Celebrating our differences to make nursing stronger.
Article Type: Editorial
Subject: Nursing services (Social aspects)
Workplace multiculturalism (Analysis)
Women's issues (Analysis)
Author: De Souza, Ruth
Pub Date: 08/01/2012
Publication: Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032
Issue: Date: August, 2012 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 7
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 301648843
Full Text: I recently spoke about sisterhood at the NZNO women's health section conference (see report, p32). Not that I don't care about men (I do, deeply), but as one of three sisters and as a woman who has worked most of my adult life in a female-dominated profession, relationships between women are of great personal and professional interest.

The women's movement call to action, almost 30 years ago, emphasised sisterhood and demanded the end of oppression and a commitment to women as a social group. However, the movement also raised questions of difference. Many suggested that to understand what women had in common, they also needed to pay attention to what they didn't share, such as race, gender and sexuality. The focus on similarity overlooked important differences; while only focusing on difference led to the "othering" of others, stereotyping and pushing people away.

These questions remain important for nursing, because our differences can make nursing stronger. Understanding our differences can help us better understand our similarities. An important question for nurses is: how can we capitalise on the energy and movement of difference and resist the coercive force of sameness?

One of the challenges is that differences raise critical issues of power, because differences are often institutionalised. The "ideal" nurse is typically female, white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, nice, obedient and nurturing. Nurses who fit the norm experience privilege and those who don't are marginalised. Internationally, women of colour work in practice settings with less prestige, lower wages, less security and less professional autonomy; whereas a disproportionate number of white men and women are ensconced in nursing management, academia and research, their world view supported by the dominance of white, Western, biomedical interpretations of health and illness.

Whiteness is not a colour but "a political definition, which represents historical, political and social privileges of a certain group that has access to dominant structures and institutions of society ..." (1) Political sisterhood is suspect unless "those sisters who enjoy privileges denied to other sisters are seen to share the responsibility of dismantling the differences". (2) The dominance of whiteness and attendant ideas about health and illness are present in New Zealand nursing. But our nursing workforce is undergoing unprecedented change, shifting from a predominance of New Zealand-born Europeans to an increasingly ethnically diverse make-up, dependent on overseas-born migrant nurses. At the same time, Maori and Pacific Island nurses are under-represented in our workforce, while these communities experience the greatest health need.

Given the diversities in nursing and the health inequities confronting our communities, new strategies are needed. I propose moving away from sisterhood--which implies the shared experience of being a woman and experiencing gender oppression--to consider a new metaphor, allowing greater consideration of our differences so we can better articulate our similarities.

For a start, there's friendship--a relationship based on equals who have affection, interest and benevolence for one another. Friendship comes from the word "free"; it means to love, to love our own freedom, and to love and encourage the freedom of the other. Friendship allows us to work in each other's interests, because part of what is compelling is our differences.

The notion of friendship as an alliance within the context of difference can be seen in this brilliant blog post: "Heterosexual people, especially women, owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy ... the boundaries queer people bend and bust, at the risk of their own lives, in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement, for every time they push the envelope, they set a new 'normal'..." (3)

If we are going to use the metaphor of sisterhood, we can use the notion of chosen family or whanau used by LGBTQ communities, which includes people who are a source of love and support, regardless of whether they are biological family. I'd like us to strengthen nursing by strengthening ourselves, creating space for all nurses to come together with our diverse traditions and values, to be united based on solidarity, not sameness. I'd like us to be able to articulate our shared beliefs and practices, while acknowledging how we differ.

I'm proud to be a nurse in New Zealand, I value the shared commitment to caring and to social justice in the shape of cultural safety. I'd like to build on our legacy and see nurses critically examine the values, goals and intents shaping our profession. I'd like us to have challenging conversations about power and privilege, to deconstruct our own classism, racism and homophobia, and to think about recognition and reparation.

"So this is a call for each of you to ... not settle for the safety of pretended sameness and the false security that sameness seems to offer. To feel the consequences of who you wish to be, lest you bring nothing of lasting worth because you have withheld some piece of the essential, which is you". (4)


(1) Kilomba, G. (2010) 'White is not a color'--An interview with author and psychoanalyst Grada Kilomba. www.africavenir.org/de/news-archiv/newsdetails/datum/2010/06/29/ white-is-not-a-color-an-interviewwith-author-and- psychoanalyst-grada-kilomba.html. Retrieved 12/7/12.

(2) Simmonds, F. N. (1997) Who Are the Sisters? Difference, Feminism, and Friendship. In Ang-Lygate, M., Corrin, C. & Henry, M. S. Desperately seeking sisterhood: Still challenging and building; pp19-30. London: Taylor & Francis.

(3) Black Artemis. (2012) Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally. Crunk Feminist Collective. crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/queer-sisters-keep-saving- me-thebrilliantly-selfish-act-of-being-an-ally/. Retrieved 20/7/12.

(4) Crenshaw, K. (1994) Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In Fineman, M. A. & Mykitiuk, R. (eds). The public nature of private violence; p411. New York: Routledge.

* For further references on this subject, contact the author at ruth.desouza@aut.ac.nz.

Ruth De Souza, RN, PGDip (counselling), MA (Nursing), PhD, is a senior nursing lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology.
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