Bras 'n Stereotypes 'n Things
January 5, 2005 -- Australian nurses have succeeded in ending advertising for a "naughty nurse" outfit sold by major retailer Bras 'n Things. However, the product remains for sale in the lingerie chain's 150+ stores in Australia and New Zealand, even though the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) has reportedly called for a boycott of the stores unless the outfit is "dropped." The unsigned January 4 piece "Poster makes nurses ill" in the Herald Sun tells the basic story prior to the pulling of the ads, and gets the nurses' point across, though it also includes some condescending description of them. The Center salutes Australian nurses, especially the Australian Nursing Federation, for this campaign. We urge Bras 'n Things to retire the naughty nurse item. Read more below or click here to send our instant letter now.
The arch piece in the Herald Sun, which includes the photo we have here, accurately describes the outfit as "an all-white bustier and mini-skirt" with red piping and a Red Cross logo, and "just in case some people are on medication, and don't quite get it, there's even a cute little cap with 'Naughty Nurse' written across it." The piece notes that the woman modeling the outfit is carrying a "stockwhip, but what that's got to do with nursing is beyond us."
The story includes several strong quotes from Lisa Fitzpatrick, the "Victorian secretary" of the Australian Nurses Federation. Fitzpatrick rightly notes that the ad shows nurses as "sex objects, rather than highly educated, skilled professionals" and that nurses "including the 8% who are male" will find it offensive. She urges nurses, their patients and their families not to go near the retailer's stores in protest. The ANF's national president Jill Illife reportedly told the Sun that nurses would "boycott Bras 'n Things this month unless the outfit was dropped." (See Ms. Illife's letter to Bras 'n Things (pdf).)
The piece gets the nurses' basic points across, and its lighthearted approach to the controversy doesn't exactly come as a shock. But we could probably live without its comments that "the modern day Florence Nightingales are banging their bedpans" about the ads, that Fitzpatrick "has got the squirts" (a term for projectile diarrhea) about it, and that the ANF national office is having "an attack of the vapours." Those statements tend to suggest that nurses protesting the ad are hysterical ninnies whose main work tool is the bedpan.
As the Center has explained in the past, linking such apparel so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients and physicians--reinforces long-standing stereotypes. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses, foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect, all of which works against the profession in the midst of a critical global shortage that threatens lives. Desexualizing the nursing image is an important part of building the strength the profession needs to meet the challenges of 21st Century health care.
Also see a follow-up article by the Herald Sun, quoting letters from a number of men who present less than compelling reasons why nurses should stop protesting the naughty nurse lingerie. See "Naughty and Nice Nurse," in the January 5, 2005 issue of the Herald Sun.
We have closed our letter-writing campaign, but this is the letter that hundreds of us sent to the company at email@example.com:
Dear Ms. Cheryl Williams and Bras n' Things management:
I am writing to urge you to stop all sale and advertisement of Bras 'n Things' "naughty nurse" lingerie and to refrain from the use of nurses in your future lingerie designs. Linking such apparel so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients and physicians--reinforces long-standing stereotypes. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses, foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect, all of which works against the profession in the midst of a critical global shortage that threatens lives. Desexualizing the nursing image is an important part of building the strength the profession needs to meet the challenges of 21st Century health care.
Perhaps you are not aware that we are in the midst of a global nursing shortage of previously unseen proportions that is only expected to worsen over the next two decades. The nursing shortage is one of our most urgent public health crises.
Depicting tens of millions of nurses around the globe as female sex objects suggests that nursing work consists primarily of satisfying the sexual needs of physicians and/or patients. Such images discourage men and self-respecting, talented women from entering the profession. This adds to the chronic underfunding of nursing research, education and clinical practice since it is seen as a profession which is all about sexual servitude/pleasure/pain instead of education and hard work.
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 and improve lives 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 technical field "like shop," a job reserved for "girls" and one too lowly for private school students. 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.
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.
Please be part of the solution to the nursing shortage and the improvement of public health by removing the "naughty nurse" lingerie item from your line of products. Help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.