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‘So apparently he wants to be a male nurse.’ The tone of disbelief rang clear in my mother’s voice as she told me about an acquaintance’s chosen career.
‘Really? Why not a doctor?’ I responded, without a moment’s hesitation.
And then I balked at how my brain had automatically decreed that nursing was a female profession and that a man would do much better as a doctor and was somehow not fit to be a nurse. Of course, I consoled myself by thinking that if Ben Stiller’s character in the ‘Meet The Parents’ series can get flak for being a male nurse, then maybe my brain was just reacting to what is a universally predominant stereotype. This is not to say that it makes it all better. But at least it got me thinking about men and women and traditionally proscribed careers and why is it that certain professions are equated to a certain gender.
We don’t give a second thought about females as kindergarten teachers and make-up artists or men as electric power installers or crane operators? But a male childcare worker or a female home appliance repairer still warrants a raised eyebrow.
There are those who argue about the merits of occupational segregation on the basis of emotional temperament or physical strength. But can we seriously still rely on that old chestnut anymore?
How many of us have seen women lift heavy bricks at a construction site when the heaviest thing a lot of the men we know have lifted is a six-pack beer holder? And why would we think that men do not have the emotional make-up to be a nurse or a nanny? I’ve personally seen too many fathers melt at their children’s words to accept that argument anymore.
But despite evidence to the contrary, the debate still rages on how certain jobs should be done by certain genders only. So I started wondering why the division in the first place?
There are those who say that breast pumps and bottles came on the scene too late, which meant that historically women had to stick to those jobs that they could work on with an infant in tow. But even then someone had to get the meat and harvest those crops and later on work that heavy machinery and so the men were sent out. No way the mothers were sending their babies out with them till they were weaned. And so everyone slipped into their own comfortable rut, till the idea of demarcation of jobs by gender entered our collective consciousness. There it remains to this day. Of course, things were not helped by religion or society that made sure the occupational walls stayed in place.
But today when we need all hands on deck as far as the workplace or the home is concerned does it make sense to continue with these mindsets? Isn’t it time we classified occupational segregation a vestigial organ? Isn’t it time we let not only our women truck drivers but also male nurses be?
What do you think?
Pic credit: Geoffrey Fairchild (used under a Creative Commons Attribution license)
Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Novelist, Award-winning Blogger and Founder-Editor of The Times
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