Equality, specifically in the domain of gender, seems to be the word on everyone’s lips. In the past year, women across the globe have broken their silence on gender disparities that have for years been accepted as a normalcy in societies. The 2018 Golden Globe Awards last month played the backdrop to Hollywood’s leading ladies as they propelled the differential treatment of women at the workplace into the limelight. Playing heroine in reality to fellow women, the A-listers, alongside their protest against sexual misconduct, presented a case for equal wage.
“We want diversity, we want intersectional gender parity, equal pay...we want people to start having this conversation that women are just as valuable as men,” said Golden Globe-nominated actress Debra Messing during her red carpet interview.
We are, undeniably, at the cusp of what feels like a new wave of feminism conditioning the society for a long overdue, permanent change to the archaic role of a female. Particularly, in the workforce. Historically, the role of women was bound to the confines of the household, while their counterparts assumed the responsibility of a breadwinner. By gender, the female were caregivers and in contrast, the men, providers.
Through the years bygone, remarkable strides have been made in the progress of women entering the workforce, and subsequently, climbing the corporate leader to positions of power. In 2016, the labour force participation rate for women in Singapore was 60.4 per cent according to the labour force survey released by the Ministry of Manpower. This is an increase from the 54.3 per cent a decade ago. Globally, women make up at least 40 per cent of the workforce in more than 80 countries reported Pew Research Centre analysis, with data gathered from 114 nations between 2010 to 2016. While the promising statistics offer optimism, the deeply rooted preconceived notions about segregation in the work- force has deeper implications. Ones that, ironically, bear implications on the male counterparts.
Owing to society’s preconditions of women as a nurturer and a caregiver, their roles in the workplace take on similar responsibilities. These hardwired ideals have pigeonholed sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, childcare and housekeeping as pink-collar sectors. In 2015, merely 10 per cent of registered nurses with Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) were male.
“Certain occupations are still segregated by gender. Nursing is still primarily perceived as a job for the female because women have been known to possess the necessary traits of a nurse, like patience and being gentle,” said Ong Jun Xiang, senior staff nurse at the paediatric intensive care unit at the National University Hospital.
Similarly, “I can sense at the beginning of every year that parents are doubtful, perhaps about my patience and how to manage their child’s behaviour. A male teacher may not have a motherly instinct but I can be a father and an elderly brother who will learn joyfully and play actively with the children,” said Keith Michael Reyes, male preschool teacher at the PAP Community Foundation (PCF), in an interview with The New Age Parents Magazine.
Bridled by these backward, egotistically driven views on the identity associated with an occupation, the path towards equality beckons continuous effort. The only way forward sees the participation of more men in industries that have been predisposed as a woman’s job. As more women cross over into entrepreneurial fronts, there remains little reason to remain absorbed on pre-dated conventions.
Perhaps, if the efforts of men foraying into occupations archetypally attributed with the female kind were rewarded like the accomplishments of women undertaking leadership roles, more men would jump at the idea without apprehension. Ever so often, women make the news for being the first female politician or the first female CEO but hardly ever does anyone hear of men who have veered into unchartered, female-centric grounds.
“I believe that men are actually highly valued by the organisation and especially in recent years, there have been more initiatives that educate the public in blurring the gender presumptions on nursing and they have given more recognition to male nurses,” said Ong. “To do my part, I started a page a few years ago, Hello I’m Your Nurse, on Facebook to share with the public about what nurses [do] and we try to interview male nurses in particular to give them recognition for their hard work.”
While the mindsets of the society are unlikely to go through a major overhaul within the next few years, the leading men in pink-collar industries (although few and far between) present a hope for a shift in the future. If stay-at-home husbands have been officially christened house husbands in contemporary society, the push for the blurring of gender roles in the workplace is not a chase fuelled by blind optimism.
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