February 7, 2006 -- One of the GAP's Valentine's Day products this year is a pair of boxer shorts covered with small, identical "nurse" figures. They are dressed in a short white dress with some cleavage, and a white cap with a red heart. It's not the "naughtiest" nurse we've ever seen. But the "nurse"'s outfit, her goofy hand-on-hip pose, her odd lack of facial features, and her placement on a pair of Valentine's boxers surrounded by the word "Lovesick" clearly associates the profession with romance and sex. Like the many other "naughty nurse" products that continue to infect every corner of popular culture, these boxers exploit a powerful stereotype that is a factor in the global nursing crisis.
The GAP boxers come in red or blue. The "nurse" is about two inches tall, and in addition to the way-above-the-knee dress and traditional nurse's cap, she wears white shoes. She stands with her legs crossed, one hand on her hip, the other holding out the end of a stethoscope a bit like she is serving a tray of hors d'oeuvres at a catered event. She is not exactly ready to provide skilled health care. But the most striking thing to us is that she has no facial features . It's not a big stretch to suggest that this objectifies female nurses as brainless sex mannequins, is it? We can't see if there's a place to pump air into her. The inside waistband of the boxer shorts alternates red hearts with the word "heartbreaker."
So what's, like, the point? We get the "lovesick"/"heartbreaker" theme--and presumably the nurse is there to try to help the afflicted wearer cope with the pain of love. But is this supposed to turn on the wearer of the product? The wearer's friend who gives it to him? Anyway, it's obvious that the boxers jokingly associate nurses with matters of the heart, and other body parts. All of that reinforces a deep stereotype of nurses that continues to demoralize practicing nurses, and to discourage men and ambitious women from joining the profession. It degrades nursing at a time of critical shortage driven by a lack of understanding that it is a serious, skilled profession, and not a tired sex joke.
We urge the GAP to pull this product and in the future work to resist the apparently strong temptation to associate a life-saving modern profession with underwear.
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