Help! My Career Aspirations Defy Gender Stereotypes
Nurses for girls, pilot for boys... it’s time to leave gender stereotypes in the past. Read on to find out why you should stop apologising for your non-traditional career track.
Updated 15 Dec 2016
As a child, have you ever lay bare your desire to step foot on space as the first female astronaut, or Malaysia’s next top male model, only to be shot down with grunts and furrowed eyebrows?
“Pink for girls, blue for boys”, if the mantra rings a bell. After all, girls are presumed to fancy sugar, spice and all things nice, while boys marvel over slugs, snails and of course, cars.
If you’ve been casted down before merely because your career choice does not fit in with traditional gender roles, do not be disheartened!
As you’ll discover throughout this article, some of the preconceptions and misconceptions are based in fact, while others deserve to be busted for the myths that they are. Here’s a look at the realities.
#1. But… that’s so feminine (or masculine)!
Certain careers are jusssssst meant to be “men’s work”. Much like how some occupations should remain in the female-dominated arena.
The vast majority of job requirements are rarely related to gender. Rather, it’s the barriers and stigmas that are holding people back from pursuing occupations that are traditionally dominated by a single gender.
No thanks to depictions of gender role stereotypes by the media, many have been influenced to associate certain professions with a particular gender.
Yes, we’re referring to the myriads of hospital-themed TV shows and their slew of female nurses (aside from Scrubs, please). Chances are, you would struggle to even name one character as a heartthrob husky male nurse, sweeping you off your feet.
Why? Because attitudes about the type of careers that are deemed appropriate for men and women are the result of tradition and socialisation.
Truth is, the science that shows that men are better at spatial skills and women are better in languages and are more empathetic is often exaggerated. Much of it has to do with upbringing and how you interact with society. And the more we continue to perpetuate gender stereotypes, the harder it is for people to break through.
DID YOU KNOW
You can play a part to stop gender stereotypes by exposing your younger siblings and cousins to a plethora of career choices, coaxing them into accepting that they are free to choose from the full range of careers instead of the gendered range that has been cultivated in media, books, toys and magazines.
#2. Nurse? Why not a doctor or pharmacist?
Men are not cut out (read: do not possess the compassion-DNA) for nurturing roles and hence, rarely make good nurses or teachers.
Not a shred of truth in this.
For starters, men venture into nursing for the same reasons women do – our lads want to make a difference, believe it’s their calling and secretly bask in the euphoria of being a hero. Believe it or not, according to a study conducted by American Assembly of Men in Nursing, the top reason behind a man embarking on a journey in the nursing field is due to his fervent desire to help people.
In all honesty, women (in general, especially the elderly) are smitten when they learn that a male nurse will be taking care of them. Still not convinced? This video says it all!
Let’s also not forget that there is still a shortfall of male nurses in Malaysia. So if you are an aspiring nurse who happens to be male, it’s time to break those gender barriers.
#3. She's the man?
Women who opt for non-traditional occupations are always seen as less feminine.
People will see you as who you are: no more, no less.
Remember when the Internet went berserk over the prank video of a female drifter who freaked out her instructor? Turns out that our home grown drifter, Leona Chin does bear some mad skills up her sleeves. Now look us in the eye and tell us this dazzling racing champion is any less feminine because she rocks out behind the wheels.
Whether you aspire to be an architect, dentist, engineer or thrive in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, you can still own a sizable amount of make-up, exhale pink glitter and bathe in a cloud of fairy dust. After all, male-oriented careers do flatter your bank account and with a bump in your buying power, you’ll be able to better afford things that make you feel feminine (read: nice clothes, Sephora trips, shopping therapies… you get the point).
#4. A man should be the breadwinner, right?
A non-traditional career will limit a man’s potential earnings.
While it is a known fact that female-inclined careers typically cash in less banknotes to your bank account compared to traditionally male ones, it is still possible for men to make a good living supporting themselves in non-traditional careers.
In fact, quoting Aiman Zamani, a nurse from Kelantan – the stability of the job and its income are among the factors that propelled him into crowning nursing as one of the best careers out there. And he does score a point: regardless of good or bad economic times, nurses will always be in demand.
Such notion also pretty much applies to other humanitarian/nurturing roles namely social workers, child care workers, counsellors, occupational and physical therapists as well as teachers. Having said that, although money is vital in deciding what career to pursue, it shouldn’t alone dictate the final decision.
Just as the women’s movement has bolstered ladies in racking up greater and fairer employment opportunities, men too, deserve the break to pursue studies/careers based on their interests, skills and intrinsic satisfaction - not solely on how much money their career paths will churn out.
DID YOU KNOW
For all the wrong reasons (psst… gender inequality), male nurses in certain parts of the world are actually being paid more despite the staggering ratio of female nurses outnumbering male nurses.
#5. Non-traditional jobs are just too risky / dangerous / challenging for women
Women do not possess the mechanical/technical/mathematical aptitude for non-traditional careers.
There is actually a wide and steady increase in the number of women in the field of engineering and technology.
Thanks to the equal opportunity for both genders to pursue higher education in Malaysia, it comes as no surprise that there is a significant emergence of women engineers in Malaysia.
Plus, there’s no scientific evidence to support a difference in the innate ability of women and men to succeed in scientific and technical realms. A study conducted by the Jonson O’Conner Research Foundation Human Engineering Laboratory found no difference accountable to gender in 14 of 22 aptitude tests handed out to men and women. In the remaining tests, women actually excelled in six tests while men scored higher in two tests.
If you’re still sitting on the fifty-fifty fence, perhaps the best way to determine whether you really want to pursue a non-cookie cutter career is to pick up as much information as possible.
Go for informational interviews and job shadowing with peeps (of your own sex) who are blazing their non-traditional career paths, granting you insights and first-hand glimpses of what your desired career might be like for you.
While you may be in two minds about climbing the untamed trail of Robert Frost instead of driving the conventional-jobs-freeway to success, and though your map may be flawed and your method unconventional - we promise you’ll be thrilled and grateful for the journey!
After all, men and women alike have been trying for decades to push their way past the assumptions, prejudices and myths to tap into their respective non-traditional career routes. And now, you can be part of that transformative movement too!