I spoke with a powerful man recently. He’s taken and passed tough anatomy tests. He’s worked in a variety of rotations, from the intensive care unit to the labor and delivery unit. Whether dispensing medications or starting IV’s, he is making critical decisions about patients’ lives on the front lines of medicine.
Egon 'Richy' Lyttle Jr is a nurse. It hasn’t always been easy for him as a black Hispanic male nursing student. But Lyttle is undeterred.
“I know what I do actually has an effect on someone,” Lyttle said. “It feels very gratifying where I want to keep helping people.”
Lyttle’s power lies in his empathy, compassion and honed skills that will enable him to serve his patients to the best of his ability. I have no doubt he will save lives with his extensive skills sharpenedby countless hours of classroom studying and clinicals, and he will touch many more with his compassion.
Men must recognize that empathy and compassion are power.
Men are told to be tough so they can withstand adversity without shedding a tear; we tell them to provide for their families because that’s just what a man does; we tell them to be confident to go after that testosterone-fulfilling career. We tell them to take what’s theirs, to never let their vulnerability or guard down. This kind of stereotyping prevents men from realizing they can be just as manly when helping people, not just when making lots of money and gaining prestige.
On the other hand, women are encouraged to shatter the glass ceilings of prestigious, traditionally male professions. In 1970, women comprised fewer than 10 percent of law degree earners; they made up almost 50 percent of law degree earners in 2012. It’s no surprise that more women now graduate from college than men do.
But equalizing the playing field for these high-powered careers, the traditional domain of men, cannot be the sole litmus test for gender equality. We need more men to seriously consider careers in traditionally female-dominated “helping fields,” from nursing to social work, if we’re going to achieve true gender equality and realize the benefits of a fully diverse workforce that looks like the people it serves. People who care for the sick and help the downtrodden deserve just as much acclaim as colleagues in traditionally masculine fields.
This is perhaps nowhere more true than nursing, where there is an unmet need for nurses to reflect the people they serve. While a majority of nurses are white middle-class women, they serve a vastly more diverse population. Members of underserved communities, such as queer people and people of color, deserve health care from people who look like them. When nurses look like the people they care for, their patients are healthier. When more minorities, including men, get into nursing, they’ll be able to to not only improve healthcare in the hospital, but also in their own communities.
But if we want more men to go into these female-dominated fields, we have to start with how we raise our boys. We must show them that men can be tough — so they can stand up for what’s right. We must show them that men can be confident so they won't hesitate to pursue a career, if called to it, that will, in Lyttle’s words, make others “smile really big” when you care for them in their most vulnerable moments.
Then more men might be led to make the most powerful choice of all: to help those who can’t always help themselves.
Wong is a Plan II and government senior from McKinney. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @calebawong.