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What else did I do wrong?

August 20, 2015

By Basket Press

Aside from, as per my last post, being over-educated for nursing in the ’80s, or ever depending who you listen to, I was also the wrong gender, what with being male even in mental health (MH) which traditionally has a higher proportion of nurses who are male (see a couple of GA’s recent posts).

I don’t think this was viewed as such an affront as being educated (this is England, with its at best ambivalent attitude to learning) but I still wasn’t right. Please don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining, rather observing and describing.

OK, I have never responded well to “Oh, you’re a male nurse?” “No, I am a nurse who happens to be male: there isn’t a separate part of the register which says male!” But that tends to be outside nursing.

There were then, and still are, problems in being male and accepted as working in a caring role. Even the children of my general nurse sister struggled with the idea of me as a nurse. Acceptance is easier, it seems to me, if there are either higher educational expectations and perceived power and authority (medicine, for example) or more technical, nuts and bolts aspects to the job (physiotherapy or radiography, for example) than in something less well-defined and generally perceived as lower status (nursing for example) and especially than in a branch of nursing which can be even less tangible and of lower perceived status than others. Clichéd, stereotypical views of how one must think and behave as a man seemed to stop many from seeing an actual person: all the exhortations to see patients as whole people go missing when it comes to colleagues.

Allied to this I have rarely completely conformed to local gender stereotypes: throughout school and university I was seen as being unmanly, not a proper male, as I wasn’t a macho dickhead northern male (1970s, remember); I was thought to be gay before I even knew what that is, something which, with weary inevitability, has followed me since, especially once I entered nursing. Again, an inability to see a person, but rather reduce them to a lazy set of preconceptions. Would it have helped if I was gay? Dunno, I probably wouldn’t have conformed to stereotypes of gayness either…

By the by, I was never really a ‘hetty’ either (as a gay friend insisted on calling heterosexuals, as if I was “straight” that meant he was “bent”, which was not how he saw himself), being married but quietly child free by choice, which some seem to take very personally, my existence apparently undermining their decisions.

And then it starts to get a bit meta, as people would make assumptions about what assumptions I would make (the possibility that I would try not to make any assumptions did not compute). This was often around how I supposedly viewed women: I’m male, from northern England, of a certain age, therefore…Wrong! I was brought up by and around women in responsible, senior, professional positions, who exercised authority and power. This was normal for me. My year at grammar school was the first when the two single sex grammars in the town went co-ed; the 6th form was half female and as many females as males went to university. This was normal for me. At university half of my course was female and I spent much time learning about that 1970s wave of feminism. This was also normal for me.

I know that is not usual, but it happened. That was my reality, where I came from.

It was assumed that I would head rapidly up the greasy pole, a combination of assumptions about education and gender. OK, I quite like being in charge, but this isn’t a gender characteristic, more to do with personality as my sister behaves in very similar ways: if push comes to shove we both prefer being the one making decisions and accepting the consequent responsibility, or as my wife described both of us “You two just go into nurse mode whenever anything serious happens!” Neither of us flaps nor panics, we are both calm and decisive people, who don’t scare easily and want things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Oh, and we don’t suffer fools. At all.

I did not go up the pole particularly quickly (see other posts for details of my difficulties with management), rather following what interested me from the limited range of options.

Then factor in the “You’re male so you can’t possibly work with…” Oh really? At one point or another I have successfully worked with bairns with eating disorders, male and female, depressed bairns, male and female, self-harming bairns, male and female, bairns with gender identity or sexual identity issues and…and…In my experience it is rare for my gender to be a real problem (I have been chosen by a couple of young ladies to be the one to whom they would disclose sexual abuse). Yes, there are certain aspects of care, especially in in-patient settings, where gender of a nurse can matter, but that one cuts both ways. And outside that it is the quality of the working relationship which matters and how one can make that work: I can persuade some very difficult young people, male and female, to talk to me, which has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with personality, approach, skill and experience.

Patients come in all manner of different forms, reflecting our society, why is it still so hard to accept that nurses might? Why is caring seen as the preserve of a limited part of that society? Why do some persist in stereotyping, to the detriment of us all? Whatever happened to open-minds and acceptance?

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One Comment
  1. Basket Press permalink

    Thanks for commenting.

    Many thorny issues indeed.

    Personally my ideal is for there to be gender (and anything else) neutrality across society as a whole – that pesky pit village Methodist socialism stuff again – but I wonder if I am too naive or idealistic…

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