For 25 years I worked as an artist in schools. Whilst doing this I was constantly being swamped, observed, followed and interrogated (in a nice way) by the children. At first I thought this was because I wasn't a teacher, but I later realised it was also because I am a man.
I am now employed as a consultant in a wide range of health and care settings, not just schools, and I am still a very rare animal. A brief scan of Google confirmed my solitude:
- In 2010 there was one man under the age of 25 working as a teacher with under-fives in state nursery schools in the whole of England. I had to read that statistic twice to really gain the full impact of it.
- 28 % of the country's primary schools have no male teachers at all.
- Almost 82 % of social workers are female.
- One in 10 nurses are men
I could go on.
Why is there such a paucity of men? Why don't men take up the caring professions?
It has been argued:
- Men don't feel they are good at such sensitive jobs, they feel they lack the necessary skills.
- Caring work has traditionally been the female domain, and has become highly feminised, often men say they are intimidated by the environments.
- Men feel they may be judged as, somehow, not being a man if they go into these professions.
To be more crass:
- Men tend to want to earn more money than these lowly paid jobs offer.
- The jobs lack status and kudos, therefore men don't do them.
All of these feel like feeble excuses, worse still, they sound like out of date generalisations, and they need to be challenged. For me, this is not about the nature of being a man, this reflects how we nurture our boys from a very young age.
We undertook a project in a primary school in South Wales, in which the children were partnered with old age pensioners from a local care home. They spent time together with some very enjoyable results. Before the project the children were asked 'what career would you like to have?', and given a wide range of options, one of which was 'carer or nurse'. Not one of the boys ticked this. On completing the project, the children were given the same questionnaire again, and over 25% of the boys ticked 'carer or nurse'. We stifle our boys caring and nurturing nature from a very early age.
Hopefully, we all applaud and encourage as more women step into the sciences, technologies and the male dominated board rooms all round the world. This is progress. I want to encourage an equally vibrant and healthy move in the opposite direction. Men becoming nursery assistants, teachers, nurses and social workers. Men understanding that they can and must contribute to the caring professions, because they are needed by all of us.
I recently worked in a hospital with young children, recording their experiences in drawings, poems and films, this is a quote from Chris aged 10, 'I like it when the male nurses look after me'. He much preferred and felt more at ease when he was being cared for by the male staff. This is one example of how important it is for our young children to have positive male role models.
We have a long way to go. I knew a young unemployed father who was very good at playing and caring for his children, and we all encouraged him to become a nursery assistant. He trained, but then was unable to gain employment, despite trying very hard. Finally, one of the teachers told him, he'd have to remove the tattoos from his hands and face before she'd employ him.
Where are all the caring men? They're right here, ready and waiting. All it takes is a bit of bravery, the courage to do something out of the ordinary. Come on men, join me, you won't be less of a man for it, and you'll be respected and valued. Especially in these hard economic times it is vital that we take some risks and start to break down the artificial barriers surrounding jobs, careers and life choices.