Men in Nursing
Men in Nursing: Ambivalence in care, gender and masculinity Introduction This paper examines some of the changes, which occurred as men entered nursing in the late twentieth century. Nursing is unique in that during the late nineteenth century it became an almost completely ‘feminised’ occupation, following what Theweleit calls a ‘new female assault’ on medical and caring work.
Before this, women did little more than midwifery
(1). During the late twentieth century men have increasingly found their way back into nursing. In this paper we shall contextualise the experiences of two of the men who pioneered this influx. This shift in gender ratios in nursing has proceeded in tandem with a variety of other tensions concerning nursing and gender, and the training and education, which was deemed to be appropriate. Nursing represents a sign of the times, within which dramas concerning the nature of medical knowledge, and indeed the nature of men and women themselves, are performed in particularly graphic detail. For this reason, the experiences of men in an occupation that is predominantly female are worthy of investigation. Examining the motivation and experience of men in nursing challenges traditional concepts of ‘nursing’ and ‘masculinity’. Moreover, it illuminates the shifts between different ideologies of nursing. Let us begin by placing the mid-twentieth century experience of men in nursing in some historical context. Much modern nursing can be dated to Florence Nightingale, who promoted the idea that to be a ‘good nurse’ was also to be a ‘good woman’
(2). Klaus Theweleit describes this ideal vision of the female nurse as the ‘white nurse’
(3), a pure ‘caring mother figure, who transcends sensuousness’
(4).Florence Nightingale was a strong advocate for both women and nursing, and considered traits such as nurturance, gentleness, empathy, compassion, tenderness and unselfishness to be essentially feminine and essentially nurse-like. Not surprisingly, in the present, this position has been increasingly challenged by those who argue that these attributes exist also in men, and might not necessarily be found in all female nurses!
(5). Nightingale herself believed that men’s ‘hard and horny’ hands were not fitted ‘to touch, bathe, and dress wounded limbs, however gentle their hearts may be’
(6). Her opposition to men in nursing caused her to denounce male asylum nurses especially, because she considered their duties more akin to those of prison warders than to nurses in general hospitals. Her hostility, allied to that of her fellow-campaigner, Mrs. Bedford Fenwick, was partly responsible for the increasing divergence in training, philosophy and sex ratios between psychiatric and general nursing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.Following Nightingales experiences at Scutari, she devoted forty years of her life to the development of nurse education, hospital design and sanitary reform
(7). Carpenter has pointed out there ‘are different ways of being a nurse’
(8) as a brief study of the history of caring suggests. Before Nightingale began the formal education of nurses at St. Thomas’s Hospital in 1860, ‘nursing’ encompassed a far broader range of activities, and involved a much wider variety of people. Men in the history of health care In one of the few existing reviews of men in nursing, Wright and Hearn
(9) suggest that the earliest nurses were men. There are references in Hippocratic writings to male slaves performing therapeutic activities with clients in their work as bath attendants. These slaves were trained by doctors to assist with and undertake treatments
(10). Care in the public sphere in Ancient Greece was predominantly provided by men, whereas in the home, the sick were cared for by women
(11). Later, the Romans were one of the first cultures to practice battlefield medicine in mobile tent hospitals
(12) and these skills were later applied to civilian patients….;
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