More Men Take Traditionally Female Jobs

ByLenny Bourin and

Sept. 1, 2003 -- — Timothy Turner was a coal miner. He is now an intensive care nurse at the Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, W.Va.

"When I got laid off from the mines, first thing I did was apply for a nursing school, because I thought that was the easiest way to get into the medical profession," Turner said.

Turner said his new job is rewarding and stable, something hard to find in his economically depressed area.

For millions of Americans, this has been a summer spent searching for work. Of the 7.7 million adults out of a job last month, 4.4 million of them were men.

"In economic hard times, you do see more men crossing over, because jobs that are predominantly female tend to be located in more stable places of employment," said Christine Williams, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

‘You Get the Funny Look’

John Snedegar, another registered nurse at the Charleston Area Medical Center, used to be a soldier.

"You go in, in your scrubs, and they think, 'Hey, the doctor's here,' " he said. "And when they find out you're the nurse, you know, you get the funny look."

The number of male nurses in the United States has increased by two-thirds in the last 20 years, and there has been similar growth in other jobs traditionally held by women.

In fact, the number of male telephone operators has risen about 50 percent over the period, librarians, 45 percent, bank tellers, 40 percent, and male preschool and kindergarten teachers have helped boost the number of male teachers by 28 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Patrick Thornton works in the traditionally female-held job of midwife. He has delivered more than 300 babies.

"I felt I had something very worthwhile to offer people," he said, "I thought there was … a need for that in the world that went beyond gender."

Obstacles, Stereotypes

While more men are taking jobs traditionally for women, the numbers are still relatively small, and there are still obstacles for the men to overcome, especially with jobs involving children.

"There's often stereotypes about their sexuality — or that they might be predators — that act as definite discriminatory barriers against the men," Williams said.

But those stereotypes are changing.

"It's not a sissy profession," Snedegar said of nursing. "You know, I'm about as country and hillbilly as they can be. I try to think that, I like to think, I'm a manly kind of man."

During World War II, Rosie the Riveter, filling in for men overseas, changed ideas about what women could do and do well. Now, economic necessity means that's happening again, but for the opposite sex.