Robots Are Taking Our Jobs, But They Can’t Touch Nursing. So Why Aren’t More Men Entering the Industry?

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We’re in an era where more and more jobs are switching over to automation. Yet there are still (and will hopefully always be) some professions that simply can’t be taken over by robots. While they can do a lot, robots lack the emotional intelligence to take on a number of jobs, including nursing. (At least they do for now, and when that changes, I am prepared to apologize to our new empathy-filled overlords.)

As the above video from Vox explains, nursing and personal care-related jobs have salaries above the median income, their projected growth is substantial, and they’re virtually automation-proof. The few examples the video shows of attempts at robot nurses are both hilarious and terrifying.

Yet there’s a worldwide shortage of nurses. There’s also a huge gender imbalance, with men making up only about a tenth of the profession. And the things that are keeping nursing safe from automation are the very aspects that serve as deterrents for far too many men. Much of the job is based on building trust and providing comfort and emotional care as well as physical. And those are largely seen as feminine traits.

The above video goes into the history of how the industry became so segregated, but it’s amazing that still, even today, the profession is so highly stigmatized. The idea that nursing is a woman’s job both fuels and feeds on false ideas of innate gender differences, rather than recognizing lifelong social conditioning. It’s insulting both to women (whose perceived innate traits are viewed as less-than), as well as the men who do enter caregiving professions.

The video shows some of the ways the nursing industry has tried to appeal to men, which would be hilarious if they weren’t so horribly counter-productive. These attempts to masculinize the profession, to sell it as a machismo outlet, are denigrating to the actual strengths needed for the job–invaluable traits like empathy, nurturing, and emotional intelligence. They also risk bringing in men who have no interest in those traits to begin with by pushing the exact same gender stereotypes that have long kept men out of nursing.

Still, I understand the appeal of that (heavily misguided) tactic. It’s easier than fixing centuries-old notions of masculinity and “women’s work.” Sociologist Marci Cottingham proposes that “There’s really a question here of who’s going to change. Is it going to be the nursing profession to try to attract more men, or should we expect men to change?”

I would expand that to asking both men and women to change, because we all play a role in perpetuating these sterotypes. And the stigma preventing men from embarking on careers centered on empathy and caring helps exactly no one. Not every man (not every person) should be a nurse, obviously, but there is a shortage of nurses, while jobs typically associated with men are largely on the decline. Literally everyone would benefit from shedding these baseless, manufactured gender stereotypes.

(image: YouTube)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.