Shirtless nurse creates controversy

Share this content:
Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

In comments on our “shirtless nurse” billboard story, one commenter derided how it “figured” that women wrote the stories. Another, presumably clutching his pearls as he contemplated the downfall of modern marketing and the rise of women, wrote, “where are the feminists now?”

Hi. I'm here, and have stopped my eyes from rolling into the back of my head. Let's talk.

The first commenter says it's a double-standard for a hot male nurse to sell things, because in our modern era only one group is allowed to enjoy “hilarious” things.

The implication is that women have won! Good news, female nurses, you are now respected professionals valued for your experience and education. We've reached an end to nurse costumes or women wearing bikinis in advertisements because that would be disrespectful.

But before we go celebrate with our new Feminist Castration tour, let's take a trip to the Halloween aisle of your local store.

Target offers a “really naughty” adult costume, on the right, for those who want to dress as a female sexy nurse, noting “You're sure to make everyone's blood pressure and heart rate skyrocket in this costume. Good thing you're a nurse.” Not to be outdone, Walmart offers a “Size 3-Piece Curvy Nurse Adult Halloween Costume,” for $70 (!) that sadly, as it notes, does not include the toy needle, or the matching shoes.  

Let's next travel to the world of magazine and stock images. Stock, as you may have learned from the shirtless nurse story, means there's a model somewhere hired to pose in a costume. I know it is heartbreaking to know neither the billboard man, nor any of the female nurses in stock whose breasts often seem to burst free of a uniform, are “real” nurses. McKnight's Art Director Mark Speakman ran some analysis for me with his stock image database: 1,490 results for "sexy nurse" overall, 86 results for "sexy male nurse" and 1,454 results for "sexy female nurse.” That's with the “exclude nudity” feature on, because we don't want a call from Human Resources. In the spirit of fairness to our complaining commenters, one of them is pictured on the left.

Since we're on the topic of sexism brought up by the commenters, let's examine the issue of pay. The typical working woman in the United States earns $0.79 for every $1.00 a man earns. There are some arguments this relates to women who take time off to have their children. Sure. But roughly a fourth are taking about two weeks due to our systematic lack of good maternity leave policies.

Healthcare is a complicated area in which to compare salary apples to apples because of the variety of responsibilities and titles among clinical and administrator levels, not to mention the wide variety of salary by region. The ratio of female nurses to male nurses in the United States is 9.5 to 1. I checked with Hospital & Healthcare Compensation Services, which publishes reports on salaries, and there are no reports broken down by gender. But I'm not sure any female long-term care director would be shocked to find out a male colleague in the same job is making more money.

No matter what the gender of nurse — and let's hope they all had proper celebrations this week — it's a dedicated bunch. The Connecticut billboard isn't about male nurses not being as good, it's implying someone's mother in their golden years may enjoy living with other women and being taken care of by a hunky young gentleman.

It's not any different from decades of using attractive young women to sell any type of healthcare service — witness this PETA ad from 2009 ostensibly discussing heart disease. If there's an area with enough men living long enough to go into long-term care, I'm sure there are discussions around marketing driven towards them, complete with nubile young women. The only caveat is that the eldest daughter is often making the decision of where to send her parents, and may not be as charmed by a half-naked female stock model.

But maybe that would work! As is true in so much of long-term care marketing, just because one provider goes in one direction doesn't mean you have to. Try a kitten, try a male model, try a pouting nurse, try a happy looking senior — whatever works in an era of keeping up the census. It will be OK. Even under a Clinton presidency, my fellow feminists and I would let you be creative with billboards. Because unlike some politicians, we believe in choice.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.