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You're with stupid now

April 24, 2005 -- Today the Washington Post's female-taunting Gene Weingarten devoted his "Below the Beltway" column to a mock list of the circumstances under which he would decline to be kept alive with "extraordinary measures." He asked that, following any removal of his feeding tube, he be "lovingly asphyxiated by a buxom honey-blonde nurse in a short skirt and one of those cute little caps." This comment and others suggest that Mr. Weingarten is already in a persistent vegetative state, and may explain why the rest of his column shows little evidence of voluntary brain activity. Of course, we would not presume to offer a definitive evaluation at this distance, but we would urge his family to consult their nurse practitioner immediately.

Mr. Weingarten's column, "Weingarten, Unplugged," includes a 17-item list of events whose occurrence would indicate that he no longer desired heroic efforts to help him live. This allows him to mock different types of people and social trends. His range of challenging targets includes politicians, people in certain unpopular professions, obese 18-year-old "girls," and perhaps most predictably, older persons. He would want no heroic measures if he had started to use the phrase "Why, in my day...," or had "hiked my pants up to my nipples," "availed myself of an Early Bird Special," "retired before 8 p.m.," or "complained that young girls these days should be dressed more demurely."

Yet several items in the column, together with its overall witlessness, suggest that Mr. Weingarten himself has the kind of cognitive issues that he might associate with advanced age. Mr. Weingarten says he would not want heroic measures if the Supreme Court "extended its revocation of Roe v. Wade" to protect "the rights of sperm," an incoherent remark that suggests he does not even understand the Court well enough to make fun of it--not exactly a demanding standard. He would also want no heroic measures if at the time of his incapacitation "classic rock stations are still playing ABBA, Green Day or Ace of Base." None of these bands plays "classic rock." Green Day is an alternative/punk band whose major work began in the mid-1990's. ABBA and Ace of Base are Swedish disco-pop artists.

But our main concern about Mr. Weingarten's mental status stems from the "honey-blonde nurse" comment. First, analysis of the comment strongly suggests that Mr. Weingarten has actually used the word "buxom," without apparent irony, in 2005. In addition, discussion of today's nurses wearing "short skirts" and "cute little caps" indicates that the author inhabits a dangerous dream world, rather than the dangerous real one the rest of us live in. Of course, real nurses are serious, highly trained professionals who save lives and improve patient outcomes every day. We can't claim they all dress as professionally as some might like, but Mr. Weingarten would have difficulty finding one that meets his fevered frat boy description. Of course, there are always the models of "naughty nurse" lingerie.

And what's wrong with Mr. Weingarten joking that nurses are sexual objects? He has apparently made a good living publishing views of women that are likely to, if not calculated to, annoy women. Indeed, he co-authored a 2004 book on the battle of the sexes with feminist scholar Gina Barreca. The book, I'm with Stupid, is a comic dialogue between the two, and the publisher describes Weingarten as "gleefully misogynistic." It's all in good fun, right? Women need to lighten up--especially if, as he suggests is true of many 18-year-old "girls" these days, they're really fat. (Male obesity, on the other hand, does not seem to trouble Mr. Weingarten.)

The problem is that linking sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients--reinforces long-standing stereotypes of nurses. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses (especially men), foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect. That in turn robs the profession of the resources it needs to fight rampant short-staffing and a critical shortage that has taken thousands of lives worldwide. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to meet the challenges of 21st Century health care. (See our "naughty nurse" FAQ.)

Regressive ignorance aside, there is another possible explanation for Mr. Weingarten's nurse comment. Perhaps he has actually seen first-hand the effects of the global nursing shortage. When nurses are so short-staffed that patients linger in pain and at risk for hours, we can imagine why people like Mr. Weingarten might start having fantasies of nurse-erotic asphyxiation. Indeed, if the nursing crisis spirals further out of control, if we continue to mouth empty platitudes about how noble nursing is while starving it of basic resources, some might argue that nurses should start putting patients out of their misery, which might at least make the current care rationing system more honest and humane. (FAQ: See what the reaction to the nursing crisis should be.)

In any case, we can only hope that Mr. Weingarten's comments on nurses, which may be merely the result of involuntary neurological spasms, cease quickly. Then he can return to what we assume are his private viewing booth fantasies of young, half-dressed hotties, perhaps dancing to some "classic rock" favorites: "Oooo...see that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen!" (listen)

May 5, 2005 Update:

Gene Weingarten apologizes to nurses

May 5, 2005 -- Gene Weingarten has now responded to many of the Center supporters who have written protesting his April 24 column. His responses to the original letters have been brief but generally conciliatory: many state that he intended no slur and include a kind of apology, along with assurances that he "loves" nurses and finds them all "beautiful." Mr. Weingarten also extended apologies in his weekly online chats on May 3 and April 26, and he even placed a full copy of the Center's initial letter to him in the May 3 chat, which we appreciate. In the chats, Mr. Weingarten again assured nurses that he values them highly, though he does not appear to believe his column was as harmful as we do, and it is not clear if he understands what nurses really do to save lives and improve outcomes. However, we remain in contact with Mr. Weingarten, who is commendably concerned that so many nurses were offended by his column. We have urged him to apologize in his column and do something more to make amends for the April 24 column, such as explain to his readers what nurses really do for patients. We are working together on this, so stay tuned to news alerts and we will keep you updated.

Since Mr. Weingarten has expressed some remorse for his comments we are putting our letter-writing campaign on hold for now. We are working with him to address this matter further. Please stay tuned. If you still can't resist the urge to email him, he can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com (and please copy us at letters@truthaboutnursing.org) Thank you!

A copy of our executive director's letter, which we used as a model for our initial letter-writers, is below.

Dear Mr. Weingarten:

I read your column in the April 24th edition of the Washington Post which issues a mock list of the circumstances under which you would decline to be kept alive with "extraordinary measures." You asked that, following any removal of your feeding tube, you be "lovingly asphyxiated by a buxom honey-blonde nurse in a short skirt and one of those cute little caps." This comment and others suggest that you are already in a persistent vegetative state. Of course, I would not presume to offer a definitive evaluation at this distance, but I would urge your family to consult their nurse practitioner immediately.

Several items in the column suggest that you have the kind of cognitive issues that you might associate with advanced age. You say that you would not want heroic measures if the Supreme Court "extended its revocation of Roe v. Wade" to protect "the rights of sperm," an incoherent remark that suggests you do not even understand the Court well enough to make fun of it--not exactly a demanding standard. You would also want no heroic measures if at the time of your incapacitation "classic rock stations are still playing ABBA, Green Day or Ace of Base." None of these bands plays "classic rock." Green Day is an alternative/punk band whose major work began in the mid-1990's. ABBA and Ace of Base are Swedish disco-pop artists.

But my main concern about your mental status stems from the "honey-blonde nurse" comment. First, analysis of the comment strongly suggests that you have actually used the word "buxom," without apparent irony, in 2005. In addition, discussion of today's nurses wearing "short skirts" and "cute little caps" indicates that you inhabit a dangerous dream world, rather than the dangerous real one the rest of us live in. Of course, real nurses are serious, highly trained professionals who save lives and improve patient outcomes every day. I can't claim they all dress as professionally as some might like, but you would have difficulty finding one that meets your fevered frat boy description. Of course, there are always the models of "naughty nurse" lingerie.

And what's wrong with your joking that nurses are sexual objects? You have apparently made a good living publishing views of women that are likely to, if not calculated to, annoy women. Indeed, in promoting your 2004 book I'm with Stupid, the publisher described you as "gleefully misogynistic." It's all in good fun, right? Women need to lighten up--especially if, as you suggest is true of many 18-year-old "girls" these days, they're really fat. (Male obesity, on the other hand, does not seem to trouble you.)

The problem is that linking sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients--reinforces long-standing stereotypes of nurses. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses (especially men), foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect. That in turn robs the profession of the resources it needs to fight rampant short-staffing and a critical shortage that has taken thousands of lives worldwide. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to meet the challenges of 21st Century health care. (See more information on the "naughty nurse" image.)

Regressive ignorance aside, there is another possible explanation for your nurse comment. Perhaps you have actually seen first-hand the effects of the global nursing shortage. When nurses are so short-staffed that patients linger in pain and at risk for hours, I can imagine why you might start having fantasies of nurse-erotic asphyxiation. Indeed, if the nursing crisis spirals further out of control, if we continue to mouth empty platitudes about how noble nursing is while starving it of basic resources, some might argue that nurses should start putting patients out of their misery, which might at least make the current care rationing system more honest and humane. (See what the reaction to the nursing crisis really should be.)

In any case, I hope that your comments on nurses, which may be merely the result of involuntary neurological spasms, cease quickly. Then you can return to what I assume are your private viewing booth fantasies of young, half-dressed hotties, perhaps dancing to some "classic rock" favorites: "Oooo...see that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen!"

I strongly urge you to issue a public apology to the nursing profession in your next column. Please be part of the solution to the shortage. Help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.

Thank you,

Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
Executive Director, The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, MD USA 21212-2937
office 1-410-323-1100
fax 1-410-510-1790
ssummers@truthaboutnursing.org
www.truthaboutnursing.org

 

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