“As human beings, we all care for one another” is a statement that is used to encourage unity and kindness in the hearts of all. It is told to children to try and establish a sense of peace and love. We do not all care for one another. Not every person is equally involved in care-type work. Women are lead more into the role of caregiver, leaving the boys to be class leaders and wrestle in the playground. Despite this gender imbalance involving care work, plenty of decent men have the capacity to care for another individual. What about the men in care work? Those who choose to show their nurturing side to help others are often treated differently than ‘normal men’. What are the challenges and attitudes that men in care work face?
Eva Feder Kittay suggests that the act of caring, from children to adults, is an activity placed on women. It is stated that men are assigned the role of breadwinner automatically when they become fathers. This new role changes the man from the individual he used to be as both parents, ideally, come together for the child. Yet the two genders experience social differences with these new roles as breadwinner and caregiver. Pressures from society and family largely impact her decisions. A woman that, without outstanding reasons, abandons her child comes under harsher judgment than a man would for the same offense. The responsibility of parenthood is pressed harder on women as men would earn the money for living. The caring qualities of women are passed on in domestic work also. Most nannies, babysitters, and in-home caregivers are women instead of men. This ‘standard’ impacts not only women in these positions but also the men who choose to care for others for a living. In such a female dominated field these men are looked upon as the ‘outsiders’ and can be treated as unusual cases by their communities.
The traditional gender roles for men and women impact male caregivers and how they are viewed. Carl Hirsch and Judith Newman examine the traditional gender roles and how they impact male adult caregivers. Both write that the lack of monetary value and prestige from care work makes it harder for men to accept this form of labor than women. Most caregivers have to negotiate for a wage, and the amount paid by hour usually does not correspond to the type and amount of work done. Stereotypically men expect to meet the needs of others through self-achievement and personal success. This and hints of homophobia and incest make it harder for men to get involved with hands-on care treatment of dependents. For hetrosexual men in society the fear of being seen as homosexual is played on by sitcoms, movies, and other forms of media. With the stereotypical homosexual male behaviors like being overly concerned for others, an odd speech pattern, and the ability to do housework are done for laughs.
Unfortunately this sends a message to young and older men that these ‘feminine’ behaviors are connected to homosexuality and thus are not encouraged in straight males. The other fear is the fear of incest in the case of related caregivers. This fear branches off from the stereotypical male sex drive, as men are seen as borderline sexual predators in the quest to sate their unrelenting libido. Adding this convention with history is troublesome for male caregivers. The practice of older men marrying pre-adolescent girls was practiced in many societies throughout history and is still done in some instances. Teenagers were considered adults in the past, ready to be married and get into family life early due to several factors. In modern US society this practice manifests into the fear of incest, usually with a male caregiver and younger persons in need of care. This stigma haunts men, from caregivers to blue-collar workers who are seen getting ‘too close’ to family members, as forming particularly close bonds is socially acceptable for women and not for men. Because of these fears, women are socially conditioned to help others with nurturing and hands-on care for both children and adult dependents. This helps to create the gender divide in care work.
This does not explain the fact that male caregivers are out there. How is their manhood evaluated by other men who do not participate in care labor? Although care labor literature has documented men being caregivers to family members, research on the topic has conformed to the female caregiver stereotype, overlooking male contributions. Richard Russell documents that men comprised almost 30 percent of elderly in-home care are performed by males yet are still overlooked by researchers. Assumptions such as ‘men cannot process the emotions of another being’ or that ‘men lack the necessary skills to deal with another in continual care’ downplayed the contributions and value of male caregiving. The thought that men cannot process their own emotions, not to mention taking on another’s emotional stress, hints at being subhuman to a degree. Men are the ‘logical’ ones, making rational decisions without the ability to consult the heart on life matters. These gender laden thoughts can easily block men that wish to get involved with care labor.A recent trend in caregiving literature acknowledges the presence of male caregivers as significant yet many studies seem to have some blocks from progress. Some studies still hold to the concept of ‘women work in the home’ by using biological differences and different moral approaches to keep the large portion of care labor on women.
Caregiving can be rewarding, but comes with its own set of challenges. Many male caregivers were studied for duration of time and reported some of the challenges that go with care work. One of the most challenging functions reported was food preparation. Tasks like planning the meal, estimating the quantity of food needed, time juggling, and preparation were taken for granted for many male caregivers. As their wives learned these skills from growing up, the husbands had to learn the skills from trial and error at an advanced age. There is variance with culture, ethnicity, race, and background that determine each individual’s experience learning this vital skill. Yet food preparation has a hidden side that most men do not realize. Especially during large family gatherings, cooking can be seen as masculine and very heroic. It is an example that the man can provide for his family in one of the most important and basic forms: food, nourishment. This goes in hand with the breadwinner stereotype and ‘defeminizes’ the art of cooking. This type of ‘masculine’ cooking is usually seen by a crowd instead of the daily preparation for two adults. Cooking for a small sample presents unique challenges that men will have to adapt to be successful caregivers.
Another daunting task that some male caregivers are forced to face is personal care. This includes, but is not limited to: bathing, dressing, household tasks, etc. Most of the men expressed extreme discomfort, especially in the areas that required more of an intimate touch. Attending to one’s personal needs are a struggle for any person, and especially ‘normative socialized’ men. As the stereotypical man, the list of ‘normal’ responsibilities does not include changing clothes, bathing, and cleaning children or adults. Learning to take care of another’s needs pushes against normal male behavior and causes tension. Even when caring for their significant other, there was a point when some male caregivers questioned their ability to handle these tasks before fully accepting the role. Pushing through one’s social conditioning proves to be challenging in the least. Yet adaptation is one of the many skills that people use to live fulfilling lives. To adapt to your circumstances is a very human trait, which these men prove from handling mundane tasks like cleaning to providing a shoulder of comfort.
Men in caregiving should be given the credit they deserve instead of being subject to ridicule, odd looks, and societal judgement. In our independent society we overlook that every person relies, will rely, or relied on someone else somewhere in life. To exclude men from caring also enframes their human experience to a moving, working ATM with no heart. That is not what real men are about. The two sides of logic and emotion live within men and women and should be expressed in both genders without judgement and assumptions.
Kittay, Eva Fender. “Chapter 1; Relationships of Dependency and Equality”. Love’s Labor; essays on women, equality, and dependency. Desire to Learn. 1 May 2013.
Hirsch, Carl, and Judith L. Newman. “Microstructural and Gender Role Influences on Male Caregivers.” Journal of Men’s Studies 3.4 (1995): 309-. ProQuest. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Russell, Richard. “Men Doing “Women’s Work:” Elderly Men Caregivers and the Gendered Construction of Care Work.” Journal of Men’s Studies 15.1 (2007): 1-18. ProQuest. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.