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Old Stereotypes and New Professional Roles: Men in Midwifery

by ACNM Guest Blogger KC Bly, CNM, RN, WHNP

This cartoon makes me chuckle
. I admit it: it’s funny. But it’s funny because, like most humor, it relies on entrenched, constructed, seemingly benign stereotypes that really can do a disservice to an educated, empathetic populace.

Feminism has finally managed to alert most thinking people to the damage that gender stereotypes do to girls and women; however, most of us are still blinded to the effects of these stereotypes on boys and men, and on our perceptions of boys and men. I was recently contacted by a male nursing student who has an interest in pursuing midwifery. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) his interest had been tempered by feedback from his own family and from his student colleagues. His experience is not unique. Mainstream images of men in this country are still dominated by narratives like the one represented in the cartoon at the link: men are inherently incapable of compassionate, woman-centered care. Even our faltering economy, in which we’ve seen the recently unemployed flock to health care and nursing careers in droves, just nudged the number of male nurses from 5.4% in 2000 to 6.2% in 2008, and in 2009 nearly twice as many new male nurses left the profession within 4 years of graduating from nursing school as did new female nurses (7.5% vs. 4.1%). In other words, men are still overwhelmingly expected to be the breadwinners of the family, but adopting traditionally female professional roles is not a valid means of achieving that status.

The first two articles in the most recent edition of Quickening address our profession’s need for a serious image overhaul, in part because we need significantly more recruits if we really intend to serve the women of this country as they deserve. Most notably, ACNM president Holly Powell Kennedy, CNM, astutely asserts, “our profession is divisive… I am continually saddened by the lack of respect we accord one another.” She seems to be referring to the infighting between nurse and non-nurse midwives, but the same critique could be made of the attitudes of some female midwives toward male midwives. She further argues, “it is time for us to stand united for the implementation and evaluation of high quality and safe health care for all women in all settings… With commitment to best care for women, I believe we can build a bridge that will unite midwifery.”

Men are a distinctly untapped resource in the goal toward increasing the number of midwives in this country, but accessing this resource will require work from within our profession and in our communities at large. The encouragement and training of potential male midwives demands that current midwives open themselves to new ways of perceiving men, and that we all actively work toward deconstructing the divisive and damaging gender stereotypes that have for generations kept so many women from realizing their full potential.

If you are a male midwife and would like to share your insights and advice with men interested in midwifery, or if you identify as male and have any inclination that midwifery could be your life calling, please send an e-mail to [email protected] to join the ACNM Ethics Committee’s Gender Bias Task Force discussion group.

Posted 2/15/2012 11:28:31 AM



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