An interesting article here about Peaky Blinders from the viewpoint of discussions I’ve had earlier with various people about whether or not it can be described as a work of art which presents an overwhelmingly male face or whether it puts women front and centre. And no, I still haven’t watched any of it, but this article (see link at bottom) does a great job of summing up my concerns. It’s from the finance section of yesterday’s Guardian and for me it really points up the issue: is it a series primarily about and for men, or is it a series equally about and for women?
Now, I entirely accept that if you’ve watched it it’s a series which is equally about men and women, which includes numerous strong female characters and storylines about those characters. But the vast majority of people who are aware of Peaky Blinders as a cultural phenomenon will be like me and won’t have watched it. And what will those people see? Based on the information in this article, they’ll see a TV series primarily about men: men’s clothing, men’s grooming, drinks with men’s faces on them, a famous male footballer, a floor to ceiling mural of a male character played by a male actor (who is the only actor from the series name-checked in the article). It’s not exactly gender equality (and if you’re black or trans, up yours bigly, you have no place here at all). It’s revealing to me because it shows what the companies concerned think will sell – the image the show is promoting which the fans want a part of, in other words. And that image is overwhelmingly male.
Oh, but wait, that’s business, which is sexist anyway – that’s not the show! Well, is it? If you’ve seen the show, it’s possibly different (I can speak for my friends who’ve seen it, but not for the rest of the viewers). My strong suspicion though is that that difference doesn’t permeate through to the outside world, who far outnumber those who’ve seen the show. As an example, for the past two weeks I’ve walked to the tube in the mornings past a massive billboard on a main road advertising Peaky Blinders. The picture is a piece of fan art showing a man’s head in a peaked cap in anguished shades of purple and red. It’s one of the pieces of fan art chosen by the BBC to advertise the new season. You can see all of them here. Most of the people who see this billboard won’t have seen the show, and the impression they’ll get is that it’s a show about men.
But it’s not all about men, cry those who’ve seen it! Isn’t it? Go back to the link I just posted to the BBC exhibition of the fan art they, the show’s creators, have chosen to advertise it, and have a count of the number of those images which portray men and the number which portray women. Count again. Nope, you didn’t get it wrong the first time.
Now, I don’t know why that is; whether it reflects the gender divide of the pieces which were submitted (my guess would be that it does, based on extensive research*), or whether it reflects the bias of those who chose the images, or whether whoever chose the pieces were looking for those which reflect the image of the show they want to project to the outside world and which they think will attract the most viewers. Whichever way it is, it reflects a world which is divided 87% white men, 13% white women, 0% BAME/trans. (If you wanted to be REALLY REALLY charitable you could say, based on the fact that three characters are portrayed and one is a woman, it’s 66% white men, 33% white women, but personally I’d only accept that version if there were five pictures of Polly, and there aren’t).
And why is this important? It’s important because the things we see around us on a daily basis help us to make sense of the world and both reflect and create the world we live in. If those things appear to support a worldview in which the vast majority of people are white men, then we believe that the world is primarily about white men, and that feeds through into the way we behave and the way we regard others. Women become subsidiary characters in men’s stories, which feeds through into real life in so many many ways.
I entirely accept that if you’ve watched it, Peaky Blinders is about women equally as much as it’s about men. But the face it presents to the world and to those who haven’t taken the time to view it, is an overwhelmingly white male face. And sadly, that’s the way things are in the real world as well – in order not to be biased, we have to make a deliberate effort and take time and trouble. We think of a board director, or a manager, or a CEO, as a white man, and then we have to make a concerted effort to think differently, via D&I initiatives and unconscious bias training, to enable us to see the world differently and to support, promote and employ people in those roles who aren’t white men. It’s difficult, and uncomfortable, and often irritating, because it takes effort and thrusts us outside our comfort zone. Meanwhile, a cultural phenomena like Peaky Blinders is confirming via its advertising and monetisation that our subconscious, and therefore comfortable, view of the world as primarily a world of white men is correct, rather than encouraging and supporting our efforts to change by showing a more diverse vision of the world.
So, sorry, Peaky Blinders, guilty as charged of gender bias. Nul points. And no, I still haven’t watched it, but maybe that allows me as an outsider to see more clearly the face it presents to the world at large. “O wad some power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!” A great man, that Rabbie Burns……
*a quick Google image search on Peaky Blinders fan art, hem hem.
Peaky Blinders fever: from David Beckham-backed clothing to a two-day festival