and the entire dynamic continues to spiral and feed on itself.

    8) Their heroine, supposedly, is Florence N. Have you ever read an accurate biography of this woman? She didn't believe in germs, used the political authority of her uncle (I believe it was) to grab the British healthcare (such as it was) budget during a year or so of the Crimean War, and immediately thereafter "took to her bed," from which location she penned multiple reflections, directives, theories about nursing--and stayed in bed the rest of her life! (No, there was no evident medical/physical reason for this.) Duh! But the point is that nurses' self-image is so flimsy, most nurses have no idea about this person, and haven't taken the time to do any research on her. Again, they just grab the "facts" as told them in nursing school, swallow them whole, and carry the torch forward.

    9) Nurses don't want to correct any of these things, they can't work cooperatively even to setting national standards for entry level RN licenses (diploma, ADN, BSN, etc.) They try to run hospitals as though these were families with a tyrannical/angelic mother making all the decisions and gaining constant praise, just as nursing schools modeled this role as the often abusive and/or disrespectful instructors intimidated their students into unquestioned compliance. As in any abusive situation, those students who swallowed it all whole and incorporated the image thrust upon them, became accepted, finally, as nurses. They know no other way, they wish to know no other way.

    To illustrate a part of this in a more gender-specific way:

    If you recall from your grade school days, while the boys were organizing themselves loosely into gangs, sports teams, temporary groups that needed to work more or less in cooperation to accomplish a goal (such as winning, showing off, heightening a sense of adventure, gaining money, proving themselves, exploring the notion of "power," whatever), and learning a lot about leadership, organizing people, and being a good team player.

    What were the girls doing?

    By and large, they were talking, gossiping, forming temporary groups whose function was either to model on some form of domestic life, play some relatively non-competitive and minimally physical game (like hopscotch, tag, hide and seek), and most importantly from the point of view of exploring the notion and meaning of power, verbally acquiring temporary allies to gang up on another girl. I usually refer to this as the "Let's not talk to Susie today," game, where girls decide, always behind Susie's back, to ignore and snub her (usually for no other reason than the organizer's testing of her own power) until she notices this, feels outcast, asks what is going on, etc. and finally cries. At which time, the organizer comforts her and says "we were just playing, it's ok," and the game ends. Soon enough it begins the next time with some other girl being either the organizer or the victim. One never knows when the next game will begin or whether she will be the victim.

    Along similar lines are styles of dealing with interpersonal conflicts:

    By and large, boys learn to deal with these problems and get them over with. Perhaps fisticuffs or cursing will be involved. Perhaps apologies or "giving up," or humiliation exercises will be performed. Regardless, the boys learn: 1) they can and will deal with others, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, on their own. 2) They and they alone are responsible for defending, or not, their ideas, prejudices, "space," etc. And they alone will reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of doing so. Things will be resolved one way or the other, and then usually left behind.

    On the other hand, instead of learning these very same lessons, many of the girls will instead of simply dealing with and perhaps solving the issue at hand, attempt to quickly change the subject or distract the other person's attention elsewhere (particularly to a different "victim'). Failing that, the next move is to betray the integrity of the peer discussion and choose, or threaten, to "tell"-- to attempt to recruit an adult (teacher, mother, whatever) or a temporary group of allies (as described above) to force the other person to shut up, back down, whatever. In turn, they learn: 1) rather than dealing with and solving a conflict directly, look for a chance to change the subject or to be rescued by someone else. 2) They are not responsible for, nor capable of, resolving conflicts. 3) If the other person can be goaded into slapping, cursing, name-calling, etc. so much the better, because that will make it easier to recruit an adult (and to change the subject from that of the original conflict as well--which may well have been this person's "fault" in the first place).

    Why do I belabor this? Because these are the very same games that predominate hospital wards. (Difficult though it may to believe, we may notice some of this same behavior here on this BB--even on this very thread!) For fear of it's being done to her, a nurse will bend over backwards to smile and repeatedly seek a smile in return from everyone else (since the game could start at any time, she needs to constantly reassure herself one hasn't started against herself). Every nurse is called by first name only, as though this is a group of "great friends." "People pleasing," is another word for it, and it ALWAYS is a public display of the individual's weakness and neediness and lack of confidence--which is exactly why nurses in general are not respected by other hospital staff, including janitors. Men who leave that same strong "please like me" impression tend not to be respected either.

    And should a nurse start to think that someone else may have started the game against her, she speedily finds a possible victim (a new RN, a nursing student, a doc, the person who may have already started the game, a nurse who can be perceived to have made a mistake, whomever) and tries to get other nurses to agree with her that this person IS A PROBLEM, in order to try to deflect attention away from herself.

    Or she may simply be in a bad mood because she is not getting the "respect" (and admiration) she thinks she is entitled to and looks for someone to victimize to increase her own sense of power and influence. The only real prohibition in this game is to NOT GET CAUGHT using a patient as a victim. Everyone else including families and hospital staff is fair game.

    Coming back around to the original question then, is it any wonder that these nurses are paranoid? Aware they will get no support save for these temporary alliances, afraid they will become victims if any of their mistakes are discovered, and so on without end. They live in a self-terrorizing world. This is one of several reasons why supervisors don't try to correct the multiple problems surrounding them every day--they are afraid of becoming victims themselves in a new game. They want to get rid of anyone who sees through this stuff, because the very existence of these games is clear evidence of their own inability to supervise, much less lead, and of nurses' inability to deal with each other as adults.

    The simple fact is that NURSES are responsible for the stunning level of dysfunction in hospitals and in most other aspects of our direct patient care today, no matter how much nursing tries to scapegoat: doctors, "society," being victimized, men, "suits," "them." So long as nurses perpetuate the kinds of interactions described above, I don't see things changing any time soon. and frankly I don't even see any future chance of a productive change.

    Still wondering why we guy don't stick around or aren't attracted to nursing in the first place? (Hint: it's not because of the historical absence of "macho" ads.)
    Last edit by sjoe on Nov 25, '02
  11. by   Glad2behere

    Absolutely astounding Sjoe! My compliments! Very well thought out, very well said, and..very accurate. Same conclusions I came to way back there somewhere, now you know why I don't want to be one of the girls and why I refuse to compromise my gender identity...keeps me out of the crosshairs.
  12. by   sanakruz
    sjoe you have made some very good points- I have seen these things in action. I believe that women have so very little ''status" in our culture that they tend to wield what little power comes their way over other women in potential destructive ways, giving birth to the ugly little world of nursing supervisiors you describe with such aplomb.
    Please be aware that this is indeed sexism you have observed.
    Women "buy" this **** because we are taught to. We are given little choice. Nursing as a profession is so entrenched in it that most cant see it, wont see it. Lets go back to that ad in the Oregonian-... The idea that being a madonna or an angel would appeal to a nine year old girl as opposed to a boy. EXCUSE ME? sez who? Some spin doctor for the local floundering health care facility? I did not think of myself in those terms when I went into nursing. I would hope my daughter or( sons for that matter) would be given such a romantised ******** idea of what nursing is.
    Handmaidens? Ass wipers? Hey thats what women do with babies right. Just give em a paycheck and tell them they have a career!
    I would like others reading this board to look and see whats in front of you. This is a deeply sexist profession. No one should have to apologize for pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes. Men: know why you get those "vibes" from your female collegues. The underlying fear is you are here to take away our POWER (again).
    Look and see the racism ,too. Read some of the threads on this board dissing Filipino nurses. Got a better name for it?
    Flo Nigtengale took to her bed because her wealthly male relatives had all the ****ing political power.That's what she wanted. Political POWER. Plus its really hard to make speeches in a corset.
  13. by   sanakruz
    Karl Marx said the struggle of the working masses is a political struggle. If we nurses are not members of the proliteriat I dont know who is.