The peculiar concept of the “naughty nurse” can be traced back as far as the 1500s, but is never more prevalent than at Halloween, when nurse costumes—whose pricing is usually inversely proportional to the amount of material required to make them—are ubiquitous.
The idea of the sexy nurse has become such a Halloween staple that an Amazon search for “Sexy Nurse Costume” yields more than 10,000 results, ranging from the “Cardiac Arrest Nurse Costume” ($63.50) to the “Say Ahh” costume ($94.86).
But the Quebec group Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (Order of Nurses of Quebec) has had enough of the sexualization of its members, and has partnered with Rethink on what it describes as a “shock” campaign urging Quebeckers to dress up as actual nurses for Halloween, rather than the hyper-sexualized cliché.
In a post on its website entitled “No to the eroticization of the nursing profession!,” the group said that the practice “devalues their profession and their expertise.”
“The choices offered in store or online are scary!” said OIIQ president Luc Mathieu in the post. “The eroticization of the profession is socially and professionally unacceptable. Nurses practice a scientific profession and their expertise must be better known and valued. It is time for perceptions to change.”
While the messaging / video is only running across the OIIQ and Rethink’s owned and operated channels, the campaign—unsurprisingly—has been widely picked up by media outlets across Canada.
The idea was to present the everyday hospital scrubs worn by OIIQ’s more than 82,000 members across the province as an alternative to the sexy nurse costume. While Rethink did create a handful of costumes for the video, they actually aren’t for sale this year, although Mathieu has expressed an interest in making them widely available next year.
According to Slate, Halloween costumes first started to get smutty in the early 1970s, when gay communities adopted the holiday as an occasion to wear “revealing, over-the-top attire” —a trend that was subsequently adopted by the broader public.
In a 2006 New York Times article entitled “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” writer Stephanie Rosenbloom quoted the purchasing director of an online costume store as saying that its sexy costumes were so popular, it had to divide the category into three separate divisions.
The trope has become so pervasive that a study out of the U.K. found that nurses top the list of male sexual fantasies, in part because of the highly sexualized version of the profession presented in TV shows, movies (regular and, er, other), music, etc.
In 2018, the nurse advocacy organization The Truth About Nursing—which has written extensively about the harm caused by the “naughty nurse” stereotype—launched an initiative called “The Coalition for Better Understanding of Nursing” that aims to change the public’s perception of the profession.
One section of the site is exclusively dedicated to how brands such as Disney, Schick and Dentyne have all perpetrated the idea of the sexy nurse in their marketing,