Abby Wambach on NPR’s Fresh Air: Title IX was really about escaping nursing
September 14, 2016 — Today soccer star Abby Wambach appeared on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air to promote her new memoir Forward. In discussing Title IX, Wambach asserted that the historic legislation was not intended mainly to strengthen women’s sports, but instead “there was a ton of women who wanted to become doctors, they didn’t want to just be a nurse.” Of course, Wambach was characterizing the social attitudes that led to that 1972 statute, not necessarily expressing her personal views of the two health professions. But neither she nor Fresh Air host Terry Gross said anything to suggest that they disagreed with the assumptions underlying Wambach’s description: that medicine is a much more important, substantial profession than nursing, and so any ambitious modern female would naturally choose to be a physician rather than a nurse. Even if this was in fact the way Title IX supporters thought, presenting such views with no apparent distance tends to reinforce them because they are still so commonly held, as a glance at Grey’s Anatomy episodes of the last decade would confirm. By contrast, Wambach does not describe ignorant views of gender equality with no indication of whether she agrees–instead, she expresses strong disagreement. We realize that feminists tend to assume that jobs to which women were traditionally confined must be less valuable and desirable than the ones dominated by men, and nowhere is this more striking than with nursing and medicine.
But as applied to nursing, these views are very damaging, as they contribute to the undervaluation and underfunding of the profession that is costing lives worldwide. That’s because nurses are autonomous professionals who use (or try to use) their college science degrees to save lives and improve outcomes in a wide range of settings. Nursing is just as important as medicine. In fact, many nurses are “doctors”–of nursing. Of course women should be able to pursue any field they wish on an equal basis. But the failure to recognize the value of the traditionally female field of nursing is especially ironic in a discussion of gender equality. NPR’s Fresh Air claims to reach more than 5 million listeners weekly. Please join us in urging Abby Wambach, Terry Gross, and NPR to clarify whether they agree with the uninformed views about nursing that the September 14 comments reflect, and if not, to take steps to address the damage caused by the unquestioned presentation of those views to Fresh Air‘s listeners.
Hear the original whole interview here: