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Nurturing instinct shaped women in professions.

In the 1873 published work of Dr. Edward Clark it was argued that without hesitation women could not attend university. The arguement was that women would become sterile or become hysterical if they pursued higher education, and that educated women would turn away from what was expected of them--to be a wife and mother, and that ultimately this would lead to race suicide.

Women have no doubt risen to the challenge, and some universities are even asking the question "Where are the boys?" says Dr. Ruby Heap, a history professor and associate dean at the University of Ottawa's faculty of graduate and postdoctoral studies.

In Canadian francophone universities, women represent more than 70 per cent of the medical student population, Heap points out.

Yet, while there have been a lot of changes in the history of women in education and in professions, there has also been a lot of continuity. Much of this comes from the ethic of care and service in predominantly female occupations being viewed as a natural extension to a woman's nurturing instincts.

Occupations in nursing, social work and physiotherapy continue to be female dominated, and to understand this phenomenon better, one needs to understand the social structure of women in the workforce, says Heap.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2000, 69 per cent of all employed women were in predominantly female occupations, such as health, education, clerical and social work.

It is only in the last decade that historians have shifted their focus from working class women in factories to women in professions.

Nursing, physiotherapy, dietetics and social work are occupations that witnessed considerable growth during the late 19th century and the early 20th century, and the growth represents a critical point in women's history of occupations and the origin of these occupations, said Heap.

Professions are not static entities, but rather they are socially constructed phenomena that cannot be examined without putting the profession into the context of its time, she notes.

In Canada and the United States, the model of the ideal profession has been the one developed with great success in the late 19th century by the men engaged in the practice of medicine. From that profession, evolved a series of steps or rules that were formed if one wanted to gain status of a profession.

Some of the rules included: the establishment of formal schools of training, and involvement in professional associations, a high degree of self regulation had to be achieved and a code of ethics had to be adopted.

At the turn of the century, it was a challenge for women to gain the status of nursing or physiotherapy as a profession.

Medical doctors claimed they were devoted to serving the public in an altruistic fashion, Heap notes.

In the case of female-dominated occupations, the ethic of service and care was perceived as a natural extension of women's nurturing skills, she adds.

It is the promotion of women's natural ability to care in the public sphere, as well as the private sphere, that has led to the creation of professions like nursing and social work, she notes.

In the early 20th century, nurses were responsible for the care of patients in hospitals, and as a result the profession remained closely associated to the care and nurturing involved in the private sphere.

The post Great War era saw a greater emergence of physiotherapy and nursing as occupations, largely due to the welfare state requiring the services of women's professions.

In studying the history of women in professions, it is clear that there was a strong association between volunteerism and female-dominated occupations, Heap says.

Female physiotherapists, for example, had to prove to male physicians the importance of their work, and many women in Canada elected to work as volunteer physiotherapists to prove themselves, she explained.

While the importance of women in nursing and physiotherapy was acknowledged, women still struggled to achieve the same status as the male professional largely because of the attention given to the ethic of care and service, Heap said.

It is clear that women's experiences in the professional world have been different from men's experiences, and it was the ethic of care and service that dampened their efforts.

By Sari Huhtala

Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:Influential Women 2004
Author:Huhtala, Sari
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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