#NursesUnite and the False Perception of Injustice

When Donald Trump publicly classified an entire race of people as murderers and rapists, the fallout by which his corporate partnerships vanished into thin air like pixie dust seemed not only justified, but completely necessary. When Joy Behar posed the question, in reference to a talent competition where a contestant appeared on stage in a nurses uniform, “Why does she have a doctor’s stethoscope on?”, the communal outrage and rapid withdrawal of advertisers left me gobsmacked. Lately there seems to be a disturbing trend in American society where the perception of injustice is becoming completely indistinguishable from legitimate injustice. The cultural movement of #NursesUnite vs. The View is the latest example of our inability to understand, or even acknowledge, the value of context.

I spent over a decade of my life as a pageant contestant, titleholder, emcee, judge, choreographer, stage manager and production coordinator. There is virtually no role in the world of pageants that I have not occupied. In the latest barrage of attacks against the women of The View, I’m noticing a common thread of attempting to defend the profession of nursing as a talent. There is no doubt that being good at any job requires talent, including nursing. However, in the context of a pageant it absolutely is not. If a young woman who works as a public defender walked on stage wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, then proceeded to recall a touching client interaction from a recent trial, would that be considered a performance? Would lawyers everywhere go on the defense as pop culture-based talk shows discussed the absurdity of the situation? Let me go one step further. If a classical pianist took the stage and orated about a performance she gave last week, would that speech qualify as her performance? Absolutely not. This crucial judging criteria in a pageant is about displaying a talent in a live performance setting. So unless that nurse or that lawyer walks on stage and helps someone, in real time, in front of that audience, that in no way qualifies as a talent. The narrative she described would have been a wonderful and completely appropriate anecdote for Miss Colorado to include in her personal interview, which she may have also done. The concept of Miss America is based on recognizing exceptional, intelligent, talented, well-rounded young women. Miss Colorado’s nursing background absolutely exemplifies an element of that, but in the context of a pageant with specific areas of competition, that is only one piece, not the whole. If anyone has the right to be upset, it’s her competitors who have spent years perfecting a performance skill, in addition to the undoubtedly noble professions, studies and hobbies they pursue, who lost to someone who did not.

I watched the clip at the center of this firestorm and cannot for the life of me figure out how Joy Behar’s legitimate question or Michelle Collins’ quip, immediately followed by a benign jab at a violin player, was so distortedly misconstrued as a universal attack on the value of nurses. First thing to note: Ms. Behar and Ms. Collins are comedians. Their willingness and ability to channel intelligent sarcasm or tease in an amusing, yet harmless fashion is why they were hired in the first place. In other words, this is what they do and they’re both great at their jobs. Secondly, the comments were clearly directed at a pageant contestant, not a nurse, and yes, in this situation that is an important distinction. Once it became clear their innocuous remarks had taken on a life of their own, the hosts doubled down on clarifying, apologizing and even dedicating a segment to featuring and praising a roomful of nurses. Yet, that wasn’t enough to satisfy the mob mentality desire to crucify a sacrificial lamb and make an example of these evil, nurse-hating television women. For the record, that was sarcasm. I have seen nurses tackling the tagline “Not just a nurse.” If you recall, no one on The View panel ever referred to you as “just a nurse.” Ironically, it was the pageant contestant who discussed her own personal process of devaluing herself and her profession which these proud nurses are referencing. The other piece people just can’t seem to let go of is Joy’s mention of the apparatus around Miss Colorado’s neck as a “doctor’s stethoscope”, as if she was somehow declaring that the beauty queen had no business wearing one simply because she’s a nurse and not a doctor. It couldn’t possibly have been the bigger point of questioning why a beauty queen is on stage in scrubs with a medical tool during a pageant. Again, with the sarcasm. If you watch the clip in context, that was a statement made with such little emphasis on the word ‘doctor’ it may as well not have been said at all. So to form a rallying cry around this minor detail is incredibly far reaching, at best.

The idiocracy with which a simple joke made about a televised talent competition has resulted in the loss of major corporate advertisers, potentially damaging the careers and reputation of these talk show hosts is mindblowing. Nurses play an invaluable role in our lives and I truly don’t believe there is a person in this country that would dispute that. I had the honor of spending several months with many exceptional nurses as I oversaw my own father’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Through that process I became incredibly close to his nursing staff, many of whom suggested I embark on a career in nursing. That career is not meant for me because it takes a special kind of person to consistently tend to the needs of others, specifically in the most demanding situations and under the direst of circumstances. My respect for the profession of nursing is boundless. But my respect for justice is equally as great and in regard to the women of The View, the punishment just doesn’t fit the crime.