"People always joke about nurses looking saucy so it's fun to be the real thing."
November 29, 2006 -- Over the last two days, the U.K. tabloid the Sun has run a prominent "naughty nurse" pictorial. The Sun is the most popular English-language daily in the world, with an estimated 7.8 million readers. The theme of its lingerie pictorial is that the models really are nurses. Unlike the paper's regular Page 3 feature, this one stops short of nudity. The light soft-porn text is credited to Lucy Hagan. The pictorial promotes sales of a calendar called "100% Real Nurses 2007." Two of the models in the Sun are said to be "plastic surgery nurses," and we also see a "student nurse," a "dental nurse," and a "nurse" who works at a "vet's surgery." The feature is a gleeful mess of naughty nurse stereotyping, along with a few angel references. In small separate photos, it also shows the models in real-looking nurse uniforms, as if to dispel any doubts that they really are nurses. But many of the photos show the "nurses" stripping out of racy versions of nurse uniforms, apparently in actual health care facilities. What we can't figure out is why a recent survey found that nursing was the most sexually-fantasized-about job in the U.K. Anyway, we urge the Sun to consider whether it might somehow entertain readers without reinforcing a stereotype of workplace sexual availability that inhibits nurses' ability to get the resources they need to resolve the global nursing crisis.
Read more below or go straight to our letter-writing campaign.
Yesterday's piece, "Meet the X-rayted nurses," first asks" "What's up, doc?" The answer is male temperatures, "as these naughty nurses peel off their uniforms." The piece goes on to refer to the models as "tasty," "our girls," and "real-life angels." Then, we hear about their "bedside manner," as each apparently provides Hagan with a few quotes. As you might expect, these don't go a long way toward showing that they're actually serious professionals.
"Student nurse" Lisa West posed for the calendar because she wanted "a bit of a laugh" and "a bit of extra money." Plus: "People always joke about nurses looking saucy so it's fun to be the real thing." But Lisa, who is apparently training to work in pediatrics, would never switch to full-time modeling, because she's too committed to nursing: "I don't do it for the money--I do it because I love the children." Very good--it's important to get that noble-being-who-doesn't-need-adequate-resources theme in as well. Meanwhile, "vet's surgery" nurse Gemma Boughey has her "heart set on appearing on the Sun's Page 3." She says the photo shoot was "a real giggle." A modeling agency that has seen her "nurse shots" has been in touch, "so hopefully I'll get a few more chances to strip off." "Dental nurse" Rachel Midgley "stripped off" in order to "get more men to visit the dentist"; she even plans to put the calendar on the wall of her surgery. Could this help some with their reluctance to seek dental care? We've got it: "Take Your Loved One for a Check-Up and Ogle a Half-Naked Nurse Day!" But Rachel admits to a more personal motive, noting that she is single and "hopefully I might get a few offers when people start to see the pictures."
The related materials included with the first day of the feature on the Sun web site pursue the "sexually available at work" theme more aggressively. The short photo shoot video accompanying the pictorial features the nurses stripping out of provocative "nurse" attire in what appear to be actual health care facilities. And the calendar itself offers still more, with "nurses" stripping out of their work uniforms, sometimes in tandem.
Today's Sun feature is headlined "Naughty Hospital Staff," with large initial capitals to suggest the U.K.'s National Health Service (get it?!). Like yesterday's item, Hagan leads with a reference to physicians, noting that the item is "just what the doctor ordered": a "repeat prescription" of the "stunning naughty nurse" snaps. Once again we get the "temperatures soaring" teaser, and the note that "[e]ach of the girls featured is a real-life health worker." Hagan says that it's definitely "a case of angels delight!" "Plastic surgery nurse Rebecca Luxton" needs no "nip 'n' tuck," because as readers can very clearly see, she has a "sexy seat." Her quotes also suggest a certain romantic motive: "I've just split with my boyfriend so I might send him a copy to show him what he's missing." Michelle Holland is a "minx" and "another plastic surgery nurse whose looks could surely not be improved." She notes that her "saucy pose" got the ultimate endorsement: "I even showed the picture to my mum and got the thumbs-up."
The Sun's inclusion of the small photos of these women fully dressed in their real work uniforms arguably makes clear that they don't dress the more revealing way at work. But a lot of the main images actually show the nurses shedding racy versions of nurse uniforms, suggesting that working nurses are never far away from a lingerie show. Our problem here is the constant association of nursing with sex, especially a kind of dimwitted sexual availability at work. This is an association the Sun materials pursue relentlessly. We wouldn't care if these women appeared in such photos with no indication of their jobs. But of course, capitalizing on nursing stereotypes is the whole point of the pictorial.
The occasional reference to the nurses as "angels" may seem out of place with the sexual imagery. But no one said stereotypes had to be coherent, and women are often referred to casually as "angel" in romantic contexts. The use of the word here--like the comment of the nursing student who does it for love not money--will still obliquely suggest that the nurses are simple, noble beings. It's just that part of their mandate includes "stripping."
Of course, some might say that the use of actual nurses absolves the Sun of responsibility. Generally "naughty nurses" are just models, and the defense is that no one could mistake them for "real nurses." But if real nurses do want to present themselves this way, then nurses have no one to blame but themselves, right? We think that, to the extent real nurses consciously reinforce these stereotypes--"[p]eople always joke about nurses looking saucy"!--the profession has to ask itself what it wants. If the answer is more of the same, then this is a good way to go about getting it. But the Sun also has a responsibility not to promote enduring stereotypes that are helping to cause social harm. The decision of some nurses to present themselves this way does not mean the stereotype is correct or benign, any more than the decision of members of any other disempowered group to reinforce a stereotype would.
The Sun's use of the term "nurse" appears to be a loose one. We know that at least one of the models cannot accurately be described as a "nurse" (the student). And it's not clear the extent to which some of the other models can really be described as "nurses" in the usual sense. It is common for the media and others to assume that any female health worker whose work they perceive to be assistive can be called a "nurse."
We were not shocked to see that the pictorial includes no physicians or medical students. What could explain that? Well, there is the fact that physicians enjoy great social esteem and obviously have not suffered from decades of "brainless bimbo" stereotyping. You might argue that they aren't included because they're not perceived as being so warm and friendly, but in this context, it seems to us that that basically translates to sexually available and subservient. Of course, each item does lead off with a physician reference. We especially enjoyed the notion that physicians would be "prescribing" the naughty nurse images, presumably to help needy men with their sexual frustrations. Rx-rated, no doubt.
Yes, the Sun is just having a "bit of a laugh" and earning a "bit of extra money." But the image these pictorials reinforce so powerfully, and to so many people, is unlikely to help nurses get the resources and respect they need to overcome the global nursing shortage. Please tell the Sun it can do better.