My university does this cool thing where they send us off to the community for a month or two. In summary, we get to closely and extensively interact with the people we are trained to serve while we learn to serve them better. It’s nothing fancy, we get the basics while the rest we learn to fend for ourselves. Most notably, we cook for ourselves; we all take turns.
Before we set off to our community placements, we had a planning meeting as a group. One contentious issue was how we would handle feeding. I was for hiring someone to cook for us because I knew that when my turn was up, I didn’t know what I’d do. And I know it’s irresponsible of me to grow up to this age when I don’t know how to cook the food I eat every day but yeah, it happens.
Eventually, the women drew-up the pros and cons and decided that it would be better for all of us to take turns in the kitchen. And to ensure that we wouldn’t go hungry on the days when my turn was up, they decided to pair me with more experienced cooks in the group.
It was fun – cooking for the group, and I learned a lot. I may not be able to cook much but I am much better off now than before. At least I am a better support in the kitchen. I can peel matooke! That’s probably my biggest trophy from community placement.
When I admit that I don’t know how to cook, the reaction I get most is of shock at how spoiled I am. Whereas that is true, the reasons why go beyond whether or not my parents did a good job raising me up. I met this lady recently and in one of our conversations, the topic of her boyfriend came up. See, she is a nurse and she met her boyfriend while in nursing school. So I asked her, “Is he a nurse?” She paused for a while and then told me that he is in public health.
Her boyfriend was really a nurse, but he had gone on to master in public health. He was a long way from nursing but I don’t think it would be so far fetched to call him a nurse. In fact, when I asked whether he was a nurse, I was not asking whether he was working as a nurse but rather whether he had trained as a nurse. I already knew that he was working in public health but was trying to work out how exactly they had met while she was in nursing school. But her reaction revealed to me something about her attitude towards male nurses that I would like to explore.
It is not just male nurses facing persecution but also male midwives, male ballerinas, stay at home dads and so many other men doing things that were formerly almost entirely done by women. I like to point out that there is, in fact, no name for a male midwife; he remains a midwife and a wife at that. There are female doctors and we are happy to call them that because the word ‘doctor’ does not have a gender and we appreciate that women can, in fact, do what men can do in medicine but have we accepted that men can do what women can do in nursing, midwifery or ballet?
My mother wasn’t so keen on teaching me how to cook and having three sisters didn’t help either. She was more concerned with making wholesome women of my sisters and traditionally, teaching them how to cook is key. But I didn’t just sit back all day watching TV while my sisters labored in the kitchen; I just chose to do all the other chores.
One time at camp when it was my turn to cook, I brought up the subject of gender roles. My male colleague and I noted that if we had expected the women to do all the cooking at our camp, they would be fatally overwhelmed because, at that time, they were only two of eight people in the group. Gender roles at that time were so impractical that they were, in fact, lethal to our modern society.
And I am not arguing for the end to gender roles. I don’t think many women would be happy to be estranged to their children because they were too busy working to spend time with them and I don’t think many men would be comfortably resigned to housekeeping while their wives brought home all the bacon. However, we should admit when a role has reached its gender limit. Men should learn to cook and women should be allowed to drive. Men can be stay-at-home dads and their wives should respect them all the same. And finally, women should allow men to be nurses and midwives without making them feel any less as men.