Gender Stereotypes in Nursing: Is Nursing a Pink Collar Job in Sri Lanka?

Nurses throughout healthcare history have been viewed as the Doctors’ Handmaidens and thought of as subservient or inferior counterparts to physicians, or a position usually reserved for women. The healthcare industry has and will always continue to progress. Along with this progression a need to combat the gender stereotypes and norms associated with nursing has arisen. Nurses are valuable assets to the healthcare industry and the role can be filled with either men or women. This article aims to rectify the misconception that looms over society about nurses being inferior members of the healthcare hierarchy and that the profession is reserved for women and is emasculating.

Emotional labour including nursing is highly gender specific due to misconceptions or stereotypes. Since nursing involves emotions like compassion, care, understanding and nurturing it is usually categorised as ‘pink-collar’ duties of a mother or a female caretaker. In contrast professions that require emotions of aggression or authoritativeness are reserved for men. Such gender norms have become ingrained in society and further metastasized by the media portrayal of male nurses as being flamboyant, feminine, unheroic and uninspiring characters.

These conservative mindsets have severe impacts on the future of nursing and could even deter some individuals from choosing their career due to parental, societal and peer pressure, especially young males. Amrak Institute focuses on inclusivity and does not believe in gender norms associated with nursing. When two Amrak Nursing students (one male and one female) were asked for their perception about these stereotypes it was clear that they had an effect on each student but profoundly so for the male student. While both students expressed their desire to care for people and contribute something wholesome to society was what drove them to nursing. The male student had some additional concerns regarding his career with being restricted in the fields he could specialise in. While his interest was in paediatrics he felt the need to explain his reason behind this was ‘ I would like to work with children…but not in a creepy way’ which wouldn’t have been a concern for a female. While the female student did not have such concerns she also believed male nurses should be allowed to provide care without being judged as “it is legal for a man to become a nurse and all nurses receive the same training so the care they give would be the same’. Of course stereotypes are deeply rooted within society, for instance female patients would refuse the service of male nurse but be perfectly comfortable with a male gynaecologist. It is up to the future generation of nurses and the general public to ensure that stereotypes change and such opinions be tackled within society itself.

Ironically there have been many influential male nurses in addition to female nurses. They are as follows;

● The greatest irony being the patron saint of nurses, the sick, hospitals and physicians is believed to be St. Camillus De Lellis first found a passion for nursing people back to health when he himself received treatment for his alcohol and gambling addiction. He then went to aid alcoholics in their recovery.
● The 1st Nurse anaesthetist was a man named Edward .T. Lyon who served in the Army Nurse Corps in 1995.
● Walt Whitman served as a nurse during the American Civil War, wrote about his experience as a nurse treating injured soldiers in his poetry. His most famous piece about his career as a nurse was ‘The Wound Dresser’ which describes with poignancy the devotion, sacrifice and compassion demanded by the noble profession is echoed in the below lines from his aforementioned poem

‘…Bearing the Bandages and sponge
Swift and straight to the wounded I go…
… These and more I dress with impassive hand
(Yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame’

In Sri Lanka nursing is seen as a feminine profession. Male nurses are often mistaken for attendants despite nursing being one of the most in demand professions in the job market and not being a gender specific one. This stereotype is determined locally by the patriarchal culture that is dominant within the people thus compartmentalising behavioural traits and professions according to genders.

Amrak institute promotes inclusivity and encourages all to pursue a career in nursing as it is one of the most in demand professions while also being a noble one. The profession comes with its challenges which can be overcome with determination and burning passion to be the hero the world needs regardless of your gender.

– Written by Kimaya Abeyesundere