Men in the “other” trenches

There’s a reason they’re not called “stewardesses” anymore.

Men are slowly expanding into careers traditionally dominated by women. What was once considered "women’s work" is now fair game for either sex–but don’t expect to see an all male flight crew anytime soon.

Men increasingly take jobs in female-dominated sectors, becoming flight attendants, nurses or secretaries. But why would a man choose a lower paying, service-oriented job?

"Mainly, I tried other avenues–science, and things like that–and I found I need to work with people," says J.C. Yepes, a second-year University of Calgary nursing student. "I thought I’d give nursing a shot, and I liked it."

Mike Unger, a flight attendant for WestJet for the past two and a half years, uses his position as a way to make money.

"I wanted the chance to travel," he explains, adding this isn’t his final career choice.

Both are part of a small minority of men in their fields. Men constitute less than one per cent of nursing students, and Unger estimates less than 10 per cent of flight attendants are male. While neither Unger nor Yepes have encountered much discrimination, jokes about men in women’s jobs tend to mock their sexuality and masculinity.

"Now and then, people tease," Unger acknowledges. "But, I’m just working with women all day, so it’s really not so bad."

With more men employed in women’s professions, the jokes will likely fade away but progress is slow. According to a study by the British Columbia government, between 1991 and 1996 the number of male cashiers increased by 3.8 per cent to a whopping 15.9 per cent. In the same period, the number of male social workers went down by six per cent to only a quarter of the workforce, and the number of male elementary school teachers held at 19 per cent. Men still don’t constitute even two per cent of all secretarial work. Even out of school, nurses like Yepes are the minority-five per cent of nurses are male. The amount of men entering these fields is relatively unnoticeable.

This trend may not be happening for entirely positive reasons, either. While both Unger and Yepes chose their professions, many men take work in female-dominated sectors because "good" jobs are hard to find–but low-paying service jobs are always available. Although you’re more likely to see a male cashier, librarian or elementary teacher now than you were 10 or 20 years ago, occupational segregation still exists. According to the International Labor Organization, half the world’s workers are still employed in sex-stereotyped jobs–employment where one gender predominates by over 80 per cent.

But men still manage to find niches in women-dominated fields. According to Yepes, male nurses tend to end up in psychological nursing, often a more physically demanding area.

"Maybe we belong there, or something," he muses. "Some other areas don’t seem to hire a lot of males."

Men in these situations are less often ostracized than women in traditionally masculine work. For the most part, men weren’t kept out of these fields by anything other than social norms and don’t band together for moral support. In fact, being male may even help get the job as not only do companies and government aim to balance the workforce, but many see the idea of a male flight attendant or nurse as a novelty. According to Unger, potential male flight attendants receive extra encouragement and are more likely to get hired simply because they stand out.

"It helped me get my job," says Unger. "They enjoy seeing a guy work there."

Outside the workplace, however, people do make comments though it’s not always the negative, derisive type. More often than not, people are more interested than offended.

"People support it, and it’s a good conversation piece," says Unger. And when Unger is called a stewardess?

"Most of the time, I just laugh it off," he says.

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