A good friend of mine, and one of those most excellent men who are also feminists, commented yesterday that the reason that Peaky Blinders isn’t about the period during the First World War when Helen McCrory’s character ran the gang is because Peaky Blinders is about the post traumatic stress disorder suffered by the men who returned from the war. Which is true, and a fair point. But my own point also still stands, which is that someone, presumably the writer and commissioning editor, made a choice about which story to tell. And they chose to tell a story about men. They could equally well have chosen to tell a story about women, but they didn’t, and I suspect that the reasons I listed yesterday are accurate.
This is not, of course, to say that Steven Knight and whoever bought his idea thought consciously that women were boring, men wouldn’t watch them, and that gender discrimination* should be the order of the day; I’m sure they didn’t. But I think they did tend to believe, probably without even being really conscious of it, that stories are generally about men, with men at their centre and women reacting to the men, because that is what our society teaches us.
Which leads me on to another thought which has been buzzing round my head recently; the reason why some TV series and films are so insanely popular. Take Sex and the City, for instance. When it first came out, I loved it, and commented to a chum that it was the first TV show I’d ever seen that reflected my life. She laughed, and pointed out that I didn’t live in New York or wear designer clothes or hang out in insanely fashionable bars and restaurants. Which was true. But equally, as a single professional woman I didn’t spend my time in a nuclear family either, or as a male detective or time-traveller, or drilling for oil. I was overwhelmed with joy to see women on screen, the heroes of their own stories, hanging out with their mates, as I did. The same went for Friends, which was strictly gender equal. Mamma Mia, although an excellent musical and film in its own right, I’m sure succeeded so wildly because middle aged women were just so overwhelmed to see themselves depicted positively on screen, rather than as the usual mother figures or bunny boilers, mad, sad and dangerous to know. Call The Midwife is an excellent series, but its vast popularity probably has as much to do with women being delighted to be able to watch a bunch of other women doing stuff in their own right rather than in relation to men, as to the quality of the drama.
* Other forms of discrimination are available. Sadly. Not to mention the whole shitty swamp of intersectionality, which is why you so rarely see dramas starring a black lesbian detective in a wheelchair, although there seems to be endless space for white able-bodied cis male detectives.