American men are doing more housework these days. According to a study by the Institute of Social Research, men do around 16 hours of housework a week, up from 12 hours in 1965. Women are doing less. But at 27 hours, they still do more than men.
Housework has long been regarded as the preserve of women. In India, a more traditional society, it is still very much so. However, there is a perceptible change, particularly in the cities and in nuclear families.
Debates on occupational segregation by sex have largely been dominated by the efforts of women to break into male-dominated professions and how they encounter a glass ceiling in their climb upwards. There is, however, another side to the picture: men taking up professions traditionally reserved for women.
This is not just of the house-husband variety. Schoolteachers (at least in junior classes), bank tellers, flight attendants, cosmetologists and nurses are some professions that have been dominated by the fairer sex. No longer. On your next flight, you may well be served by a steward instead of an airhostess. And the male nurse (who can lift the frail invalid out of his wheelchair) is often preferred to his female counterpart.
But male nurses are still not universally accepted. In traditional societies, they are barred from all contact with women patients. Even in the US, only eight per cent of registered nurses are male (no data is available for India). They are often kept away from gynaecology and midwifery. Curiously, doctors don’t face any problems in these areas. Even more curiously, when male nurses venture into a female ward, the patients often call them “doctor”.
A study by Barbara Bagilhole and Simon Cross says that it has not been easy for men to take up such professions and it still isn’t. “One of the impacts on them has been that they have experienced challenges to their masculine identity from various sources and in a variety of ways,” says the report. “The men’s reactions to these challenges, and their strategies for developing and accommodating their masculinity in the light of these challenges, are illuminating. They either attempted to maintain a traditional masculinity by distancing themselves from female colleagues, and / or partially (re)constructed a different masculinity by identifying with their non-traditional occupations. This they did as often as they deemed necessary as a response to different forms of challenge to their gender identities from both men and women.”
According to psychologists, the key issue is that men work for money while women work for passion. “Men see their prime role as being the provider, so they will go for better paying careers,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. “Women, on the other hand, opt for jobs they have a passion for. This is why they often settle for professions that pay less.”
A study titled Men in Female Dominated Occupations by Kauppinen-Toropainen says that men may actually get paid more in women-dominated areas. They could have other advantages. “For example, in the kindergarten, they might be more valued as father figures,” says the study.
The entry of men into “women’s jobs” is because salary levels are creeping up there too. But it will take time for the gender divide to disappear. A recent Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) survey of UK schoolchildren shows that girls account for 94 per cent of those taking GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) home economics but only 35 per cent of those doing physical education. The EOC has started a campaign to end such gender stereotyping.
Women are doing their bit to end this by entering male-dominated jobs in increasing numbers. They have had problems galore. The first men in women-dominated areas are finding it equally tough. The biggest cross they have to bear is the question mark about their masculinity. “The gay hairdresser is a personality most of us are familiar with,” says Rao. And he doesn’t have it easy in a setting surrounded by women. They don’t like competition; when it comes to looking for a date, they are all after the same targets.
THE GENDER DIVIDE
Statement: A man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family.
Girls disagreeing 82 %
Boys disagreeing 64%
Statement: There is no reason why men can’t be nurses and women can’t be airline pilots
Girls agreeing 87 %
Boys agreeing 76%
(Source: Equal Opportunities Commission survey of UK schoolchildren)