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Jul 11

KITTENS are cute.

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kittenWhat? A RANT about kittens? Who on earth would rant because everyone thinks kittens are cute?? You know what other things are cute? Babies. Yes indeed, babies are cute. Puppies too. Who can resist melting and saying awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww….ADORABLE!! You know what’s NOT cute? My mom. She’s been called feisty, funny, stubborn, charming, independent, irritating, opinionated…even downright difficult. But my Mom,before or after she became aged and developed dementia, WAS NEVER CUTE. And God help anyone who called her that! Now, my darling Mom is in long term care. She is cared for by health care aids, LPNs and RNs, and I know that these good people have tough jobs. The other day, I was there as two well-meaning caregivers assisted my mother from her wheelchair to the toilet. She was looking over one of their shoulders at me, with those laser-blue eyes of hers, as they talked to her… “OK honey…that’s it sweetie…you can just sit down now…that’s a good girl” and I watched my mother’s eyes draw into angrier slits with each endearment. She still has a pretty sharp tongue, and she retorted “will I get a lolly pop if I am really good?” to which the response was “Oh Mary you’re so cute”…oh boy…first of all, when we were kids…we cleared out when Mom’s eyes got slitty like that…and second of all…NOT CUTE. I closed my eyes and prepared for the response, but when I looked up, mom just looked straight ahead. Had she forgotten the episode already? Maybe. Or was she just resigned to the indignities of her age, her disease, and her situation? Once she was comfortable again, I left her for a moment and asked to speak to each of the caregivers–not to bawl them out, just to try and help them understand how their intended terms of endearment had indeed had the opposite effect, they diminished rather than endeared…embarrassed rather than embraced. They seemed to understand, but I see this behavior repeated over, and over again. Academic literature dubs it “infantilization”. I call it the “cute baby” effect…or maybe the “kitten effect”.

You know who else is not cute? Nursing students. What I mean is, they aren’t cute just because they are nursing students. This hit me just the other day, as I sat in a meeting with a number of very experienced nurses, and a few nursing students. One of the students, an erudite young woman, spoke with a point of view that ran counter to the view in the room. She demonstrated critical thinking, and confidence. All good. An RN sitting next to me (who is an excellent nurse, and well-liked by the students), turned to me, smiled an indulgent smile and whispered “that’s cute eh? Out of the mouths of babes…!) Yikes…CUTE?? BABES?? It occurred to me that this must have been what it was like to be in a meeting full of men in the 50’s, and be the woman in the room with a contrary view. I know that I am not the first to observe this form of ‘reverse discrimination’, and to note its demeaning and disrespectful message–I just never connected it to nurses relating to nursing students before–it was a surprise to me. What’s more, I need to add that in this particular case, the student, while articulate and confident, was in error (she didn’t have all the information). Yet, others in the room were reluctant to challenge her thinking because of this “kitten effect”; they didn’t want to hurt her feelings! Oh my.

Have you seen this “kitten effect” in action? Have you been on the receiving end of this kind of condescension? I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for letting me rant!

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