(Wealthy, irritating and stunningly unreflective) Mothers

The first episode of the BBC series Women was well worth watching– because it interviewed a fascinating and engaging collection of important 2nd Wave feminists. (Though it’s been rightly criticised for neglecting black and minority ethnic women). Mothers was clearly designed to be a demonstration of how little has changed in the domestic division of labour. But for such a demonstration to be effective, one really needs a sample with some claim to representativeness. Instead, we got palatial house after palatial house, posh accent after posh accent– all climaxing, to my mind, with the couple who declared that their last row was over “lighting the AGA”. (It’s hard to explain the cultural significance of an AGA to non-UK people. But a British Martha Stewart would love one, and few of her fans would be able to afford one.) Moreover, they were all truly stunningly unreflective– to the point where one looks at the unjust division of labour and eventually thinks “well, you kind of deserve it for being so unreflective about your life. I mean, it’s not like you lack the resources to improve things.” (The worst division of labour, by the way, was in the one family where the mother was the breadwinner. She, unlike the male breadwinners, was totally unappreciative of the work her partner put in. Just shows that anyone can devalue traditional women’s work.) If you watch it, you’ll find yourself wondering where they found these people, and why they chose them. But only for a minute, because then you’ll realise they’re nearly all from the London media world the film-makers clearly move in. Plus a surgeon they must have met a party, and a random academic couple from Lancaster. (Their presence actually was a a bit mysterious. They were also much more reflective. Unfortunately most of their reflections concerned why they chose one form of detergent rather than another.)

Thanks, Mr Jender, for insisting that I “eviscerate this”. If I haven’t done it well enough, do feel free to contribute in comments.

9 thoughts on “(Wealthy, irritating and stunningly unreflective) Mothers

  1. Ha! I was going to write something about this, but as usual, didn’t get round to it, and wasn’t sure I’d have anything sensible to say. I thought the interviews were pretty hilarious. I enjoyed the way the interviewer managed to unearth some spot of real tension in the relationships – as you say, one was the lighting of the AGA, the other one was the shrinking of the cashmere jumpers, the third was the interviewer’s persistent telling-off of the man who didn’t clean the bathtub after he’d used it. Pretty terrible as a study of the post-feminist landscape. Unintentionally good as a window into wealthy surburbanites’ lives.

  2. The thing about lighting the AGA is that, scant minutes earlier, WE JOKED ABOUT THIS. When the interviewer started asking about the distribution of domestic tasks between this very traditional couple, I distinctly remember saying “And he takes the coal to the AGA”.

    Every one of these smug, precious things was insufferable, except, as Jender mentioned, the academic couple. But their obsession–OBSESSION–with different forms of washing powder was indescribably boring. I mean, come on: you take clothing & put it in one machine, then you take it out & dump it into another machine. This does NOT make for riveting conversation.

    Together, all the interviews felt like one big political advertisement: “Unexamined Lives for David Cameron”…

  3. I avoided the programme as I thought it would be too maddening, but just one thing – I don’t think the inclusion of Caroline Gatrell (the Lancaster academic – who I heard it was) is random. She’s done lots of work on motherhood/fatherhood/parenting and a great book called ‘Hard labour: the sociology of parenthood’. The book isn’t just about how little has changed, but more about how individual families are often trying to change but held back by ideologies of the traditional division of labour, the domestic goddess, the lack of support from colleagues and the wider society, etc . But in the sense of random as in ‘why not interview more people like her’? – why indeed. It is such a pervasive feature of the media now – let’s not ask people who have done serious research about the matter under discussion, let’s just ask some bunch of other media types or their mates (or even worse, celebrities). I don’t know why at all!!

  4. Alison, that makes it even worse! There was absolutely no indication that she researched relevant issues, and absolutely no discussion that allowed her to show her knowledge. They had someone who would have had insightful things to say and perhaps said them– but all they used was endless discussion of washing powders.

  5. V. true, J-Bro. But perhaps they like to upgrade on a regular basis. Or perhaps they just really carry a grudge.

  6. It left me incandescent with rage, both at (most of) the women interviewed and at the missed opportunity to show that not all mothers are middle class and straight (and as self-reflective as a stick). More accurate title would have been “Straight, rich, thick, terminally irritating mothers” but I suppose that would have sold less well. I have to say I suspect the interview with the academics was edited to make some point, but it succeeded only in making the one woman who described herself as a feminist look bloody daft. Such a let down after episode 1. Found myself bouncing up and down shouting, “They didn’t DESERVE you!”

  7. On the other hand, I’m not sure if asking Caroline Gatrell about her research would have been relevant. The purpose of the programme was to find out what effect all the theory and earlier second-wave activism has had on women’s lives, if any. So it was surely supposed to focus on the way that women’s lives are actually lived, rather than the way any of them think they should be. If so, then lots of reflection wasn’t called for. Just a thought from Mr. Monkey.

    I saw the third one last night called ‘Activists’, which was about modern feminists. Well, to be more specific, it was about one small group of modern feminists in London. I think the programme producers blew the entire budget on going to the US, and other places round the UK in the first episode. Now they’ve got to stick to places they can reach on London transport :P

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