If you're like me, you enjoy jokes about nursing when they're in good taste. Many professions provide fodder for humor, with politicians, lawyers, and health care professionals high on the list. Frankly, though, I'm fed up with sexual stereotyping of nurses.
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What's gotten me up on my soapbox is a Canadian ad campaign launched in March by Virgin Mobile phone service. To grab attention, company owner Richard Branson, posing as a superhero atop a Toronto building, slid down a cable to a public square, jumped into a monster truck, drove it over three cars, and "saved" three "nurses" wearing stiletto heels and skimpy skirts. The nurses were supposedly there to cure the ills caused by other mobile services.
When the Canadian Nurses Association learned about the stunt, they quickly communicated their outrage to Virgin Mobile, demanding an apology and a halt to the ad campaign. The Ontario Nurses Association urged its 21,000 members to boycott the company. (You can read about the ad campaign and nursing's response at The Center for Nursing Advocacy Web site, http://www.nursingadvocacy.org/news/2005mar/virgin.html.)
Defiant, Virgin Mobile says it has no intention of stopping the ads. In fact, life-sized cutouts of the nurses now appear in malls and retail stores where the company's products are sold.
We nurses have worked hard to advance our profession and dispel sexist myths. A tasteless stunt like Branson's sets us back. Portraying nurses as empty-headed bimbos demeans our important work and the education and skills it demands.
When I think about the people watching Branson's antics-especially teens, men, and others who might be considering a nursing career-I recognize that the messages they're getting are strong and wrong. At a time when we desperately need to recruit more of the best and brightest, these messages drive potential nursing students away. Who'd want to enter a profession of shallow, incompetent, laughable "girls"?
If you share my outrage, write Virgin Mobile. But also think about other times when cartoonish portrayals of nurses have made you angry. Do you set the offender straight or do you let it slide?
I'm not letting it slide anymore, and neither should you. The next time you see or hear someone putting us down, set him straight. By speaking out, you can help eradicate demeaning stereotypes and educate the public about what we do. Let others see the pride you rightly feel as a hardworking professional nurse.
Cheryl L. Mee, RN, BC, CMSRN, MSN, Editor-in-Chief