Like every 12 May, the International Nurses Day is celebrated and to commemorate this date, three colleagues in the profession, Mercè Salvat, Marc Fortes and Nuria Rodríguez got together to talk about the relationship between gender and giving care.
We would like to share our reflections on how socially, the profession has been related to vocation, altruism, submissiveness and invisibility…, in short, to the social stereotypes of the female gender.
Questions arose during this conversation such as why the term caregiving is associated with women in our society, why this care does not have nor has had social recognition when opinion is favourable in the processes of health-illness, how the men who have chosen this profession experience it and finally, how it would be possible to “deconstruct” this social and cultural construct.
Let’s take it a step at a time.
Why is the concept of caregiving associated with women in our society?
It is a historical fact that in our patriarchal society, women have been linked to the function of reproduction and taking care of the home. This care should be seen in its widest sense: from the routine chores of housekeeping, to curing and maintaining the health of older people, babies and family members who are ill. At the same time, they have been attributed with a whole series of connotations such as servitude, self-sacrifice, unconditional commitment and in short, of little value. On the other hand, in this context, men have been linked to productivity and the economic sustenance of the family and associated with professionalism and social prestige.
Why does this caregiving not have nor has had social prestige?
This deeply rooted social construct has normalised the idea of caregiving as something feminine. It is taken a step further by establishing stereotypes between that which is feminine, caregiving and the social vocation-intuition-servitude-invisibility. Finally, a symbolic association with essential professions in the care of people is made; this would be the case of nursing. In fact, the stereotyped identification of the profession is replicated socially and the role of the nurse is a professional continuation of home care (Germán, 2004).
In addition, to this collective worldview mentioned previously, we also need to add the sexual-recreational perspective of the profession which unfortunately continues to be present. An example, in the most recent cases, is the flu campaign of 2017 by the Ministry of Health and the TV programme Telepasión – El Musical 2017.
How do the men who have chosen this profession experience it?
This is a question we male nurses have always asked ourselves: What problem is there in carrying out this career? Would anybody have questioned my decision had I decided to be a doctor or pharmacist? This is the first battle to be fought by the men who decide to give care professionally to other people. It is not a battle against themselves but rather against established social prejudices. We will attempt to briefly summarise some of these prejudices:
– “To be able to care for someone, a special sensitivity is needed which only women have.” It appears that men are strong, do not waste time on feelings and of course never cry. Luckily, many of us have shown that professional care requires a set of skills which in the first place can be trained and which secondly do not depend on gender whatsoever, or, as Joan Tronto, the political scientist puts it: “Giving care is not more natural for women; they do it as a privilege for men.”
– As we mentioned earlier, the social construct says that “men are the economic pillar of the family”. Nowadays, the average salary of a male nurse might not be enough to sustain a family. In our present day society we need to consider shared responsibility in family management.
– “Men that choose a profession of this type are not very masculine”; the social construct means that some men do not go into these professions because, from a social viewpoint, it is thought that their masculinity might be questioned and consequently, the superiority of gender too. What is more, this idea leads to the attribution of a sexual orientation because of belonging to this collective.
How can this social and cultural construct be deconstructed?
The “deconstruction” of this social construct should lead us towards the revolution of equating caregiving with healing from a human perspective and not from a gender perspective. To be able to give care, it is without doubt necessary to have a predisposition towards solidarity, an emotional commitment and flexibility but these grand values belong to humanity and not to any gender or profession. The perspective of gender is in itself enriching and should bestow on men and women the condition of equality when carrying out their chosen professions regardless of their gender.
In order to “deconstruct” the stereotype of gender in our patriarchal society, we should learn that giving care is a skill that people have and that it has nothing to do with the dichotomy of gender (Barragán, 2009). A feminine or masculine view regardless of sex is necessary in order to look at our profession historically and in terms of the future (Chamizo, 2004) and what is more, we feel the need to add that it is necessary in order to deal with the present and future of society.
In this respect, our proposals are a step towards the definition of a common strategic line proposed by professional colleges of health, where the democratic values which are imbued in taking care and in giving care are promoted.
Post written by Núria Rodríguez-Valiente, Marc Fortes and Mercè Salvat.