Nurse stereotypes as sex objects persist on internet, study finds


STEREOTYPES WHICH portray nurses as “sexual playthings” or “witless incompetents” persist in social media, a UCD academic study has found.

An analysis of the top 10 videos featuring “nurses” or “nursing” on YouTube has revealed four of the videos portray nurses in a positive light, but another four have a sexual theme and two portray them as stupid and subservient to doctors.

The paper, entitled The Image of You: Constructing Nursing Identities in YouTube, is co-authored by Prof Gerard Fealy from the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems. It has been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Prof Fealy said stereotypes had persisted about nurses for decades, going back to the “battle-axe” type matron figures found in Carry On Matron and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The first perception in social media he found was that all nurses were female.

Prof Fealy said many of the portrayals had “comedic value”, but many were “unduly immoderate representations of the profession. You may say there is a bit too much introspection and navel-gazing, but we argue that these sorts of images and identities convey a distorted image to the public.”

The four most popular positive images of nurses and nursing were posted by nurses themselves on YouTube.

The most popular YouTube portrayal of nurses was from the 1990s sitcom Frasier where Daphne dresses up as a sexy nurse. It has had more than a million hits.

One from Virgin Mobile and a lingerie advertisement portray nurses setting male patients’ hearts racing, and the fourth is a news report about nurses in the Netherlands complaining of sexual harassment by patients in which the presenter remarks: “What are the nurses doing in Holland? I’ve got to get myself a nurse in Holland.”

Nurses are also portrayed as stupid, with one being asked whether she can do anything without the doctor’s permission, to which she replies: “I can wipe dirty ass and change diapers,” with another showing a “dumb blonde” nurse receptionist.

Prof Fealy said there were positive portrayals of the nursing profession in the media, most notably the US television series Nurse Jackie. Despite this character being a flawed individual who has a prescription medicine addiction, he maintained she was “intelligent, savvy and highly competent”.

Prof Fealy recommended that the professional bodies which regulate and represent nurses should protect the profession from “undue negative stereotyping”.

Geraldine Talty, a member of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) executive council, said the stereotyping of nurses which existed in traditional media were now present in social media.

“I believe that is continuing over the years because we really haven’t spoken out in big numbers against it,” she said. “It is not doing anything positive for the profession or the perception of nurses.”

She said other professions would not take well to being portrayed as “scantily clad and easily had” and the public at large did not understand how complex the role of nursing is in modern medicine.