I kissed a male nurse girl!
August 16, 2010 -- Some Hollywood shows have been careful not to mock men in nursing, making clear that the usual gay and effeminate stereotypes are unfounded or marks of simple bigotry. Not TNT's new hit drama Rizzoli & Isles. The show is about an odd couple of Boston crime fighters: the swaggering, deep-voiced homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and her super-smart, girly-girl medical examiner friend Maura Isles. In tonight's episode, Isles sets Rizzoli up with a handsome man named Jorge whom Isles says is in "medicine." To Rizzoli's chagrin, he turns out to be a nurse, and a man who is determined to play a stereotypically female role in the relationship and to be a "stay-at-home daddy"--all of which is the target of an episode's worth of jeering from Rizzoli, despite Isles's half-hearted pleas that maybe a nice, supportive guy is what the somewhat abrasive detective needs. The episode pauses to mock nursing as only "technically" a part of "medicine," but it's more concerned with exploring gender roles. The characters investigate the murder of a woman outside a lesbian bar. We are invited to compare same-sex relationships to the Rizzoli-Isles friendship, including its possible romantic overtones, and to Rizzoli's doomed relation with Jorge, which Isles finally ends by telling him that Rizzoli actually is a lesbian. But whatever nuance the episode has does not extend to its contempt for Jorge. He is a nasty caricature of a traditional woman -- submissive, touchy-feely, chirpy, picky, smothering. (Well, maybe we can only say that he's female; Rizzoli also compares him to her cute little dog and to a hamster.) The plotline thus suggests that male nurses are not real men. Rizzoli's traditionally male traits draw affectionate ribbing, but they are a source of power and a force for good. She is a flawed hero. By contrast, Jorge is foolish and annoying, and his work is dismissed. The episode, "I Kissed a Girl," was written by Alison Cross. The show was "developed" by Janet Tamaro, based on books by Tess Gerritsen.
We first find Rizzoli and Isles in a yoga class. Isles whispers to Rizzoli that Jorge, the very cute guy who keeps smiling at Rizzoli, just broke up with his girlfriend. Isles suggests a double-date the following night, with her and the yoga instructor.
Rizzoli: What does he do?
The look on Rizzoli's face says that he could be interesting to her; it's pretty clear that she thinks he is a physician like Isles.
Later, as Isles does an autopsy on the murdered woman, Rizzoli wonders what Jorge has said about her. Isles says Jorge thinks Rizzoli is "hot." Rizzoli seems to be playing hard to get, but she goes on the double date. While there, Rizzoli regales the other three with crime-fighting tales. Things seem to be going well; privately, Rizzoli admits to Isles that Jorge is "sexy." She resists Isles's suggestion that she have sex with him that night, but then we see her and Jorge back at her home. Jorge turns on the charm: "You're like a race car--finely tuned, beautiful, fast." He also seems thrilled to help her walk her dog! But then Rizzoli gets around to the critical question.
Rizzoli: Maura said that you were in medicine--you a doctor?
Rizzoli: Uh. . . EMT?
Jorge (smiling): Nurse.
Rizzoli: A male nurse. . . (Insincerely.) That is so cool.
Jorge (holding one of her dog waste bags): You should get the biodegradable ones.
Rizzoli: Right. So, what happened between you and your girlfriend?
Jorge: Oh. . . we couldn't agree about kids.
Rizzoli: She wanted 'em, you didn't?
Jorge: No. I just love the idea of being a stay-at-home daddy. But she wanted to stay home too. (Smiling.) Someone's gotta work, right?
Rizzoli (keeping it cool): Yeah. . . . I'm surprised.
Jorge: Why, because I'm Hispanic? It's a new world. See, I am looking for a really strong woman. Someone who knows how to hold (yoga pose) Warrior Two. . . like you.
Rizzoli is very unimpressed, and as they head out to walk the dog, it is clear that she will be ending the date as soon as possible.
The next morning, Rizzoli confronts Isles, suggested that Isles lied to her.
Rizzoli: Jorge's in medicine?
Isles (thinking about it): Technically, yes, he is.
Rizzoli: What's his specialty--lactation?
Isles notes that Rizzoli drove a previous potential match away by "butting heads with him."
Rizzoli (looking disgusted): So you hooked me up with Nurse Jorge?
Although there will be more mockery of Jorge, that is the last of the specific nurse references, so it's a good place to stop and discuss them. In fairness to the show, Isles does genuinely seem to think that Jorge might be good for Rizzoli, though it is possible she is just trying to torture her friend. We might not even object strongly to Isles's statement to Rizzoli that he's in "medicine," since that was presumably done to get Rizzoli to give him a chance when she might otherwise simply have dismissed him. And much of society does continue to equate all of health care with "medicine."
But society also continues to assume that only physicians matter in health care, and that is the message sent by other elements here. Rizzoli clearly has no respect for a man in nursing, which is why her final contemptuous comment is about "Nurse Jorge" rather than just "Jorge," and she does not seem to have much respect for nursing in general. Neither she nor Isles is questioning whether a nurse is properly considered to be in "medicine" because nursing is a distinct and autonomous profession. They are questioning whether this nurse plays a significant enough part in the overall health care enterprise to even be seen as a part of it. Isles says that "technically" Jorge is in medicine, but she has to think about it. And Rizzoli's "lactation" comment is not just about Jorge's "stay-at-home daddy" goal. Many viewers will see it as a dismissal of the idea that nurses even have specialties as physicians do. Nursing still shares its name with the common term for breastfeeding, and the joke may be that that is all nurses can really specialize in, since they are really just low-skilled handmaidens, even if they might know the word "biodegradable." Isles's "orthopedics" response does help a little, but it's delivered very mildly compared to Rizzoli's contempt and aggravation, which the show presents as more or less justified.
Inside the police station, Jorge has already sent Rizzoli flowers, and the other detectives are making fun of his romanticism. Rizzoli reads his note aloud to her male colleagues.
Rizzoli: "Dinner Saturday. I'm already in the kitchen."
The older male detective finds that "kinda sissy"; the younger one just shrugs, "the guy cooks."
Later, Isles gets Rizzoli out of an interrogation to hand her a large, girly shopping bag, telling her, "Jorge dropped off lunch for you." Rizzoli is disgusted. Later, Jorge sends chocolates. Isles wonders if Jorge has read a study showing that "chocolate makes us happier." Rizzoli suggests that Jorge probably wrote the study (Ooh! Can nurses write studies?). And she notes that chocolate from Jorge actually makes her sadder. Isles pushes a bit, sniffing the flowers he sent.
Isles: Flowers have been shown to reduce depression. Come on, Jane--Jorge's a catch.
Straight male detective: If you don't want him, can I have him?
Rizzoli: Jorge? He's all yours. Maybe if I get fat, he'll stop calling.
Isles: I just think that if you allow him to see all sides of you, he'll stop calling.
Later, the detectives decide that Rizzoli should go undercover at the lesbian bar to try to catch the killer, who they believe to be a woman attracted to women who physically resemble the victim, which Rizzoli does. Isles and the male detectives enter Rizzoli's information on a web site called "lipstickdate.com" that the victim apparently used to make dates at the bar. The detectives think that Rizzoli would fall under the "butch" category. Isles refuses to put that, choosing "sporty" instead. One detective suggests they choose the same categories that the victim did, one of which was "lipstick lesbian." And indeed, we never see anyone in the bar scenes who would appear to fit as much in the "butch" category as the "lipstick" one.
Later, Rizzoli and Isles continue to discuss Jorge at Rizzoli's apartment.
Isles: Nice and supportive doesn't mean weak.
Rizzoli: Please. Jorge is more submissive than my dog. Maybe I should be a lesbian.
Isles: Well, wishes can come true. [The male detectives] wanted to fill out your dating profile. I typed. If it wasn't for me, you'd be "butch."
Rizzoli is unhappy having her profile on that site; she insists that Isles go with her undercover, since Isles knows how to collect and preserve evidence. Lots of women on the site are interested in Rizzoli. Rizzoli and Isles read a few profiles, and laugh--as they sit on Rizzoli's bed. Isles wonders "what kind of women we would like if we liked women." By now they are lying on the bed. Rizzoli says, "I would be the guy." Isles wonders if Rizzoli says that because she's bossy. Rizzoli counters that Isles is bossy too, just soft and polite about it. Isles says, "It's a good thing you're not my type." Rizzoli actually finds that rude. Isles explains that Rizzoli does not know how to relax, that she wears her shoes and clothes to bed (as she is at that point), and that she just admitted to being bossy. Rizzoli reminds her that it was Isles who put Rizzoli's picture and profile on the "gay dating site" against her will. Isles claims to be meditating, because arguing with Rizzoli is too stressful. Then we see the two of them wake up the next morning in the bed--they fell asleep right there, fully clothed. Neither seems fazed, despite the virtual pile-up of lesbian overtones in these scenes. So. . . will these really good friends start to get a little more adventurous?
No--it's time to mock Jorge some more for not fulfilling his assigned gender role! Isles checks her laptop to see if anyone else signed up to date Rizzoli. But Rizzoli's inbox is full of messages from Jorge. Rizzoli says that he is "so nice," but she obviously finds him annoying.
Isles: Maybe that's what you need, you need somebody loving. . . and supportive.
Rizzoli: Like a hamster. . . . What you think of as a great guy is an average woman. If I wanted someone to walk the dog with me or talk about my feelings I'd be gay.
Isles: You're not gonna say that to him, are you?
Rizzoli: I will if you don't. You got me into this, so get me out of it . . . please?
Here and elsewhere, the actress playing Isles delivers her defenses of Jorge with little conviction, as if she's really just trying to defuse Rizzoli's hostility, or at most suggesting to Rizzoli that if she keeps "butting heads" with real men, she'll be left with no man at all--just someone like Jorge. Or perhaps Isles is just playing a "straight man" role, so to speak, because the situation amuses her.
Rizzoli and Isles both go undercover at the bar. Isles poses as a cocktail waitress in a revealing outfit. She serves Rizzoli and a series of women who responded to her lipstickdate ad, carefully preserving their glasses for DNA. The lipstickdates and the bartender clearly find Rizzoli very hot; she tolerates their attention. This plan does not pan out, but the police come to suspect the widow, and that the bartender may have been her accomplice. Back at the bar, Rizzoli pretends to be interested in experimenting with the bartender, and gets a kiss on the neck from her; then she has Isles swab the area for DNA. This evidently implicates the bartender, whom they pressure into wearing a wire to trap the widow into making incriminating statements.
In the final scene, we see a chagrined Jorge walk into that same exercise class. He tells Rizzoli that he supports her choice. Rizzoli seems uncertain of what he's talking about, but she says OK, and thanks him for the flowers, chocolate, lunch, "and the car battery. . . though mine was fine." Jorge says he's "glad we live in a state where women like you can get married, if that's what you want." Rizzoli accepts this, then after he goes away, she turns to Isles: "You told him I was gay." Isles says, "He assumed. . . it's different." The class begins with them pushing each other, a bit flirtatiously.
We could spend a while on what the show might be saying about Rizzoli and Isles's relationship, and Rizzoli's sexuality in particular, but our focus is Jorge. He does not seem to be a gay man, but the episode is suggesting that he is like a lesbian, and that it's not okay. The show repeatedly tells viewers that Jorge is basically a woman. Rizzoli refers to him as an "average woman" and says that if she wanted that, she would just date women. Similarly, the older straight male detective jokingly asks if he can have Jorge. Jorge embodies stereotypically "female" traits like those the show sees in Isles and in the lesbians at the bar, which include his determination to assume the traditionally female role in a relationship, the many girly gifts, the interest in cooking for Rizzoli and walking her dog, the corrective comment about the proper kind of dog bag, taking the lead in child-rearing and apparently chucking that nursing job, which, as we've seen, isn't like a real profession anyway. Although the younger male detective is more tolerant and does not join in the mockery, that does little to counter the weight of Rizzoli's disdain and Isles's weak defense of Jorge.
The show doesn't even make an effort to suggest that Jorge is atypical of men in nursing. On the contrary, we are invited to conclude that "Nurse Jorge," with his specialty in "lactation," is typical. It would not have been enough to insert a statement or short portrayal of a male nurse who did not essentially function as a collection of comically regressive "female" traits, though it would at least have signaled some awareness that the show was flirting with a stereotype.
Of course, we are not saying that there's anything wrong with a man in nursing being sensitive, supportive, or having any other trait traditionally associated with women. The problem is that the show is associating male nurses with stereotypes of femininity for which it plainly feels contempt, at least when they occur in a man. It's not clear how much this is a function of an ostensibly "feminist" vision that disdains these traditional traits--Rizzoli and Isles vary in how girly they are, but both are ambitious modern career women--and how much it may actually reflect a type of homophobia sometimes associated with straight men like the older detective, who can be titillated by female homosexuality, but do not extend that tolerance to other men. Maybe it's some of both. But regardless, the visible object of the episode's disdain is a male nurse, and viewers are given ample reason to associate his negative traits with male nurses generally.
Those who created this episode may believe that they have presented a thoughtful exploration of variations in human sexuality, at least by the standards of television drama, and that they have offered a fairly tolerant vision to their audience, with the famously progressive state of Massachusetts as a backdrop. But with the Jorge plotline, the episode gleefully exploits the most damaging stereotypes about men in nursing. Those men, and all nurses, deserve better.
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Joel Fields, Bill Haber and Janet Tamaro
Executive Producers, Rizzoli & Isles
c/o Joe Cohen
Creative Artists Agency
2000 Avenue Of The Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067-4700