Although much progress has been made regarding gender segregation within healthcare occupations, assumptions are still made about which gender pronouns are appropriate for doctors and nurses to have. Ekberg and Ekberg (2017) find that when engaging in conversation with others about healthcare professions, traditional male occupations are spoken about using masculine pronouns, and traditional female occupations are spoken about using feminine pronouns.
The provided example shows that an individual asks another individual whether they have seen a doctor and they other person responds with “yes.” The first individual assumes that the doctor is a male and the second individual corrects them by explaining that the doctor was a female.
The use of gender-specific pronouns without prior knowledge of the healthcare professional’s sexual orientation shows that people take for granted the understandings of gender norms and society as a whole. Even before a male enters the medical field, they receive discrimination through the hiring methods of the employers. When referred to an employer by an individual, men are viewed in a different perspective based on the stereotype that the employer has in mind. The employer relies on his or her own perceptions of the gender-type of that occupation to decide that the candidate’s sex is “incorrect” or “unfitting” for the job (Kmec, 2008).
Snyder and Green (2008) explain that even when men have the opportunity to work at an equal level with female coworkers, they are drawn to the “male” specialties for fear of being seen as less of a man. The authors propose that men are drawn to these specialties because they represent less feminized, or more masculinized, forms of nursing. These men select “gender appropriate” specialties within the nursing field to secure a masculine identity in an otherwise feminized field. Men are put under societal pressures to stay away from feminized occupations. Williams (1992) agrees that once men are in the role of a nurse, they are viewed as a token of the occupation and while they may not explicitly experience discrimination from their coworkers, individuals outside of their profession give them backlash for being in a nurturing role.
The hatred that these people feed to the male nurses hinders men in the process of integrating themselves into the nursing field. She argues that men receive different treatment within hiring processes and promotion decisions, are given acceptance from colleagues, and work well in the predominantly female environment, but the discrimination these men receive from outsiders hinders them just enough to make them believe that they do not belong.
She calls this the “glass escalator effect.” Male nurses get called “failures” based on their occupation, which results in hesitation from prospective men entering the field who may now believe that consideration of this job will make them less masculine. Men take male-dominated job opportunities over female jobs because the redefinition of an occupation as “masculine” must occur before men will consider them appropriate for themselves.
Males that do enter the nursing field despite the backlash from society tend to overcompensate for their stereotypes with additional labor. This is considered heteronormative labor. Since heteronormativity is implanted in health care professions, male nurses must discursively, cognitively, and emotionally perform work that manages those heteronormative expectations of the workplace. Whether males agree with the embedded heteronormativity or not, they are defined by this concept. In a study by Cottingham, Johnson and Taylor (2016), audio diaries and in-depth interviews were conducted to examine male nurses’ perceptions of working in a caring occupation.
The audio diaries provided the men’s reflections, memories, and feelings about shifts they have had throughout the day, and the interviews answered similar questions surrounding the emotional demands of nursing, personal experiences, and reflections. Men from all across the sexual spectrum expressed that sexuality and physical touch are the center of discussions when speaking about interactions with patients and their families, colleagues, and mentors, no matter whether they were homosexual or heterosexual. Although male nurses are defined by the concept of heteronormativity, many do not try to defy the expectations.
In an example provided, a male nurse explains that he cannot desexualize his touch while giving a breast exam and insists on giving it to prove his resistance, but then gives this opportunity up at the presence of an alternative nurse. This in turn reinforces the idea of male hypersexuality. The issue of touch being seen as sexualized is what allows men’s methods of heteronormative labor to be so clear to researchers. Often, men may tell female patients that they are homosexual or refer the patient to a female nurse when providing care in order to diminish any discomfort a woman may have surrounding male care. Whether this discomfort arises or not, male nurses reinforce the heteronormative labor that they are defined by and uphold society’s belief that they are not capable of performing this occupation based on their sexuality.
Gendered occupations such as nursing continue to be maintained and socially constructed. This may be due to the rarity of male portrayal in nontraditional roles in the media, which is, more often than not, made the central focus of the media being displayed and is seen as a joke. The stereotypes that males are placed under are deeply rooted in society’s structure and the personality of individuals (Williams, 1992).