Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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Q: But I'm young and hot and I love people to think nurses are sexy! Promiscuous girls rule! Anyone who objects to the "naughty nurse" image must be an old hag "nursing leader" who hates sex and freedom, right?

A: Calm down, hot thing. We would never stand between you and your hotness. But please think about what the "naughty nurse" means--because it doesn't mean people think real nurses are serious professionals who just happen to be sexy. It means a lot of people think nursing is a disposable job that could, and ideally would, be done by brainless bimbos. If you were hoping for respect and adequate resources to help you save lives, the "naughty nurse" is not your friend.

We don't care whether people think you're sexy or not, and we don't care what you do in your personal life. There's also nothing inherently wrong with media images of nurses who are sexually attractive, like Linda Cardellini's character on "ER" (right) or Josh Coxx's on "Strong Medicine" (below). But the standard "naughty nurse" image has less to do with a belief that real nurses are sexy than it does with a desire to have anonymous sex with giggly twits dressed in lingerie-like "nurse" uniforms. In other words, the average "naughty nurse" enthusiast doesn't necessarily want a relationship with you. He just wants a "date."

It may be erotic for some men to think that nursing is or could be populated by disposable bimbos. Given nursing's historical association with purity and virtue, this could be at least partly a result of some kind of Madonna-whore thing. Nurses are all pure and angelic like Mom--the angel is another strong nursing stereotype--but they also touch me and other men there, so they must be sluts as well. Modern nurses suffer from both sides of this dichotomy; neither angels nor sluts are likely to be taken seriously as life-saving professionals. Of course, modern nursing originally emphasized purity so strongly for the very purpose of desexualizing its female practitioners, and winning the acceptance of respectable society for work that was so sensitive in nature. Today, thinking of nurses as sex toys may also help some men handle the notion that female nurses actually have some power over them in clinical settings, when the men are vulnerable and the nurses are working in what is normally the men's private personal space.

But the "naughty nurse" is not an image that appeals to most serious career seekers. The naughty nurse isn't just slutty; she's also silly and dim-witted. The image also strongly reinforces the "nurses are female" stereotype that is a key reason the profession remains over 90% female. And "female" professions have never been associated with power or respect. Health care decision makers--many of whom are sadly uninformed about what nursing really is--are less likely to devote scarce resources to a profession that has become so degraded in the public eye, and in their own consciousness.

In fact, those who fit your vision of the humorless "naughty nurse" critic are less likely to suffer directly from the image than you are, you hot young thing--not to mention your patients. Many "nursing leaders" no longer work at the bedside. But you probably do, or soon will. And the lack of respect the "sexy nurse" gets is an important reason for the inadequate resources that nurses in clinical settings struggle with every day, all over the world. Get back to us about how sexy you feel during a 12-hour shift spent rushing from room to room in a desperate effort not to kill any patients, hauling the obese ones around until your back throbs, all the while contending with leering demands for a little sexual healing.

The bottom line is that the typical "naughty nurse" image juxtaposes a vision of aggressive female sexuality with the profession of nursing. It suggests that nurses are sexually available to patients and/or physicians in the workplace, and thus reinforces long-standing stereotypes. As the Center explains in our main "naughty nurse" FAQ, those stereotypes discourage practicing and potential nurses, encourage sexual abuse in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect. Presenting working nurses primarily as sex objects conveys the idea that nursing consists of satisfying sexual needs, or at best, that nursing is so unimportant that nurses have the time and energy to focus on sex while supposedly caring for patients.

The Center takes no position on the general prevalence of sexual imagery in modern society. Really. But we do object to the constant association of that imagery with a poorly understood, traditionally female profession that must now fight through a critical shortage to keep patients alive and on the road to recovery.

Also see our FAQ: What's the big deal about "naughty nurse" images in the media? I mean, no one believes nurses really dress like that!

And our FAQ: Why do you actually display the naughty nurse imagery you object to? Aren't you promoting the same thing you're complaining about?! Ha ha!

 

 

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