I feel privileged and honored to be studying nursing at such a highly selective school. But I’ve faced judgment ever since I committed in April. Both inside and outside of Penn, I sometimes receive a negative reaction when I tell people my major. Some people seem shocked and minorly dismayed when I tell them I’m studying nursing, and this makes me wonder where this judgment comes from. I know that this must be tied to my gender.
The answer to my question is toxic masculinity. In 2019, many men still feel the need to be “manly” and to prove their masculinity to the world. Nursing is a female-dominated profession, and many people still associate nursing with women. Some may even view it as a “girly” profession, but I feel that the people who view it in this way do not have a full overview of what nursing is, and the various career paths upon which it can take you.
The stigma surrounding men in nursing has been around since the creation of the career itself. During wartime in America, men were expected to fight on the battlefield, and women worked as nurses to treat wounded soldiers. Men with the skill set to work as successful battlefield nurses were wasted out on the battlefield due to the stereotype of only women being able to work in nursing. Gender roles were perpetuated in these situations, and they have carried over into modern times. In health care, masculinity is still associated with careers such as being a doctor or a surgeon, and femininity is still associated with nursing. As a result, some people are shocked to learn that I am a nursing major.
Here at Penn, a majority of the students are either studying in the College of Arts and Sciences or in the Wharton School, and the School of Nursing is definitely in the minority. When discussing plans of study with my peers, other male students typically give me a confused or judgmental reaction. They ask me to explain why I want to study nursing, and this bothers me. I feel that it is wrong that I have to justify why I want to be a nurse, but a male student pursuing a business degree in Wharton is not questioned. This is a result of society associating positions of power and powerful people in business with men, and male college students feel that they need to pursue careers in this field to prove their masculinity.
We live in a society where we praise women for holding positions of power in their fields, which we should. We should celebrate women for holding powerful positions, but these women are celebrated because the positions they hold are stereotypically held by men. We also celebrate female celebrities for wearing more masculine clothing, such as suits. However, we still look down upon men for showing any part of their feminine side. We assume that if a man acts slightly feminine, he is gay or less of a man. This is incorrect. Being feminine should not be looked down upon, and this comes back to nursing. Men should not be looked down upon for pursuing nursing just because of the stereotypes surrounding it. Society perpetuates this idea that all men have to be manly to truly be a man, and it turns men away from pursuing a very rewarding career.
Men in nursing need to be destigmatized, both here at Penn and in American society overall. Male nurses can provide a different perspective in the field, and it allows hospitals to provide more comprehensive care to their patients. I feel that once people are educated about the career as a whole, the stigma behind men in nursing will start to dissipate. People do not understand the mental, physical, and emotional toll it takes on a person to work as a nurse, and to make it through nursing school. However, I also feel that the stigma against men in nursing goes deeper than just the career. Toxic masculinity is a problem plaguing American society, and the effects of this issue have created these problems with men in nursing. Everyone should be able to pursue any career that they desire, and they should not face judgment based off of this decision.
CONNOR BRANDON is a freshman from Skippack, Pa. studying Nursing. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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