Job Titles (Even Informal Ones)Should Be About the Job, Not Gender
“Well, there were only two future murses,” she answered.
I received this cryptic answer while working in hotel recreation, my first non-nursing job in ten years. One of my co-workers was taking a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and I had just asked her how many male students were in her class. In my former job, I mentored nursing students, and I was always interested in hearing about their experiences.
“Hmm?” I asked.
“You know, male nurses,” she responded.
The word invention was clever, but it was rubbing me the wrong way. I didn’t want to be some kind of “social justice warrior”, but I wasn’t willing to quite let it pass, either.
Trying to keep my tone mild, I asked what the male students in her class thought of the label.
“Well, it’s all in good fun,” she answered, sounding a bit defensive.
“I’m just asking because my husband works in nursing and he often feels like he is memorable only for being a guy, rather than for his work,” I continued, still trying for sounding casual, “And he also sometimes has to deal with people that don’t think men should be nurses. I noticed when I mentored students that the guys were often feeling like they were under more scrutiny than the girls.”
“I don’t think they are at our school. Like I said, we were just having fun.”
“Oh, okay,” I answered, deciding it best to let it go.
I wondered afterward if I was being too sensitive. Was I jumping on the politically correct bandwagon? I have come back to this question many times over the years. At this point I am sure of the answer. Slang job titles like “murse” and “Mr. Mom” (as in Lonestar’s 2004 song of the same title)really aren’t okay.
My problem with these titles is that they underline an attitude that says it’s so strange for men to work in care giving roles that we need a whole different word for the job when it’s performed by a man. It’s as if it is suspicious for a man to want to be a caregiver.
After years of working in female dominated fields, I ended up working in forestry, where women were definitely the minority. I have certainly had to deal with questions about what attracted me to the field as it was a strange one for a woman. And there were also times I felt I had to prove I was as tough as the guys. On the other hand, when it came to job titles there was a different approach. As more women moved into supervisory roles, a decision was made to stop calling the supervisor the “foreman” and start simply calling them a supervisor. Going from a gendered title to a gender neutral one highlighted the company’s wish to avoid different treatment based on gender. It recognized that the words we choose matter.
While we are far from equality in the workplace for women, we are at least at the point that society tries to show it is the ideal. If we want to encourage women to be programmers, engineers and plumbers, we should also be encouraging men that they can be nurses, stay at home dads, and early childhood educators. We want both men and women to that everyone can be both strong and caring. We want to enrich industries with the multiple perspectives and approaches that diverse workplaces offer.
My husband is one of the many great male nurses out there enriching our world. No qualifier needed.