Cautious caregivers: gender stereotypes and the sexualization of men nurses' touch


Joan Evans, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3J5. E-mail:


Aim.  The aim of this research was to explore the experience of men nurses and the ways in which gender relations structure different work experiences for women and men in the same profession.

Background.  Men are now entering the nursing profession in record numbers and challenging the notion that men are inappropriate in caregiver roles or incapable of providing compassionate and sensitive care. A limitation of the current state of knowledge regarding caring and men nurses is that it is primarily focused on men nursing students, not practising nurses. Little is known about men nurses' practices of caring and how such practices reflect the gendered nature of nursing and nurses' caring work.

Methods.  The theme of men nurses as cautious caregivers emerged from data that were collected in two rounds of semi-structured interviews with eight men nurses practising in Nova Scotia, Canada. Thematic analysis, informed by feminist theory and masculinity theory, was used as the method for analysing the data.

Findings.  For men nurses, the stereotype of men as sexual aggressors is compounded by the stereotype that men nurses are gay. These stereotypes sexualize men nurses' touch and create complex and contradictory situations of acceptance, rejection and suspicion of men as nurturers and caregivers. They also situate men nurses in highly stigmatized roles in which they are subject to accusations of inappropriate behaviour. For men nurses, this situation is lived as a heightened sense of vulnerability and the continual need to be cautious while touching and caring for patients. Ultimately, this situation impacts on the ability of men nurses to do the caring work they came into nursing to do.