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‘Being a Chameleon’: labour processes of male nurses performing bodywork


  • Murray J. Fisher

    1. Murray J. Fisher PhD RN Senior Lecturer Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sydney, Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia
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Title. ‘Being a Chameleon’: labour processes of male nurses performing bodywork.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study examining the labour processes of male nurses in the conduct of bodywork, and is part of a broader study of social practices that configure masculinity through the lives of male nurses.

Background.  Bodywork is defined as the direct work on others' bodies, and involves interactions of bodies and the control of emotions. As the body is an arena in which social practice occurs then bodywork is a form of social engagement. Bodywork is inextricably intertwined with gender where bodywork is socially structured and culturally accepted as women’s work.

Method.  Life history method was used in this study. Twenty-one life stories from male registered nurses were gathered in 2003–2004 using semi-structured interviews. Each life story underwent structural analysis, using a four-dimension structural model of gender relations.

Findings.  The ability of male nurses to do bodywork and provide care is dependent on the way they ‘do’ gender, that is, they have to be perceived to be performing the masculine identity that best represents the individual patient’s ideology of what it is to be a man, which is set in a particular location and time. In addition, they have to counter the representations of the male nurse, whether it is homosexual, paedophile or heterosexual deviant. Respondents develop labour processes and workplace strategies to overcome the effects of gender stereotypes that may hinder their nursing work.

Conclusion.  Nursing procedures, policies and texts should reflect the complexity and multiplicity in the conduct of bodywork in nursing and refrain from representing essentialist ways (reinforcing nursing as feminine) of doing nursing.