Tooth Fairytale
November 12, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

How can a male (myself) defray the risk involved in entering a career (dental assistant) dominated by the opposite sex?

Not that dentistry itself is dominated by females. The opposite is apparently true, and that may be part of the problem. If I were trying to become something that requires a lot of preparatory education and skill - for instance a dentist - and were female, I could feel confident that my thorough knowledge of dental anatomy and treatment would be the deciding factors. But because dental assisting is not an especially qualifications-heavy job, I have serious misgivings about my prospects, and serious fears that the big checkbox labelled Female at the beginning of the eligibilities will be unchecked before I even have a chance to walk through the door.

One concern is that sexist attitudes may be responsible for keeping males out of supporting roles, because the dentists are the ones in charge of the practice and therefore create the culture of their office. I don't pretend to know the ultimate reason why they are skewed so heavily towards females, but given that they are skewed that way, am I being foolhardy by trying to become one? Is there a prevailing assumption among practices that patients are "put off" by male assistants (as I have read)? Is it justified? Should I focus on trying to work for female dentists? Would that somehow make my role "normal"? What is the reverse-gender equivalent of what I want to do (that is, if I were female): Construction? Being a natural to more supporting work roles, I can't see where the gender-normativity begins and my nose ends. It's funny, when I happened upon this idea for a job, I didn't see this issue until I started reading statistics on it.

I'm hoping someone can contribute a new way of looking at the problem, which at heart appears to be sociological more than anything, and give me some hope that I'm not getting ready to bump my head against a wall.
posted by gorgor_balabala to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't a practical suggestion, but perhaps this book might be useful to you?
posted by kelseyq at 2:08 PM on November 12, 2012

As referenced in the description, the statistics about men in female dominated fields don't really bear out your fear.
posted by kelseyq at 2:09 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you're interested and have a desire to be a minority sex in your profession I think you're thinking too, too hard about it.

Husbunny was an RN for ten years and everyone loved him! He never lacked for a job and is still getting inquiries, despite leaving the profession 5 years ago.

One thing that immediately came to mind was that you'd be a godsend for a prison. I had a female friend who worked at the Broward County Jail as a Hygeinist. She liked it fine, but I think a man might have an advantage in that kind of environment.

I honestly don't think it will matter much. It's a technical job and it needs competant technicians.

I was the only female data engineer in my work group forever. I encountered plenty of sexism, but after a while, when people get to know you, you are respected for your work.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:10 PM on November 12, 2012

This topic is going to lead to a lot of gender essentialism in the discussion that Metafilter Does Not Do Well™. For various reasons, I think that men pursuing a career Dental Assistant will be at a disadvantage when trying to be hired in a private practice, and that other women-dominated fields like massage therapy and nursing actually have better potential for men.
posted by deanc at 2:24 PM on November 12, 2012

I have had one male Hygeinist - it did briefly cross my mind at my first appointment that I had never seen that before, but from a patient prospective, it certainly didn't bother me.

I honestly think your job prospects in that field would be tied at least a little to location - in a more cosmopolitan place, you would have an easier time breaking into the field than in a rural area more heavily invested in gender stereotypes.

I would also recommend that you work on a cool, calm response in the event that a patient does make a (horribly rude) comment - you can't be rude back, no matter how much you would like to do so.
posted by cessair at 3:05 PM on November 12, 2012

The only issue I can think of: How big are your hands? If they are average size or small, you've got nothing to worry about. If you have Massive Ginormous Manly Man Hands, though, will that interfere with your ability to clean mouths? I assume this is something you'll address fairly early in your training.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Even in women-dominated fields, men have greater success than women. Sexism still works in your favour within the industry (it's assumed you won't take parental leave, are less emotional, a more reliable worker... just because of your gender).

Sure, some people outside the industry may give you shit for it, but in the end you'll be just fine - especially once you get some work experience under your belt.
posted by buteo at 3:58 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your personal characteristics matter so much more than your gender. What is your personal manner like? Are you good at putting other people at ease? Do you inspire trust? People getting their teeth worked on are often anxious, and they are trapped in a very vulnerable position. If you have a reasonably calming, reassuring, pleasant demeanor, you'll be fine. But if your manner is brusque, or if you have a chip on your shoulder about being a man in a profession dominated by women, that could indeed be a problem. It may be relevant, though, that the many, many women (and men) who have been targets of sexual assault by men may feel a little extra anxious the first time they see you, so you will need to be really good at giving off a gentle, reassuring vibe. Again, personality trumps gender.

Dental assisting is indeed a "qualifications heavy job." The necessary qualifications include an exceptional ability to put other people at ease when they are about to undergo a tedious, uncomfortable and potentially painful procedure at the hands of a stranger who is looming over them with sharp instruments. A man with the right interpersonal skills could be just as qualified as a woman.
posted by Corvid at 6:30 PM on November 12, 2012

The only male hygienist I ever had was my favorite hygienist -- kind, friendly, sexy as hell (what can I say? I am shallow), and didn't even comment when I fell asleep in the chair (what can I say? I was in grad school). He was far better than the female hygienist who he replaced, and at the end of the day all I really care about is if you are hurting me unnecessarily.

Also, yes, research suggests you have nothing to worry about (and probably the opposite), statistically speaking. If you get individual negative comments, it might be the perfect opportunity to practice your "what makes you say that?" polite confusion in the face of outmoded sexism.
posted by obliquicity at 10:28 PM on November 12, 2012

I've always found it very weird that dentist's offices are such freaking harems. By all means, break up the gender unity as far as I'm concerned. I don't get why you hardly ever hear of female dentists* or male assistants existing at all. I think that it'd be more normal to mix up the stereotypes, like the rest of real life.

*I've heard of one, ever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:01 PM on November 12, 2012

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