Posts Tagged ‘documentary’


I know, blogs are meant to be a bit of crack, but I fancy a little rant.

This BBC Four documentary had my toes curling this week. I hadn’t seen the earlier episode – I think it dealt with the rise of the women’s movement (“charting the history” probably) – but thought the trailer was encouraging. It turned out to be the high point, though, as Vanessa Engle’s interviews with a selection of comfortably-off couples with children revealed  just about enough of the nature of modern feminism to coat the bottom of a shot glass. 

Kicking off with Mr and Mrs Surgeon, the missus works long hours and has a 7 to 7 nanny, offering some good opportunities for trap-for-heffalump questions (When does your daughter get up? 7… When does your daughter go to bed? 7…), whip, whip. More traps for the cheerful stay-at-home-mother with spreadsheets for the weekly meals and a daily timetable along the lines of well on a Wednesday I might do errands. (Do you feel like a 1950s housewife? errrm…), whip, whip. The same questions were rattled off the script to each lot: are you a feminist, who does the laundry, who works harder, is this an equal partnership? 

There was a nice couple of academics, working in the same university, who seemed quite copped-on, but whose segment endlessly focused mainly on who had chosen to use those squashy balls of detergent for the family laundry –  they politely allowed the interviewer to flog this topic raw and fruitless.  A less tedious angle on them would have been – for example – whether they are paid equally by the university, or whether their career progression fell out of step in any way after their children arrived. Similarly, with the stay-at-homes, the programme didn’t consider the fact that the choice to stay at home existed because the husband (and in one instance the wife) was earning a sufficient amount to support everyone. What happens to that choice if the high earner changes his or her mind, or strikes up a new relationship, or goes off round the world on a shiny new motorbike, or otherwise ditches this previously shouldered responsibility? What level of choice exists then – so to what extent is the choice enabled by the relationship rather than by society? How does the state of dependency affect the relationship or the woman’s sanity? 

The programme looked at the relationships were looked at from points of division rather than unity – that might explain the currents of tension crackling between some of the couples, which (Jeremy Kyle-style) is what really kept me from flicking over to Cops with Cameras. It was equally excruciating watching one couple questioned about whether the stay-at-home-wife cleaned her lawyer husband’s bath (implicit, that he was a pig for not doing it, and she a mug for doing it), and another questioned about whether the stay-at-home-husband shrank his illustrator wife’s cashmere jumpers (implicit, that a man couldn’t even do laundry properly, and that a woman could not be properly supported by a man at home). In fact all the women who went out to work were presented as mugs for doing the lion’s share of the domestic work as well as bringing home the bacon. I thought the most sense was talked by one working woman who said, Look – we have children and we both like our jobs, we can’t have it all so we have to make some compromises. And I think this is what most people do, surprise, surprise. That’s not where the battle has to be fought, though. The state of modern feminism is not adequately explored by the fact that in economically and educationally privileged families (we had lawyers, IT workers, Oxford graduates, docs) some women choose to work and some choose to stay at home. What needs to be looked at are issues around closing the gender pay gap, empowering (sorry) women to remove themselves from domestic violence or abuse, enabling women to go out to work without being financially dependent on someone else, addressing the objectification of women (and increasingly, little girls), and looking at whether those women who are socially or economically disadvantaged have the same luxury of choice as this lot do. 

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