Why Unemployed Men Refuse to Train for “Women’s Work”

Many beleaguered working-class men—those angry, unemployed “we-want-change” voters who swayed the 2016 presidential election—are loath to train for jobs that are currently available to them, The New York Times  reports. Why? Because doing “women’s work” would threaten their masculinity.

There are additional reasons why unemployed men wait and hope they’ll find a job like the one they’ve lost. (There’s a term for this: ““retrospective wait unemployment.”) “While more than a fifth of American men aren’t working, they aren’t running to these new service-sector jobs,” notes The Times’s Claire Cain Miller. “Why? They require very different skills, and pay a lot less. They’re also seen as women’s work, which has always been devalued in the American labor market.”

Still, worry about masculinity has a lot to do with a laid-off man’s reluctance to become a nurse or a home health aide or a physical therapist or a genetic counselor. Miller quotes Joan Williams, a law professor at U.C. Hastings and author of Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter: “White working-class men’s wages have plummeted, and what happens to men in that context is anxieties about whether they’re ‘real men.’”

“As a caring profession, nursing emphasizes empathy, emotional engagement, and helping others—behaviors and skills characterized as antithetical to hegemonic [dominating] notions of a tough, detached, and independent masculine self,” Marci D. Cottingham of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill notes in a literature review. That’s why administrators in “female fields” like nursing are taking to “mobilizing masculinities” in their recruitment materials in order to lure men into training for these jobs.  Miller notes that “some hospitals are trying to make caregiving jobs seem manly — like with a recruitment poster comparing the ‘adrenaline rush’ of being an operating room nurse to mountain climbing”.

Maddeningly, if these reluctant men —especially white men, Miller reports—do “enter female-dominated fields, they are paid more and promoted faster than women, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator.”

Read more at The New York Times.


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  • Deb Lundstrom January 7, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Why are these men so afraid of losing their masculinity? Why are so many men afraid of colors, like pink or purple? This is ridiculous and maddening! They have to be coddled and coerced into doing a job, then they get awarded for being such sissies about it in the first place? Let them be unemployed, give the good jobs to women who have earned them!