Doctors and nurses

There was a time when doctors were men and nurses were women. In People at Work, the 1960s Ladybird book series, the nurse was female, and the carmakers, the policeman and the miner male. We can smile at the gender stereotypes from our 21st-century vantage point, but how far have we moved in reality?

Steve Tobak, the technology consultant and author, argues on his blog, The Corner Office, that men are still paid more than women “because they choose higher-paying jobs”.

He cites eight reasons, including: men choose more dangerous professions; men choose higher-paid careers that are also more stressful (surgery rather than general practice, for example); men work longer hours, including anti-social ones; and men are prepared to work in isolated and undesirable locations. His position is that when women do the same jobs as men, they earn at least as much – some may say more.

It is probably true that women tend to choose well-located, more sociable, less stressful and physically less demanding roles where the rewards may not be financial. But why? Take surgery, for instance. While more than 50 per cent of medical graduates are women, less than 5 per cent enter surgical fields.

I have just finished reading Joan Cassell’s book The Woman in the Surgeon’s Body, in which 33 women surgeons in the US are interviewed, tracked and compared. Cassell is an anthropologist, and the aim of her study is to examine the differences between male and female surgeons, and the internal and external forces affecting these differences.

She notes that “certain male-identified, death-haunted pursuits, such as surgery, test-piloting and race-car driving, are embodied occupations, and that (to some) the body of a woman … seems bizarrely out of place to their martial masculine practitioners”.

Until we examine some of the illogical connections we make between roles and those who should fill them, we are, in Ladybird language, not there yet.

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