Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Naughty Nurses and the Cult of Halloween Sex

Strange things happen on Halloween. Perhaps the strangest is the tendency for women across America to abandon all pretense of Red State virtue and don the most outrageous, barley decent, costumes – so for your Halloween reading pleasure this year we offer the following notes on Halloween and Naughty Nurse Sex.

Let’s start with the Times Union’s “Sexy Scare,” written by Times Union intern Kelly Smith, which points to the latest tendency of costume manufacturers (presumably supplying a need) to provide the scantiest clad costumes for, well, kids.

For years, Halloween parties have had their share of hot nurses and seductive pirates. But these are parties for adults, right? Not anymore. With names like “Transylvania Temptress,” “Handy Candy,” “Major Flirt,” and “Red Velvet Devil Bride,” there is no doubt that costumes marketed to children and teens have become more suggestive.

Such costumes, which typically feature plunging necklines, fishnet stockings, knee-high boots and very short skirts, dominate the display at most costume shops and party supply stores, and parents are having a hard time avoiding them.

Parents might be having a hard time avoiding them, because they are so busy finding their own sexified costumes, their presence points to a failure to understand the kinds of messages these companies (and their financial supporters) are sending:

When it comes to Halloween, Sharon Lamb, a co-author of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes, the costumes marketed to girls severely limit the options they see for themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a little girl dressing up as a pretty princess, Lamb said, but the problem comes when such feminine, passive characters are all girls can envision for themselves. And she thinks it is that same ideology that pushes girls toward hyper-sexual costumes as they get older.

Doubt it’s true what they say about “the problem comes when such feminine, passive characters are all girls can envision for themselves”? Consider the role of the “naughty nurse” when you’re out in Pottersville at the Black Bear Halloween Party this Saturday night.

According to the Center for Nursing Advocacy the naughty nurse is a cultural phenomenon that sexualizes one of America’s most important professions:

Linking sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing–to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients–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. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to overcome the current shortage, which threatens lives worldwide, and to meet the challenges of 21st Century health care.

Most people today probably don’t think the average nurse goes to work in lingerie, looking for sex. But the relentless fusing of lingerie with nurses’ work uniforms in popular media images, and the frequent exposure of sexy “nurses'” bodies in these images, still associates the profession with sex in the public mind… Other people may simply see nurses as looking to meet a physician–even an already married one–to take them away from the dead end job of nursing, a horrific stereotype that was actually expressed in late 2004 by Dr. Phil McGraw on his popular television show.

Wow… and let’s just say right now, that media images matter – we wouldn’t consider for a minute that children don’t learn from Sesame Street, why should we think the naughty nurse imagery doesn’t have a similar impact, even with adults.

Don’t think this is really a serious problem? France Presse recently reported that a study of just over 1800 adults found that “Nurses and firemen dominate the sexual fantasies of men and women in Britain.” What’s important here is something the Nurse Advocates picked up on:

It reports that a new poll has found that 54% of British men have sexual fantasies about nurses. No other profession hit the 50% mark for male or female, though 47% of women apparently dream about “firemen.” The results seem to show that nursing leads a list of traditionally female, service-oriented jobs about which men fantasize.

In addition to nurses, men fantasize about maids (44%) and flight attendants (40%), rounding out the stereotypical usual suspects. For their part, women also dreamed of soldiers (28%), businessmen (27%), and physicians (26%). At the other end of the list, less than 2% of women fantasized about politicians, while less than 7% of men fantasized about “traffic wardens.”

The jobs that women fantasize most about are associated with economic, physical, and/or mental power, while those that top the men’s list are associated with care-taking or service–a classic dominant-submissive division. It is not clear if any allowance was made for the possibilities of male nurses or flight attendants, or female firefighters or physicians. Perhaps no one would fantasize about such freakish people, who defy all the accepted rules.

Indeed, the deep-seated–and this study suggests unparalleled–association of nursing and sexuality continues to discourage practicing and potential nurses, foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect that weakens nurses’ claims to adequate resources. When you combine the lack of respect that this poll reflects, the college-level training nursing actually requires, and the difficulty and stress of actual nursing practice, it is no surprise that the profession remains in the midst of a crisis driven by rampant short-staffing. In fact, we hear short-staffing has gotten so bad, nurses don’t have as much time as they once did to spend in male sexual fantasies.

This has serious economic effects for local Adirondack health care (as outlined in this CDC report):

It’s diverting for some men, apparently, to think that the little handmaiden job of nursing is populated by disposable bimbos, which may also help such men handle the notion that female nurses actually have some power over them in clinical settings. But the disposable bimbo is not an image that appeals to most career seekers, particularly men, which is a key reason the profession remains over 90% female–never a prescription for power and respect. And it’s not an image that persuades decision-makers to allocate sufficient resources to nursing practice, notably adequate staffing. Get back to us… about how sexy you feel after a 12-hour shift spent rushing from room to room in a desperate effort not to kill any patients, hauling the obese ones around until your back throbs, all the while contending with leering demands for a little sexual healing.

So this Halloween we side with JockeyStreet [sadly now long gone) who says:

Don’t even get me going on the Adult stuff. Guys get the typical choices. The ladies get, essentially, Hooker Combo 1, Hooker Combo 2, Stripper Kit A, Stripper Kit B.

Maybe I sound like a prude. I’m not. Really, really, really. I’m not.

But it offends me that we continue to shove these roles down our kids’ throats at such an early age. It offends me that our culture has taken to sexualizing and objectifying girls so young. It offends me that [costume retailer] Party City seems to think that the only thing a female over 13 might want to be for Halloween is “sexier.”

Agreed.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




3 Responses

  1. Martha Williams says: