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Men reaching out for 'female' jobs
By Nie Xin

A trip to the nail bar is a popular girly outing among Shanghai women; an opportunity to relax, get your nails done and catch up on gossip with friends. But nowadays, it's not unknown for customers of this most female of institutions to find themselves greeted by a male nail technician, eager to shape, shine and buff.

That men are now working in what was almost a woman-only preserve is indicative of changes in the city workplace in recent years, which have also seen males take up positions in professions such as nursing, kindergarten teaching and secretarial work.

Traditionally, women were perceived as being more patient, considerate and sensitive than males, and deemed more suitable for "feminine" professions requiring these qualities.

But in recent years such distinctions have faded, with males being accepted in these roles. Many experts hold this up as evidence of the development of Chinese society, with people becoming more open-minded.

"Men do jobs dominated by women; women do jobs dominated by men. Both trends illustrate the progress of society and should be viewed as natural," says Gu Xiaoming, sociologist and professor in Fudan University.

"Being shocked by this or misunderstanding it reflects a prejudice of male-dominated society.

"However, this does not mean that we can push men to do feminine jobs or take their success for granted. Development in any career depends on many elements," adds Gu.

Shanghai Daily met some of these male pioneers in the city and heard of their experiences working in traditionally "feminine" worlds.

Kindergarten teacher

Xiao Yue, aged 33, has been a kindergarten teacher for almost 10 years, and regards it as a career with big potential.

After studying sports education, Xiao got his first job in a kindergarten in the Pudong New Area in 2003. Three years later, he moved to Jing'an Weihai Road Kindergarten, one of the top kindergartens in Shanghai. He teaches sport and is responsible for some administration.

Of the 41 teachers and administrators in the kindergarten, two are male.

"It was chance that saw me start in a career commonly considered more suitable for women, but I soon got used to it. I like the environment and working with children," says Xiao.

Children feature heavily in Xiao's life out of work too, as he has been married for five years and has a one-year-old child. "To be honest, a job is an eight-hour part of life. Everyone has leisure time and a personal life, which shouldn't be influenced by your work too much," he adds.

Xiao believes male kindergarten teachers have some advantages over female colleagues, saying, for example that he is more confident of his sporting talents. "Being a good example of masculine behavior - being active and determined - is good for children growing up," he says.

He says the job also offers good pay and training opportunities, which impress family and friends.

Other teachers say people often don't appreciate what their jobs entail.

"Some misunderstandings are due to a lack of knowledge about kindergarten education," says Zhao Guoyun, another male teacher at Jing'an Weihai Road Kindergarten. "Teaching in a kindergarten is not just singing, dancing and playing games with kids. It's providing important education, observation and communication with both kids and their parents."

With his baby-faced features, Zhao could almost pass for a teenager, so it's hard to believe he's 31 and has worked at Jing'an Weihai Road Kindergarten for seven years.

"Being with happy, cute, innocent kids - that's the secret to staying young forever," he says, laughing.

Zhao is tutor of the international class of 18 children, aged from four to six. His regular work includes taking care of the kids' daily lives, activities and studies and communicating with their parents.

After majoring in English in college, Zhao decided to become a kindergarten teacher and went on a training course before landing a job at the kindergarten.

"Teaching kids is not only telling stories or playing games with them. You need professional educational knowledge, patience and endless curiosity. And these qualities cannot be tagged simply as 'masculine' or 'feminine'," Zhao says.


Twenty-year-old Zhou Tao began to work as a nurse in Yikang Hospital in Xuhui District in July, after graduating from a nursing school in Zhejiang Province. He is one of three men on the hospital's 30-strong nursing staff.

Born into a family of medics - his parents are doctors and his uncle manager of a private clinic in his hometown in Zhejiang - Zhou says he has been familiar with hospitals as long as he can remember.

"I had no hesitation choosing to major in nursing," says Zhou, though he admits his parents had reservations.

"I think men have some advantages over women in the job. For example, we have more strength to lift and move patients."

But it's still a profession dominated by women. When Zhou studied at nursing school, there were six males in his class of 100 students.

Yikang Hospital opened at the beginning of the year and specializes in brain damage therapy, cerebrovascular conditions and seniors' health.

Every weekday, from early morning to around 8pm, Zhou works on the wards caring for patients, dispensing drugs and assisting doctors.

But Zhou admits that it can take time for some patients, especially women, and their relatives to accept him. "Male nurses are often considered less patient and caring, but through time we can prove our professionalism," he adds.

Many males nurses choose to work in private hospitals, where they can work on the wards as well as assist doctors in the emergency room, according to Li Ping, vice president of Yikang Hospital.

"Most public hospitals still prefer female nurses for ward duty," Li adds.

As he's just starting out, Zhou earns a basic monthly salary of 2,000 yuan (US$321), but believes this will improve in the near future.

And while single, he does not believe his choice of career would put off would-be partners.

"I have no girlfriend at the moment, but I'm sure there's no negative influence on my private life due to my profession," Zhou says.

Nail technician

Nail beauty has become a trendy industry in China in recent years. Like the facial and spa sector, it's usually regarded as a feminine space - girly and pink, like much of the decor in nail salons.

Ni Jia is a regular customer at a nail beauty salon in Tianzifang on Taikang Road. She was a client of Chen Jun, the only male nail specialist in the salon, and was disappointed when Chen quit last week after four months.

"The first time I saw him, I was surprised, but it didn't put me off as I believe that some males are more patient and creative than females," Ni says.

Chen, a 21-year-old local Shanghainese, says he is very interested in the beauty industry, whether fashion, cosmetics, facial and spa. This interest saw him get a job as a professional nail specialist at a friend's nail salon, after training for a couple of months.

"My thinking was, if we can accept the male hair stylists, fashion designers and cosmetic sales staff, why can't we accept male nail specialists?" Chen says.

Chen's boss at the salon says male specialists bring their own appeal.

"Sometimes male nail specialists are more popular than female. As the customers are mostly female, they are more willing to talk with male nail specialists," says He Yinfan, the owner of the salon.

But despite this, and following pressure from his girlfriend and family, Chen decided to quit and try his luck in another aspect of fashion and beauty, working as a dresser.

"Maybe nail beauty is still too new in China compared with Japan or Western countries. People need more time to accept that males can work in this field," Chen says.

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