What is discrimination?

There is no argument that in today’s society the nursing profession is dominated by women.  Yet, oddly enough, the ancient origins of the practice we now classify as nursing were once carried out predominantly by men.  According to Lorber “as a social institution, gender is a process of creating distinguishable social statuses for the assignment of rights and responsibilities.”  If at one time nursing and healing was classified as “male work,” why do males no longer enter the nursing profession at the same rate they once did.

I never really thought much about gender differences until I came to nursing school.  Now, I find myself surrounded by women- instructors, professors, colleagues, and peers, for a large majority of my time at school.   At the beginning of my freshman year we started out with 15 males in a class of 91.  Now, there are 7 males in my nursing class.  Many switched out after our first year because they felt alienated by their gender differences.  According to a recent statistic, only 6% of nurses are male.  Out of this 6%, many of these male nurses claim to have experienced discrimination in their education and/or workplace.  In her article, Beauvoir classifies women as “the Other” to men, yet in the nursing profession this role seems to be reversed.

Lorber “The Social Construction of Gender” (1990).

Simone de Beauvoir, “Introduction” to The Second Sex



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4 Responses to What is discrimination?

  1. marykatherinek6 says:

    I think it is really interesting that you bring up nursing a profession that often is stereotyped as a “feminine” one. I’ve heard that women were not originally allowed to perform many of the tasks that modern-day nurses do because their work was considered too gruesome or even inappropriate, as they would see bodily fluids and undressed bodies of men who were not their husbands. Clearly the paradigm shifted to it becoming a “woman’s job,” and only recently have attitudes begun to shift to consider nursing a non-gendered profession. However, these points you bring up about your classmates being discriminated against or alienated by their female counterparts is really remarkable. The concept of how they are the Other in this situation, even at a school as liberal as Penn, demonstrates that everyone is susceptible to being stereotyped or marginalized by other individuals.

  2. alicial2012 says:

    I really enjoyed your post and I think it raises some very important points about gender, gender norms and the subject/other dichotomy which we discussed in class. The fact that many male nurses have claimed to experience discrimination in the field of nursing demonstrates the fact that gender limits everyone, including men, in society. Gender roles today designate nursing as a female occupation, which not only limits women into thinking that nursing is a more acceptable position in the medical field for them then perhaps a physician, but it also limits men who would like to be nurses but must face the social stigma of doing “woman’s work” if they follow this career path. Furthermore, this is an interesting study in how gender is a social construction and gender norms change over time, but still the Subject/Other dichotomy remains. As the author and jadehuynh stated, nursing was traditionally a male profession, yet women eventually entered the field of nursing and were accepted into the field of nursing by men because it was seen as an extension of their roles in the private sphere as mothers and caregivers. Thus, gender norms can change, but they never stop limiting people; in this case, men are now limited and susceptible to shame and discrimination if they would like to enter the field of nursing because it is against what is expected of them as men.

    Furthermore, the shift of nursing from a male profession to a female profession at first seems like a gain for women in becoming more integrated in the public sphere and medical profession which had previously been dominated by men. However, it seems to me that it actually maintains the Subject/Other dichotomy. Women entering the field of nursing did not make nursing a gender neutral profession; instead, nursing was designated as a female profession, setting it apart as “Other” from what is considered an acceptable male profession. Women being accepted into the field of nursing also reminds me of the analogy to iguanas we talked about in class, in that men were willing to let women enter fields such as nursing or teaching and thus expanded the limits of what women could do and perceived that they could do in the public sphere, giving them a bigger “cage” to grow in. However, giving women a bigger “cage”, more options for work in the public sphere, distracts from the fact that women are still in a “cage” and that there are still significant limits for women in the public and professional spheres.

  3. jenniferl0 says:

    I find the statistics about male nurses very interesting. The ratio of the number of female physicians compared to male physicians is about 1:2 for most states. Being a physician has historically been a male dominated profession. While the ratio is far from being equal, the gender gap looks much closer than in the nursing profession.
    In all forms of media, the storyline of a woman trying to survive in a man’s world has been ubiquitous yet the reverse has rarely been seen. I think this is because males are generally viewed as being superior therefore their occupations must be more difficult. So any female that works in a male dominated field is seen as having a higher social status and has a sense of empowerment attached to it. On the other hand, the idea of males working in a female dominated field has a negative connotation attached to it. I believe because of this sexist societal view, females now have more socially acceptable career options than males.


  4. jadehuynh says:

    I found your post extremely interesting. I think the rise of nursing as a female-dominated profession is result of both historical and social factors. In times of war, the demand for nurses (and workers in general) sharply spiked while the supply of male workers sharply decreased. This provided an opportunity for women to take on previously male-occupied positions, and thus, elevate their social statuses, if just temporarily. Female nurses likely kept their positions due to nursing, with its emphasis on care and compassion, complimenting their maternal instincts and societal roles. The rise of modern medicine probably gave men more incentive to become physicians than nurses, as the latter required more expertise, which subsequently would lead to a greater position in the medical hierarchy. I can imagine men would be discouraged from becoming nurses because the profession been tagged as a feminine one, commonly associated with figureheads like Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, sexualized by the media, and characterized by a strong sense of compassion and sensitivity. I suspect the discrimination male nurses face is a product of territoriality. Given nursing is one of the only female-dominated professions out there, a male presence seems a threat to the feminine advantage.

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