Fiona McCade: Real men can nurse – and wear pink too

MY HUSBAND has a pink shirt. He looks fantastic in it – the colour is flattering and makes him look delightfully bronzed – but his brothers always tease him about it. Thankfully, he doesn’t care, but it would appear that even in this day and age, men can’t always wear pink in peace. Even if it makes them look like Adonis. I think this is sad.

Another thing that I think is really, really sad is the fact that in 21st century America, scientists have felt the need to spend time and money trying to find out whether men who work as hospital nurses are masculine or not.

The good news is that they got the answer right: yes, male nurses are masculine – in fact, they “hold a high degree of masculinity” – and now I’ve stopped banging my head against the wall, I’m trying to accept that there might have been a point to this research. The scientists say they were trying to “counteract the prevailing belief that male nurses are effeminate” and hoping that if they could do it successfully, more men would feel comfortable about entering the profession.

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Um… do people really believe that male nurses are girly? Maybe in Carry On films, but I thought we’d moved on a bit since then. I’ve certainly never assumed that they are anything but the toughest of the tough. And women nurses, too. They have to lug bodies about, mop up hideous stuff, keep calm when the world is going mad around them, and make everyone else feel better while they’re doing it. Nursing calls for both physical and emotional strength of the highest order. It’s not for sissies, of either gender.

Caring should be owned by us all as a human virtue, and I’m genuinely surprised that there are still people out there who think that it’s somehow a predominantly female attribute. Take it from me, it isn’t. I’m female, and I rarely give a toss. My husband, on the other hand, feels deeply for the suffering of humanity, so if you want your forehead mopping, ask him. I’m too busy doing me nails.

If I were a bloke, I’d be annoyed by how long it’s taking to eradicate some of these crazy gender-stereotypes. Granted, the likes of Jeremy Clarkson don’t help, but surely we should have jettisoned such outdated mind-sets by now? I know there’s a sneaking nostalgia for the ghosts of chauvinism past – see Mad Men – but I like to think that’s mainly to do with tailoring. If most of us actually heard a male human say: “I just stayed up for 78 hours, mounted ten fillies, snorted half of Columbia, lost £5 billion of investor’s money and STILL drove home in a Porsche!” I doubt we’d think: “Wow, there goes a real man.”

You don’t need a science degree to understand that it takes a real man to enter a woman’s profession. Only a man who is totally confident and at ease with himself could handle it. Like women who have to compete in largely male-dominated circles, they need an even higher level of inner strength to overcome negative attitudes and cope with society’s scrutiny.

Ergo, the very fact that a bloke has become a nurse tells you that he’s got guts, determination and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

Let’s face it, no male who is easily intimidated, or insecure, is going to take on a high-stress, life-or-death job in which his manliness is constantly questioned. He couldn’t possibly cope, so he’ll probably go into banking. It would certainly take less courage than becoming cabin crew.

I’m very glad that my husband’s masculinity isn’t threatened one jot by what anybody says, and I hope our little boy takes after him.

In fact, I’m going to say this to Junior: if you can unashamedly show that you care; keep your own counsel; always do the work you want to do, whatever popular culture may label you as (heck, even needlepoint if you feel like it); eat quiche and wear a pink shirt proudly, then you’ll be a real man, my son. And what’s more, you’ll look fantastic.