Nympho Nurse #3
April 7, 2010 -- Perhaps the CBS sitcom Accidentally on Purpose isn't the first place you'd expect to see a complex blend of nursing issues. But tonight's episode is about the decision of the main character, the pregnant Billie, to hire an attractive "baby nurse" (nanny or infant care provider) named Nicole without consulting Zack, the baby's young father. Characters twice refer to Nicole simply as a "nurse." At first she seems nice, skilled, and professional, but she turns out to be a manipulative nymphomaniac, seducing two of Zack's friends for a three-some practically on sight, while she's supposed to be baby-proofing. The show repeatedly focuses on her breasts. Exploiting the naughty nurse stereotype? A little. Then there's the episode's use of the term "baby nurse," a dangerous distortion that implies that such infant care providers actually are nurses, when few if any have the years of college-level health science training real nurses do. In addition to misleading new parents about what their "baby nurses" know, the term suggests that real nurses have as few health skills as the infant care providers do. The show also tells us that Nicole has a "nursing degree from Cal," as if it thinks "baby nurses" really are nurses. This "baby nurse" mess, along with the naughty angle, outweighs any potential benefit from Nicole's apparent knowledge about basic infant care, and the fleeting suggestion that real nurses may have university degrees. But the episode goes further. At one point, Zack's friends fantasize about the hot Nicole squeezing the breast milk out of Billie's breasts. And we get a brief scene showing how that might work, sexualizing real nurses' focus on breastfeeding and subtly reinforcing the enduring practice of considering breastfeeding a type of "nursing," which associates a modern science profession with unskilled female care giving--though the show does not refer to breastfeeding itself as "nursing." Actually, the show really missed an opportunity by not having Nicole offer to "nurse" the infant herself. Maybe that "degree" was in wet nursing! The episode, "Face Off," was written by Kevin Bonani and Jenn Lloyd.
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Accidentally on Purpose is about a San Francisco film critic based "in part" on a memoir by actual film critic Mary F. Pols. The basic premise is that Billie became pregnant after a one-time hookup with the much younger Zack, and despite their differences, they decided to stay together to raise the child. For this episode, the CBS web site offered this promotional headline:
Billie hires a nurse to help her and Zack prepare for the baby. Olivia Munn guest stars!
Munn is best known as a "geek icon" for her work on the G4 video gamers network.
The episode begins with Zack and his immature friend Davis arriving at the apartment Zack shares with Billie. Davis has hurt his knee slightly by falling down while running back from getting a snack from a souvlaki cart. These two find the very pregnant Billie talking with an attractive young woman.
Billie: Hey guys. Zack, this is Nicole, she is the best baby nurse in the whole city. The couple she was supposed to work for just got indicted for fraud, so they don't need a baby nurse, 'cause their baby nurse is now the state of California! Isn't that great?
Zack: Yeah, nice to meet you. What's a baby nurse?
Billie: Oh, well, she'll be spending the night with us for the first couple weeks to help us out, and if she's not here my mother will be here, so...I don't think I need to finish that thought.
Nicole (noticing Davis's knee): Oh, what happened to your knee?
Davis: Oh, just, you know...sports injury. Damn my extreme manly athleticism.... Oh, my God, it's really bleeding!
Nicole: OK, why don't I help you with that?
Davis (following her from the room): Oh...I also have a spider bite on my tushie.
Billie (now alone with Zack): She is so fantastic, I didn't even interview anyone else, she just knocked it out of the park.
We flash back to this interview, at which Billie and Nicole sit at a table.
Nicole (handing over documents): I've got a nursing degree from Cal, a long list of references, and, for what it's worth, I think you're going to be a great mother. And...I'd never believe you were 37!
Billie: You're hired.
Back in the present, Billie explains to Zack that her mother called to say Billie would never be able to handle the baby, so she offered to pay for a "baby nurse." Billie gladly accepted. She tells Zack that Nicole says they've been doing things all wrong. For instance, Nicole says the changing table, which Zack built, is a "death trap." Zack says it's fine, as his mother used to change him on a Hibachi grill. Meanwhile, we see Nicole dabbing Davis's bloody knee cluelessly with what looks like a cotton ball. She asks how that is, and Davis--staring at her cleavage--says "perfect."
Later, Zack reports to Davis and another friend named Ryan, as they watch TV, that "some nurse lady I don't even know is in [the next room] babyproofing." Davis says he can understand Zack feeling like Nicole is encroaching on his turf, but "she is hot." Ryan asks what a baby nurse does.
Davis: In the middle of the night, she squeezes Billie's breasts to get the milk out.
So naturally we must see this fantasy made real, and we flash to Billie sitting up in bed, with Nicole opposite her in red lingerie.
Nicole: Are you ready, Billie?
Billie: Are you kidding? This is my favorite time of night.
Nicole reaches across and starts to unbutton Billie's maternal sleepwear.
We cut to see all three guys lost in visualizing this. Zack breaks free.
Zack: You see, I feel like I should be consulted on who's squeezing Billie's breasts at night.
Ryan suggests Zack would have chosen Nicole too. Zack claims he would not because "she's got the...crazy eyes," and she gives him the same vibe as someone he recently dated named Candy--whom his two friends clearly recall fondly.
Billie and Nicole appear, and Billie tells Zack they have to go to "Furniken" (a store) with two of her female friends to return the changing table. Zack asks for a couple hours to take it apart; Nicole cheerfully reports that she already did it "in three minutes." Billie tries to get Zack's friends to leave also; they decline because they want to watch a basketball game. Billie orders Zack's friends not to hit on Nicole.
But as soon as Billie leaves, Nicole approaches the friends and removes her sweatshirt to reveal her tight, skimpy top, noting that it's really very hot in there. They are clearly tempted.
Meanwhile, at Furniken, Billie raves about the almond snack Nicole sent, and her little reminder note to do Kegel exercises. Zack admits that he's kind of angry about Billie hiring Nicole without asking him, and says that he could have warned Billie that his gut told him something is wrong with Nicole. Billie counters that Nicole is "sweet and nurturing and an excellent choice."
Back at the apartment, Nicole sits down next to Davis, and promptly spills a little of her bottled water on her top. Noting that she's "such a klutz!", she tries to brush the water off her breasts. She complains about the heat: "You really work up a sweat baby-proofing." Davis, moving a pillow to cover his crotch, agrees that "the ventilation is sub-par." Nicole asks who's playing in the game they're watching and who the guys are rooting for. Then she casually asks a question.
Nicole: So, do you guys wanna do a three-way?
The two guys are clearly shocked. Davis nervously notes that "that is so sweet," but Ryan says that "for legal reasons" they need to clarify. Nicole confirms that she is talking about having sex with both of them together. She gets up and starts to leave the room.
Nicole (taking off her top to reveal a sports bra): Look, I'm gonna go take a shower. If you're naked when I get back, I'll know we're on.
She leaves. Ryan starts to peel off his clothes, but obviously both guys are freaked out.
Meanwhile, at the store, Billie discovers while waiting to do the return that she has forgotten the receipt, so she calls Nicole, who does not hear the phone because she's in the shower. Zack calls Davis, who asks Zack how he would feel about Davis and Ryan having a three-way with the baby nurse. Billie wonders if Davis has found the receipt. Zack tells her yes. She says she bets it was Nicole who found it, and she leaves, asking Zack to tell Davis she'll be there in 10 minutes. Zack sees that having Billie walk in on this will be a way to convince her that her beloved Nicole really can't be trusted, so he smiles and tells Davis: "Tell you what...we never spoke about this, but wait about nine minutes, and then give her the best two minutes of her life."
Billie arrives home to find Davis and Ryan in the living room, dressed only in their boxer shorts and planning what they will do in the threesome when Nicole returns. Billie asks what is going on. Davis slickly notes that they "definitely weren't going to have a threesome with your baby nurse." Billie says she told them not to doing anything like that. Davis says that it was Nicole's idea, and he admits that he and Ryan are terrified. Billie does not believe that her "lovely, sweet, professional" Nicole would proposition these two. But then Nicole enters wearing lingerie.
Nicole (to the guys): Are we gonna do this or--
She sees Billie, who comes over, takes her by the hand and leads her toward the door.
Billie: OK, couple of things. One, is that my teddy? Two, so that's how my teddy's supposed to look. And three, you are so fired, we need a new word for fired. But since fired is what you are, let's just go with fired.
Nicole: Can I still put you guys as a reference?
Billie: Are you crazy?
Nicole: (licking her lips and kind of leering at the two guys): A little bit.
And she's gone. Billie tries to get Davis and Ryan to keep this confidential and not tell Zack. Back at Furniken, Billie tells her two female friends that hiring Nicole was her first decision as a mom, and she chose an "impolite sex maniac with extremely low standards." One friend wonders if she's "going to get a new nurse." Billie suggests she'll just keep the baby inside her, where he's safe. Finally, she rejoins Zack, and admits that she let Nicole go. Zack, loving this, urges her to reconsider and says they should all talk about it, "like a three-way." She realizes that he knows. And she assures him that he should be involved in such decisions in the future.
The episode's nurse-related imagery interlocks in a complex way that amplifies the damage it's doing. First, the episode portrays a "nurse," who has a "nursing degree," as a flat-out nymphomaniac, a blatant reinforcement of the naughty nurse stereotype that has plagued real nurses for decades. The episode shows Nicole as someone who not only presents herself as a sex object, but who offers herself to two less-than-charming guys she has just met, all while she is working as a "nurse." She is not just slutty in her private life; she acts that way at work. The show stops short of suggesting that she thinks sex is part of her job, but on the other hand, she is also a more persuasive representation of a naughty nurse than usual.
Of course, a defender of the show might point out just that: Nicole might be a nymphomaniac, but she is not the kind of brainless bimbo we usually get with the naughty nurse, who might just pop out of a supply closet in lingerie. Nicole seems to have real infant care knowledge and skills. She is fairly articulate, and she even sports "a nursing degree from Cal," the University of California at Berkeley, one of the nation's great universities. Berkeley actually has no nursing program, which suggests either that the show did not bother to check, or that it was trying to avoid suggesting that any real nursing program turned out "impolite sex maniacs with extremely low standards." However, it seems unlikely that many viewers know Cal has no nursing school, and that they will likely assume that it does. We admit that the suggestion that an elite university has a nursing program, in and of itself, is a helpful one.
But here that suggestion serves to align the profession of nursing closely with "baby nurses," as do the references to Nicole as simply a "nurse" by two show characters and the CBS site promotion. This clearly implies that "baby nurses" are registered nurses, an idea that misleads the public and undermines nursing to the extent the public discovers that these "nurses," however helpful they may be, know little about health care. In 2005, there was a small furor in New York about a "baby nurse" who had allegedly shaken and injured two babies in her care. The New York press ran pieces about the lack of regulation and awareness of the minimally-trained infant caregivers who market themselves as "baby nurses," and some suggested that a key part of this specific problem was that anyone could call herself a "nurse." New York State later passed legislation making the word "nurse" a protected title, but infant care givers nationwide have continued to use the term "baby nurse" to market their services. Real nurses have a minimum of roughly three years of college-level health training; "baby nurses" need not have any. But viewers of this show may conclude that such "nurses" do get "nursing degrees," though such programs must have, to borrow a phrase, "extremely low standards." Perhaps schools like Cal just add nursing to make money to support their real academic programs!
But apparently the show isn't satisfied with all of this--it wants to add nursing's complex relation with breastfeeding to the mix. So we get the scene in which Zack and his friends fantasize about Nicole pumping Billie's breasts in a quasi-erotic nightly milking ritual. Of course, eroticizing the act of breastfeeding is a bad idea in general, since the persistent idea that breastfeeding is somehow about sex (naked breasts! ooh!) is a major factor in the ongoing difficulty women have in breastfeeding their babies in any remotely public place. For nursing, there's a particular problem: the long-standing use of the term "nursing" to refer to breastfeeding, which associates the profession with unskilled female care giving, and of course, with female sexuality, to the extent people hold the unfortunate views noted above. None of that is helpful to a life-saving modern health profession that has struggled to attract men, to the extent that the profession remains more than 90% female. It's especially sad because nurses are among the primary advocates for breastfeeding, which is a critical element of infant health and development. Yes, the breast-pumping scene is a fantasy even within this fictional show, and the show does not literally call breastfeeding nursing. But it does joke that this "nurse" is all about erotic breastmilk pumping. All imagery has some meaning and impact (consider advertising), and this scene still tells us something about how media creators think about "nurses," as well as reinforcing some of the least helpful impressions the public has about the profession. (See our FAQ "Should we refer to breastfeeding as "nursing?")
It's unlikely the show has much idea about any of these issues or about nursing. The creators probably just thought it would be add fun and a ratings boost if they threw a hot babe into the comic mix, and the easy way to make that work with the show's overall plot arc was through this character. It was just "accidentally on purpose." The thing is, the show could have solved most of these problems by just calling the character a "nanny" instead of a "baby nurse" or a "nurse."
But to paraphrase a famous man, words are stupid things.
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