To Men in Nursing: Consider Your Privilege


I want to talk about men in nursing and privilege. I expect it will be a difficult, nuanced dialogue, but it’s an important one, and one particularly relevant to nursing, a profession so entwined with the ideals of egalitarianism, advocacy and feminism.

Before I begin, I want to clarify: I do not want to challenge the presence of men in our profession, their growth in numbers, their competency, or their intentions. I do want to challenge men in our profession to challenge themselves to analyze their privilege, and I want to challenge men in our profession who have already done this work to challenge others to do the same. Specifically, I want to challenge male nursing groups, particularly NYC Men in Nursing and the American Association of Men in Nursing, that provide networking and career opportunities for their mostly male members. Broadly, I want to challenge all male nurses who use their privilege, inadvertently or purposefully, to get higher positions and higher pay.

I identify as an intersectional feminist. Intersectionality is a term used by modern feminists to define the multiple identities that are subject to systems of oppression. An intersectional feminist holds that arguing against sexism is logically and ethically invalid if you do not also rally against racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, ableism, ageism and religious discrimination in our society. Intersectional feminists work hard to examine their own identities of privilege (I, for example, am white, able-bodied, cisgendered and educated) and how they have benefitted us, and work to dismantle the systems that bolster that privilege. Intersectional feminists “call people in” instead of calling them out.

I often discuss experiences of discrimination in the workplace with other non-male identifying feminists, and through these conversations, I learned I am very lucky to be a nurse. Compared to tech or the restaurant service industry, for example, nursing is a feminist dreamland. Most men I have met in nursing have been respectful and compassionate. Disappointingly, however, only a few have demonstrated a deep understanding of the privilege they enjoy, both in our profession and society at large, due to their gender. Male nurses have great capacity to be intersectional feminists, but because they do not bear the brunt of gender inequality, it takes more work for them to recognize it than it does for women, and because it’s hard to say no to a leg up, it takes more self-sacrifice to shun its benefits.

As an intersectional feminist, I empathize with the position of men as a minority in an industry. They comprise only about 10% of nurses. Male nurses have historically been made fun of for being feminine (I’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents), which I’m sure can be hard for some men. Male-identifying nurses who are gay or queer suffer homophobia in the workplace. Our black male nurses come from identities that have higher rates of imprisonment, police brutality and death by homicide. Men are also more likely to be mistaken for doctors, according to one male classmate of mine, for whom I played my well-worn miniature violin. Seriously, though, I empathize with all of this and readily acknowledge that some identities men have (race, disability, sexuality) put them at higher risk for discrimination than some women. I even empathize with the doctor comment, but mostly just because I am proud to be a nurse. 

But we must remember, a minority population is not always a victimized one. Male nurses are more likely to hold advanced practice positions, and they earn more money than female nurses in comparable positions with comparable accreditation and experience. Men are less likely to be the recipient of sexual harassment from a patient or coworker. Men are less likely to be demeaned and ignored as professionals by MDs and other team members. Men are promoted faster and more often. Ultimately, the privilege men, particularly white men, still have within our profession is difficult to reconcile, and to me, despite my empathy, trumps their minority status.

As a student at NYU, the most active group at my school was Men Entering Nursing. Despite their good intentions, I could not shake my philosophical argument with the group. I keep coming back to one analogy:

Imagine that we had a student interest group for white students. Imagine that the group for white students became the most active group in the school. The group hosted events with all white presenters. The professor leading the group was friendly and available and helped you find jobs and study for tests. The group had a strong affiliation with the citywide white group, which provided excellent career guidance and networking opportunities. Of course, non-white students would be allowed as well, if they wanted to join the group and enjoy its networking and academic benefits. Some non-white students even sat on the e-board, but most avoided joining because they had enough on their plate trying to address non-white issues. To top it all off, one month after the election of Donald Trump, all the white students in the school (even if they weren’t Whites in Nursing members) were asked to gather after the last exam before graduation in their scrubs and take a group photo, and no one questioned it at all.

Even if white people only comprised 10% of the student and professional population, this would be inappropriate. I am a white person, and I would do everything I could to reduce this group’s influence at the university, or I would try to funnel the momentum of the group toward events and dialogue focused on privilege analysis. This is what I suggest men in nursing do in the future. 

This is my perspective, but I am open to others. I am open to being called wrong and being corrected. I am open to dialogue. Please share your ideas.

Jillian Primiano, RN, BSN, recently graduated from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, where as a student, she worked with the Hartford Institute of Geriatric Nursing to develop education for geriatric care providers and improve health outcomes for older adults. Before earning her nursing degree, she studied History and Journalism at Boston University with a focus on Cold War anti-war activism, feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. After her first stint in college, she spent three years teaching English, American Studies and International Relations at An Giang University in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, where she learned about her privilege in ways she could never have imagined.

Historic Wilma Scott Heide eBooks now available!


Wilma Scott Heide

Wilma Scott Heide

Two books of major significance to the modern women’s movement are now available as eBooks – “Feminism for the Health of It” by Wilma Scott Heide, and “A Feminist Legacy: The Ethics of Willma Scott Heide and Company” by Eleanor Humes Haney.

Wilma Scott Heide was bom on February 26, 1921 and died on May 8, 1985 of a heart attack. One of the most respected of feminist/human rights scholars/activists in the world, Dr. Heide was a nurse, sociologist, writer, activist and lecturer. During her lifetime she actively demonstrated intellectual force, caring and commitment in articulating the women’s movement imperatives for society. She served as visiting professor and scholar at several universities, consultant to various state education associations and innumerable colleges, churches and many branches of the government, education and social organizations. In 1984 Wilma described herself as: Behavioral Scientist at American Institutes for Research; Human Relations Commissioner in Pennsylvania; Chairone of Board and President of NOW (1970-1974); Professor of Women’s studies and Public Affairs at Sangamon State (would-be) University in Illinois; Feminist and Humorist-at-Large

These two books were originally published in 1985 by MargaretDaughters, a small independent feminist publishing company founded by Charlene Eldridge Wheeler and Peggy Chinn.  They named their company after their mothers, both of whom were “Margaret.”  They met Wilma on the occasion of an International Women’s Day celebration Heide-Coverin Buffalo, New York where Wilma was featured as a guest speaker.  Her dissertation, titled “Feminism for the Health of It” had never been published in book format, and the eager Margaretdaughters publishers were thrilled to have the opportunity to bring this important work into book form.  Shortly after, they connected with Ellie Haney, who had been planning a biography of Wilma’s life that highlighted the amazing and inspiring feminist philosophy that grounded Wilma’s work.

Wilma challenged the patriarchal status quo with an inimitable humor, keen intellect, and a steadfast feminist commitment.  She was the third President of NOW, during which she actively led the organization to turn away from the homophobic “lavender menace” Legacy-Cover2messages of the earliest years of the organization.  She led a number of actions of civil disobedience, several of which contributed significantly to moving the Equal Rights Amendment out of committee and into the nation-wide U.S. constitutional review process.  She insisted that newspapers cease segregating the “help wanted’ columns by “male” and “female” – a change that is possibly one of the most influential in expanding economic opportunity for women.

Even though she did not practice nursing for most of her career, she never waivered in her identity as a nurse and her commitment to the deepest values of nursing that are today reflected in the Nursing Manifesto – caring, the right of all people to a high level of health and wellness, the essential element of peace in realizing health for all, and the imperatives of consciousness and action to bring about real change.

There are elements in both books that may seem limited or inadequate given the perspectives we have today, but both remain significant and current not only for their historic value, but for the light they shed on today’s persistent political and social challenges for women, for nursing, and for health care.  I am thrilled to have brought these works forward into the present in accessible, affordable formats!  I hope you will visit your preferred eBook provider now and consider making them part of your library!

What Not to Say to a Nurse — Hooters Opens Nursing School


Male Nurses Make More Money” was published last week in the Wall Street Journal. As a registered nurse and a woman, I was angered and appalled at the comments that this article spawned, about the sexualized physicality of women nurses.

Here are just a few of the comments:

“Just another happy old guy” wrote: “I only accept female nurses at my bedside. The lovely smile, sweet perfume, and wonderful bosoms make my day, every day. A guy tending me is advised to wear a steel cup.”

“cdg” wrote: “Female nurses with large bosoms should earn more than their male (or flat-chested female) counterparts.”

“Steve” wrote: “I think female nurses should be paid on the basis of how hot they are.”

And finally, my personal favorite, which was posted by “MCP”: “Hooters is going to start a nursing school.”

I should say right now that I am not against Hooters. I’m not against women (and men) who work at Hooters. In fact, this post is not even about Hooters. I was just so struck by the phrase, that I just had to title this post with it.

I realize that I’m probably at fault here, because I thought that we as a society had gotten past sexy nurse costumes for Halloween. In fact, I now know that the “naughty nurse” is alive and well. An episode of the NBC sitcom “Whitney” is one recent example.

It’s not all bad news. There are others out there such as Sandy Summers of The Truth About Nursing, and those at National Nurses United who fight for nurses (male and female nurses) to promote the profession and to expose these stereotypes in the public domain.

Now, perhaps those who posted those comments to Male Nurses Make More Money were just joking. If so, I guess I just don’t think sexist nurse-talk is funny.

I’m a nurse. I’m a woman and I have a PhD. Don’t insult me with your talk of “boobs” and sweet-smelling perfume.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post on March 8, 2013.

Follow Mona Shattell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@MonaShattell