Fancy dresses and dead patients
U.K. hospital refuses £2,500 donation raised with naughty nurse stereotype
But the BBC report about the “fancy dress” fundraising by Ludlow Hospital’s League of Friends mostly highlights the views of people who think the League’s tactics are just fine. And the League vows to do more of the same.
September 19, 2017 – On August 22, the BBC website reported that a U.K. hospital had declined a £2,500 donation from a group of men who had raised the funds by pushing a bed around town while dressed as female nurses, complete with very short nurse dresses, wigs, and white caps. The unsigned BBC item was “Ludlow Hospital refuses ‘demeaning’ fancy dress donation.” It briefly explained that Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust chief executive Jan Ditheridge had written to the head of the Ludlow Hospital League of Friends stating that “the presentation of men dressed as female nurses in a highly-sexualised and demeaning way is wrong, very outdated and insulting to the profession.” But League of Friends chair Peter Corfield and his supporters pushed back strongly, arguing that they knew better what was insulting to nurses and in the best interests of the hospital. They vowed to continue doing the fundraiser. And the BBC item highlighted the views of people who agreed, including nurses. Sadly, the fundraiser reflects obvious contempt for nursing because it exploits the enduring “naughty nurse” stereotype that nurses are mainly about female sexuality, rather than advanced skills. Stereotypes like that have long undermined nurses’ claims to the funding they need, which is much more than £2,500.
By way of background, it turns out that Ms. Ditheridge had met with Corfield the previous year, asking him to stop this activity! (See her recent letter to him here.) But the League of Friends continued regardless and, despite the refusal of the recent donation, promised a few days later to repeat the activity in 2018. And today, a month later, the still unrepentant Corfield said: “We must draw the line between what is insulting to people and what is actually attracting attention to the good cause… Looking at the reaction we’ve had from around the world, I don’t think we’re out of step.” He said the 2017 funds would be redirected to train community first responders.
Most of the August 22 BBC piece, like other media items about the story, highlighted the views of people who thought the League’s fundraising method was just fine. The BBC quoted the Friends group as saying it was a “sad day for public support for our health services.” Corfield noted that it was a “light-hearted” event that local men had done annually for decades. Alison Hiles, wife of an event participant, said: “I really don’t know why all of a sudden it’s a problem.” Many took to social media to support the event. Gemma Davies: “I’m a nurse and am not at all insulted. How stupid!” Hannah Holt: “Refusing the money is an insult to the profession. I love being a nurse and I love people dressing up as nurses…. it’s a sign of admiration.”
Actually, it’s a sign of condescension. The naughty nurse stereotype this event exploits has been undermining nurses and their claims to adequate resources for decades. When nursing is associated with goofy female sexuality, nurses are not seen as serious modern health professionals of any gender, but as backwards females who are all about sex and unskilled helping. U.K. studies show that public presentations of nurses in this light discourage bright career seekers. And while the macho cross-dressing element here may raise additional gender issues, that does not stop it from reinforcing nursing stereotypes. Meanwhile, other contemporary news reports describe the nursing shortage, including severe understaffing, that is taking lives and undermining care in the U.K. and elsewhere. The world needs funding for tens of millions of additional nurses, and it’s not clear where that will come from when nurses still face the contempt on display here. How far will £2,500 go?