I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember – even before I knew feminism was a thing. Back then, I called it “being a tomboy”. I preferred playing kickball with the boys at recess than hopscotch or jump rope with the girls. But it wasn’t just a schoolyard game preference. I wondered why teachers, parents, and my peers expected boys to engage in certain activities and girls in others. It was a theme that would persist throughout my adolescent and young adult years, evolving as recess games became academic courses and career choices.
My first undergraduate degree was in pharmaceutical science. I chose this path because I wanted to help cure cancer and multiple sclerosis and other devastating diseases. During my senior year, I was selected for an internship at a pharmaceutical company in the department of discovery medicinal chemistry. The department, at the time, was 98% male. When I learned of this gender gap, I immediately became interested in pursuing a career in the field. I wanted to do my part in closing the gap and promoting women in science.
But over the course of the internship, I also learned many things about big pharma and about myself. I explored what my goals really were and what my passion for helping people meant. After thoroughly researching various health professions, I determined that nursing would allow me to help others in the way I always wanted to (but just never knew).
Two weeks after graduating with my first bachelor’s degree, I started an accelerated BSN program. There were about 90 women and 10 men in my cohort. I remember wondering why so few men were sitting in the room – and why so few enter the nursing profession. At one point, I wondered if I was betraying my feminist roots by entering a female-dominated profession. There I was: a nursing student who had passed up the opportunity to represent women in the chemistry field; a woman whose childhood-self might have looked at her and said, becoming a nurse won’t show the world you can do anything a man can do.
But feminism isn’t about proving ourselves. It’s not about choosing medical school over nursing school or engineering over teaching. Feminism means advocating for equality between women and men. It’s about eliminating gender stereotypes – and stereotypes of historically female jobs. What nursing needs is feminists.
We need nurse-feminists to advocate for the profession and help dispel these stereotypes. We need voices that can speak louder than the often inaccurate depictions of nurses in movies and on TV. We need more writers, bloggers, policymakers, and public figures with nursing backgrounds. We need to promote nursing, not as a “woman’s job”, but as the scholarly, professional, and scientific healthcare field that it is.