Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nurses as Objects in Comics: Joe Yank 12 - "The Battle of the Sexes"

Joe Yank was an early 50s Standard title of a kind of war comedy genre. Private Joe Yank and Sgt. Mike McGurk are the two main characters. I just acquired this comic, but I'm using pages from the scan available in the Digital Comic Museum. In this story, "Battle of the Sexes" by Ross Andru, we have a perfect example of image discrimination coupled with sexist exploitation of the female form. You'll also note the misleading cover, which depicts a scene that is not part of the actual story. What happens is McGurk gets hospitalized, and in the ward he encounters a nurse who doesn't fit the usual comic book stereotype of the pinup. With little else to do, and with a score to settle with Joe Yank, McGurk hatches a plan to make the Private experience some serious discomfort. He exploits the plain nurse's eagerness to find a man, and her unattractive features, to carry out his scheme.

Joe Yank turns up at the hospital to visit McGurk, and his first encounter with the nursing staff feeds his expectations, based on the kind of nurse image typically promoted by the male mind indulging in fantasy. This softens Joe Yank up for McGurk's ruse, and he buys it, hook, line, and sinker.

Joe Yank goes on his date, only to find he's been had. All he can think of from the moment he  meets the man-hungry homely nurse is how to get away, and in the end he has to resort to some extreme measures.

I know it's a comedy designed most likely for male military readers, but I can't help feeling that there's something not right about the way the unattractive woman is made fun of and is also humiliated. Not all women and not all nurses look like Marilyn Monroe.

Kind of an unusual nurse tale that raises some interesting questions about attitudes towards women in the early 1950s.


  1. KB, maybe I'd agree with you more if I hadn't had to go through watching '70s, '80s and '90s British TV with my sister and, later, various female friends putting 2 fingers down their throat every time some "fat dirty disgusting greasy sweat stain of a blob" male walked on screen, (pretty much any bloke not thin as a pipe cleaner).

    Yet whenever the "fat dirty disgusting greasy sweat stain of a blob" happened to be female, somehow they magically metamorphecised into apparitions of unspeakable beauty, victims of a world filled with "the complete bastards all men are" for refusing to be attracted to women simply "a little over weight" by twenty or so stone.

    Even Nurse Beaste insists any potential beau must have money saved, prospects of a good job when he returns to civilian life and, aboveall, be tall and good looking!

    Even though I'm barely five foot four, I ended up having two much taller gorgeous kids thanks to their mother being five foot eleven, beautiful and thirteen years younger than me.

    But apparently I wouldn't be good enough for Nurse Beaste!

  2. I don't know if you are a fan of Glee, KB, but interestingly the lady gym teacher is named Coach Bieste, though pronounced Beast as in this tale.

  3. borky: your observations are very astute. Of course, it's another stereotype, and the subject of many a comedy routine, that the ultra-homely female is paradoxically extremely picky regarding males, apparently not lacking in self-esteem despite her features which handicap her in the relationship market where looks are considered of paramount importance. So in a sense it's a double whammy for any 'less attractive' woman, to be ridiculed for her appearance and also for probably not fully recognizing that she lacks appeal according to the societal 'norms'.

    Comics are big users of stereotypes, because they enable rapid connection with the readers. The male characters are not exempt. Joe Yank, the soldier, for instance, is typically ultra sexist, completely objectifying women, his hormones blazing out of control. It's a general stereotype of young men, but especially those in certain categories (e.g. construction workers, soldiers, etc.). What's the impact of this stereotype on young men who are not inclined towards this kind of behavior? To what extent does it impel some men to behave in this way?

    Jacque: yes I'm a Glee fan, although I've missed some of the new series. I'd say the cheerleader coach, Sue Sylvester's unassailable confidence in her own self-efficacy, and her pathological self-esteem, could even be diagnosed as narcissistic personality disorder. Despite getting slapped down sometimes (like in the episode with Olivia Newton John), any resultant humility is very short-lived. Yet she's a tragic figure - the woman successful at what many would consider a second-tier career and still unloved and lonely. So there's the harmful stereotype - the career woman sacrifices love and family for her work, so her achievements, in the end, are shown as hollow, and she becomes an object of ridicule. You could even say the stereotype extends to her being on the less attractive side, so she had no option but to pursue a career, and that hollow career is evidence of or confirms her unattractiveness.