Politics isn’t the only thing that makes strange bedfellows. For the sake of her vampire cop brother, Nora O’Donnell has agreed to carry out two assignments from the very same vampire who “turned” her brother. In doing so, she finds out just how strange bedfellows can be. For the strangeness creeps even into her own bedroom . . . in chapter 29 of Martha’s Children.
What we’re reading by Nora are actually extracts from her diary of those days in 1969. (How it is we happen to have them will eventually be explained. Well, mostly.) Nora takes for granted certain things which may not be familiar to readers today. In this chapter, she mentions that she was a candy striper. For those of you who don’t know, candy stripers were young girls, typically in high school, who did volunteer work at hospitals. They wore red-and-white striped jumpers, hence the name. I didn’t know this until I just looked it up, but the uniform and name comes from an East Orange, New Jersey high school project with the local hospital in 1944.
Candy stripers helped keep hospitals going. We owe them thanks for their volunteer service. That said, it’s a pity the program relied so much on a gender stereotype. This was what young girls were supposed to do: human service work for no pay. That was going to be the rest of their lives, after all, being wives, mothers, and volunteer workers for noble causes.
It appears that as gender stereotypes changed, candy striper programs went into decline. In many quarters they have abandoned the jumper, and have become simply “hospital volunteers.” Thanks to the old stereotypes, the term “candy striper” has become one of ridicule in some quarters, satire in others, and a subject for sexual humor as well. In fact, when I went looking for an image of a candy striper, it was a lot harder to find authentic images of working candy stripers than it was to find pictures of women dressed in sexually suggestive modifications of the original outfit.