Today is International Nurses Day, and what a year to celebrate them eh?
I have been thinking about Nurses a lot since the release of Banksy's new mural. It clicked on so many levels that I couldn't shut up about it, so following Chris' advice "why instead of keeping telling me about it don't you write about it?" here I am.
We are all living redefining moments, we didn't ask for it and the price we are paying is far too high, but the truth is that we are pivoting as a society and getting some clarity in certain areas. One of these is the definition of a hero, a key worker, a role model.
We have been living so long in a reality in which success was measured by the rules of money and prestige, which (of course) were mostly on male-dominated roles. Feminism has done and is doing an amazing job encouraging women to aim for those roles, trying to break the glass ceilings, the bias, the dream gaps and making very clear that a woman belongs wherever she wants to be, no boardroom is too big, no dream should be unachievable.
One of the important, yet lesser known sides of feminism, is the one where we applaud the female-dominated jobs. Not because women have had to compromise and couldn't make it to the next step, as if it was a ladder, but because their ambitions were always to excel in those very roles. Teachers and nurses are two excellent examples.
If you ask me if women are better suited to be teachers and nurses (and any other caregiving roles) I would say no. Not when they are born. At that moment our differences are more personality-based than gender-based and in a society free of stereotypes, it would likely continue that way. But we are far from an aseptic society; and so it starts the different way we treat boys and girls, the different expectations, the different role models they have, what they see, what they hear, what they grow up assuming as the universal truth.
And so, yes, little girls that are praised for their caring skills and given toys which enhance them, existing in a world (the real one, and the books, and the films...) where those roles are always filled by women, unsurprisingly become women who have developed those skills further, want to use them and choose caregiving jobs. NOTE: we would need a whole other post talking about how gender affects all the jobs that you wouldn't necessarily choose, but because of life circumstances you end up doing anyway.
Ok, moving on swiftly from the above point about how deep-rooted bias affects our choices, let's continue.
There is nothing wrong wanting to be a nurse, not JUST A nurse, but a nurse. There is nothing "just" in being one, in wanting to be one, and it took a global pandemics for the society to start recognising it. Nurses are not one step less than a doctor, they are a complementary health role, with different tasks, challenges and perks.
It was clearly intentional that Banksy's piece of art shows a little boy, the holy grail of expectations, the one that should be dreaming of being the future president of the nation, or a surgeon, and made him choose a FEMALE nurse as a hero. If we were talking statistics, with around 90% of nurses being women, it was the logical thing to do, but allowing a BOY to feel represented by a woman was very meaningful to me.
Girls learn to be ok feeling represented by masculine words and characters, but boys are constantly refrained to do the same with anything feminine. But Banksy's little boy does, he chooses a nurse, not Superwoman that can mimic the same attributes that men learn to like and praise, not a woman with the physical strength that Spiderman and Batman, forgotten in the background (also not a coincidence) mastered. Not even one that is a doctor, because we already agree that they are perceived as prestigious. He chooses a (usually) more forgotten caregiver, he chooses a woman whose superpowers reside in the skills that girls are taught to develop; a woman that heals instead of wounds, that supports and helps.
The painting is not only a thank you to all the nurses (well, I didn't paint it so maybe all my reasoning is completely wrong, but I am talking about what it represents to me and I genuinely doubt that Banksy themselves are going to correct me...), the whole piece of art is demanding a pivot from where society puts their admiration and status. It is showing us a liberating utopia, one that we should aim for after this worldwide attention call.
We need more women wanting to be doctors and presidents of the world, yes, and not by becoming more "masculine" but by using the same skills they develop when expected to be nurses and teachers, the empathy, the communication skills, the patience, the nurturing. But we also need more boys being encouraged to freely identify with all of it so it is stopped being perceived as feminine, and as everything perceived as feminine translated into second class. There is nothing second class in those jobs, in those aspirations, in those superpowers. There is nothing just.
Thank you, nurses, for being in the front lines as you have always been. We celebrate this day in memory of Florence Nightingale who made a massive impact effectively saving lives with a drastic improvement in the death rate in the camps in Crimea War, and later on the conditions of hospitals (She did much more, click the link!). Today is a very well deserved day and she is another sheroe we don't speak enough about.
It is sad how it takes wars and global pandemics to recognise the nurses' importance. Hopefully, we see more girls and boys aspiring to become this kind of hero.