Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gender and Profession: Lady Doctors and Male Nurses?

My grandmother adores one of her doctors, who she insists on calling her lady-doctor. It doesn't matter how many times the doctor's name comes up in conversation, or that I've actually met her, when referring to this woman my grandmother always says something along the lines of "Doctor So-and-So, my lady-doctor, says..." Frankly, my grandmother is too cute for this to irk me, but I do find it interesting to think about which professions get gender-neutral names and which we feel the need to tag with female or male labels. Nobody refers to 'my favorite lady-musician' but - even on this site - we often talk about the female politicians we like. I've never heard anyone discuss their lady-teacher, but I have heard mention of lady-pilots, presumably because they're still rather rare (for reasons Maggie discusses here). Which brings us to today's cartoon:

So, for all you language-lovers out there: Does this gender-tagging of certain professions reinforce our stereotypes or is it sometimes necessary for clarity when we speak of professions where parity has not yet been reached?

(h/t Sociological Images)


NotOverreacting said...

I would think that it just reinforces that having someone of that gender (i.e. male) doing that job (i.e. nurse) is unusual and therefore nurses are supposed to be women. Personally I would go for dropping the gender part of it because what does it matter? What matters is that nurses are good at being nurses and doctors are good at being doctors, etc, regardless of gender.

divinegracie said...

This is an issue discussed on nursing websites and listservs ... "nurse" has a female connotation to it which does not serve the men who go into the profession well. Look at www.nursingadvocacy.org, Nurse Ratched's Place, many other blogs ...

OTOH, "feminists" disparage female nurses, ignore them, denigrate them, and focus their efforts on women in medicine, law, and such. I think there is a class bias of the "feminist" academic and blogging class against nurses, who are working class to middle class for the most part. (flame suit on)

Anonymous said...

The same way we assume everyone is white, we also assume everyone is male. Unfortunately, our society, gender DOES make a big difference in who we are talking about, so clarification is necessary to create a mental image.

Maybe we should refer to everyone in gendered terms--female nurse, gentlemen doctor.

Although, you gotta wonder why doctors get the more formal, respectful title.

Habladora said...

Hi DivineGracie - thanks for the links. I would argue that nurses are in medicine, so I'm surprised by the distinction you make when you write that feminists focus on women in medicine rather than women in nursing. Isn't the nursing field part of the medical field? Perhaps if you provide some links to the 'feminists' who are denigrating nurses, I'd see your point.

Or perhaps I am the 'feminist'?! In the title 'Lady Doctors, Male Nurses,' I was copy-catting my grandmother's language and that in the cartoon. Anon is right though - it should be either female doctors and male nurses OR lady doctors and gentleman nurses (both of the latter make me snicker so I vote for the Lady and Gentleman title).

Kris-Stella said...

This is a tangent, but the post reminded me of an interesting take on gender pronouns in a book I once read. The authors explained, in a footnote right at the beginning of the book, that they would refer to the political leaders discussed in the book exclusively by the male pronoun. The explanation was that while they supported the use of he/she in a lot of circumstances, the population of leaders discussed was near-exclusively male, so they didn't want to leave the readers with the false impression that equality had already been reached in this particular area of politics.

Unfortunately I can't recall what book this was, nor the particular category of leaders they were talking about... so you'll just have to take my word for it. But I thought it was an interesting approach. It isn't always the best route to go, but sometimes gendering a profession does make sense.