Revising the Mother Metaphor: Male and Female Nurses as Healers

Kelly C. McLarnan, The College of Wooster


This thesis explores the divisions of the body in biomedical history, correlating the realms of the body known best to the religious and scientific movements of the Age of Reason, body, mind, and spirit. Mother metaphors emerged to then divide men and women along the lines of what has seemed for centuries to be natural capacity for healing. But the question still remains, do men and women have different healing capacities? Traditions, men perform technical, surgical tasks, and women give care in realm of the emotional body of the patient. To better understand how these divisions arose, and how they stay so prevalent in the hospital today, I chose to interview nine female nurses and 8 male nurses. I found that male and female nurses alike felt that women were better caregivers in the emotional realm of the body. Also, male nurses were clustered in the more trauma--oriented areas of the hospital, after much less time and experience spent in the areas of bedside nursing. Results showed that women were more empathetic in our biomedical society, through the telling of stories, self-defined roles. and were placed in positions where their capacities could be best utilized. Most nurses felt disrespect in their work environments and most women felt that this was linked to gender inequality. Political forces present in the hospital function to value the physical body of the doctor's interaction more highly than the emotional body of the nurse's work. Implications for Nurses as the role you are trying to fulfill. Sometimes you don't have a choice. Patient 's health depends on it, and we've got to make a decision [without the medical director]. More so with public health or anything else we have an independent role. Making a lot more decisions rather than being able to go down the hall and say, "Here's the deal, what should I do?" So, there's a lot more autonomy in public health.


© Copyright 1998 Kelly C. McLarnan