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The feel-better tool

Outside naughty nurse March 2005 -- This month's issue of Outside includes a one-page item in its Dispatches section (subhead Fitness & Recovery, p. 30) called "Get Well Soon," which describes eight "feel-better tools" designed to relieve pain after the kind of intense activity in which the magazine's readers presumably engage. The visual centerpiece of the item is a large photo by Gregg Segal of a naughty nurse sitting on the arm of a massage chair in which a recovering Outside guy has crashed following his exertions. Of course, by reinforcing the notion that nurses are brainless fantasy babes and thereby exacerbating the nursing crisis, photos like this actually work to decrease "fitness and recovery." We're guessing the irony of that is lost on those at Outside magazine.

The article's text is essentially eight brief descriptions of the products, which are a massage chair, a foot massager, a robe, a "magnetic therapy eye mask," a heating pad, a pillow, "reflexology sandals," and a "recovery rub." The item's subhead is "Sore and suffering after a long day? Flush away the pain and restore your mojo with these eight feel-better tools." The Outside dude, reclining way back in the chair, appears to be using all eight products. The photo caption, placed close to the nurse, reads: "IN YOUR DREAMS: Half the fun of amping up is coming down." The "nurse" is an attractive young woman in a very short white "nurse's dress," complete with a nurse's cap with red cross, very low cleavage, and red stiletto heels. She smiles seductively at the guy and holds the chair's large black remote control, which is shaped very much like...oh, what's the point. Obviously, every element of the photo and surrounding text has been carefully crafted to promote the idea that a naughty nurse would be the ultimate "feel-better tool," but if that isn't possible, you might try these products. The Center marvels at the apparently endless appeal of the naughty nurse image--you'd think that at some point it would just seem too tired and stupid, even for magazines aimed at young men. But we suppose that some things just never lose their mojo. Heh heh. In your dreams, dude!

In any case, as the Center has noted many times, 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. 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. At ground level, the devaluation of nursing translates into an underpowered profession that may not be strong enough to save your life when you need it to do so. The "naughty nurse" isn't going to catch deadly medication errors, intervene when a patient is about to crash, or teach a patient to survive with a life-threatening condition. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to overcome the current shortage, which threatens lives worldwide.

Please urge those at Outside magazine to consider whether a health-related item could possibly be sold without degrading the profession of three million hard-working North American men and women and millions more around the globe.

See below for a copy of our executive director's letter to Outside. At least 35 nursing supporters sent this letter or an original one to Outside. See our update on this campaign, as Outside has printed a letter from one nurse on this topic in their May 2005 issue.

Dear Outside Editors and Ms. Parr:

I am writing to urge you to make amends for your March article called "Get Well Soon" (p. 30), which describes eight "feel-better tools" designed to relieve pain after the kind of intense activity in which your readers presumably engage. The visual centerpiece of the item is a large photo of a naughty nurse sitting on the arm of a massage chair in which a recovering Outside guy has crashed following his exertions. Obviously, every element of the photo and surrounding text has been carefully crafted to promote the idea that a naughty nurse would be the ultimate "feel-better tool," but if that isn't possible, you might try these products. Please consider whether a health-related item could possibly be sold without degrading the profession of three million hard-working North American men and women and many millions more around the globe.

Exactly how would I like you to make amends? Since negative images stick in the minds of people much longer than positive ones, I believe that it will take considerable effort by Outside to repair the damage. I urge you to: 1) publicly apologize for publishing such an unhelpful image of nurses, 2) feature nurses who are working in sports health in the next three issues of Outside and 3) place a nurse on your editorial board to prevent further assaults on public understanding of nursing. Realistically, it will take at least this amount of effort to help undo the effects of the image you published.

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. 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. At ground level, the devaluation of nursing translates into an underpowered profession that may not be strong enough to save your life when you need it to do so. The "naughty nurse" isn't going to catch deadly medication errors, intervene when a patient is about to crash, or teach a patient to survive with a life-threatening condition. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to overcome the current shortage, which threatens lives worldwide. Of course, by reinforcing the notion that nurses are brainless fantasy babes and thereby exacerbating the nursing crisis, photos like this actually work to decrease "fitness and recovery." We're guessing the irony of that may be lost on you at Outside magazine.

Nursing is a distinct science and an autonomous profession. Registered nurses receive 2-10 years of college-level training, and studies have shown that patients' lives depend directly on the availability and qualifications of the nurses who care for them. For instance, one recent study of nurse short-staffing--a primary cause and effect of the shortage--found that when the patient load of a nurse is doubled from 4 to 8, post-operative mortality increases by 31%. In essence, nurses save lives and improve outcomes every day. As patients, the less nursing care we have, the more likely we are to die. The nursing shortage affects us all.

Many who display negative images of nurses doubt that such images can really harm the nursing profession. However, as public health professionals at the University of Southern California's Hollywood, Health and Society project and elsewhere can tell you, entertainment media do affect how people think and act with regard to health issues. A 2000 JWT Communications study found that US youngsters in primary and secondary school got their most striking impression of nursing from the fictional television show "ER," and consistent with that show's physician-centric messages, the youngsters found nursing to be a lowly technical field for "girls." Nursing is none of these things. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that "ER"'s message is so influential that one-third of their viewers use information from the show to make health care decisions. (Please see the research here: www.truthaboutnursing.org/faq/hollywood_research.html)

A key reason that nursing is in its current state--understaffed, underfunded and underempowered--is that the work of nurses is undervalued by the general public and health care decision makers, all of whom are consumers of media and advertising.

Be part of the solution to the nursing shortage, help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.

 

 

 

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