By Amber Charleville
This week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about nursing and feminism. Often, being a woman pursuing a degree in a highly skilled and technical field can feel not only like an uphill battle, fighting for a place in a “man’s world,” but it can also feel like we have to deny skillsets that are considered “feminine” like intuition and empathy. That’s not the case in nursing. We get to combine scientific data and research with the care and holistic approach that sets nursing practice apart from any other healthcare profession.
Unfortunately, nursing is often overlooked and undervalued, categorized as “women’s work” and therefore not as important. This is troubling on a few levels.
- It discourages men from entering the field, and just like women’s perspectives and voices are needed in so many men-dominated professions, men are a valuable asset to the nursing community.
- It discourages women from entering the field because they don’t think it’s a worthy pursuit. It’s what women do when they’re not good enough to be doctors.
These are both products of a world that’s done a very good job of convincing us that tasks traditionally associated with women are undesirable because they’re things men “passed over” so they could do the better, more skilled tasks.
I’m here to tell you that nursing is not “doctoring light.” It takes dedication and sacrifice, understanding of chemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology, and the ability to connect with people on a personal level in order to give them the care that will help them, in whatever way they need. It’s providing education to your patients and advocating for them when they are at their most vulnerable.
The profession is full of dynamic, talented, and incredibly intelligent women who take on community leadership and advocate for the disenfranchised. My nursing professors, the majority of whom are women, are role models to whom I feel proud to learn from, empowered by their example. I get to learn things that most people don’t and I get to learn it from women who don’t feel like gatekeepers I have to fight against to gain access to an elite world.
Rather, they are welcoming and supportive; they cheer us on as we challenge ourselves and each other to become the best nurses we can be, to learn how to save lives and make a difference in the world, one patient at a time. Nursing as we know it today is a profession founded by an ambitious woman who broke away from the norms of her time and rejected the expected place for her as a woman in the world. And it is a field that continues to pioneer and make room for women and men from all walks of life.
I know this blog entry feels like the manifesto of a nursing student, and in some ways I suppose it is, but ultimately, I’d like to challenge everyone’s preconceived ideas. Take a look at the stay-at-home parent, the grade school teacher, and of course, the nurse. Think about how you feel about those professions and the people in them.
Why do you think those roles are so strongly gendered and poorly compensated/valued? Tell me your thoughts in comments or on Twitter @umkc_womenc!