The Archers: Dodgy sexual politics in Ambridge?

Listening to The Archers omnibus this morning, I found myself getting increasingly incensed by the appalling mothering of Kate and loony behavior of pregnant Helen, having a right old go at a bewildered Tony, as she threw her metaphorical steriliser out of the pram (and since I imagine she plans to breastfeed, I was confused that she even bought one, especially since it sounded, via radio, to be bewilderingly huge). I even tweeted about it.

Then a friend, and fellow omnibus listener called, and said how cross she was that the writers are ‘presenting women facing difficult choices’ as being so crap and so mad. ‘Oh bloody hell yes, it’s not real,’ I reminded myself hastily, and deleted the draft emails to Social Services.

So I contacted the Diva of Archers blogs, Qwerty, (and the reason, after a ten-year absence, that I even listen to the show again) who gave me permission to trespass on her regular Pauseliveaction patch and have a rant. Please bear in mind I’m not as regular or attentive a fan as her.

But this morning, after pausing for thought, I did feel my friend has a point. Helen and Kate are characters created by the writers of the Archers, and hells teeth, if you cease to be annoyed by how whiny, selfish, narcissistic, passive-aggressive and ghastly they both are and remember we are hearing the voices of actors, speaking lines written for them, you do start to wonder if there is some misogyny afoot.

The character of Helen (or ‘Hell-en’, as Qwerty calls her) is pretty unrelentingly unlikable. Could we not have an over-arching storyline about either her, or single parenthood, that does not start from the basis that someone choosing to have a baby on their own is not stark staring bonkers and thoroughly unpleasant to boot?

I know this is supposed to be a traditional, conservative rural community, but I’m still hacked off that, when Brian Aldridge brought home the child of his dead mistress, Jenny not only had to put up with the humiliation, she also seems to do all of Ruairi’s childcare.

Then we’ve got the gruesome Kate, the most careless mother in the world, leaving her offspring willy nilly across the globe, all of whom are distraught at her inability to keep her children on one continent at the same time.

Come on Archers writers, will you stop writing storylines that kick women in the teeth? Can we muster something good, positive, constructive? If you need a really good example of a show where women, and particularly older women (Candice Bergen as Shirley Schmidt), are written fabulously well, with lots of character, lots of power, lots of sex and chutzpah, go and watch Boston Legal. Then do please, buck up.

Posted by Inkface              (more Archers reviews/rants here)


Filed under The Archers

6 responses to “The Archers: Dodgy sexual politics in Ambridge?

  1. Qwerty

    Bravo Inky! Quite marvellous, and true. (Esp the bit where you describe me as the Diva of Archers blogs.) I can honestly say I have never thought about it in this way before, because of course I believe they are all real and as such are untouched by the hand of institutionalised misogyny. But if they are not real (and I’m just saying *if*, I’m not sure), then you have raised my consciousness much as Germaine did back in the day.

    That said, Helen and Kate are still really annoying.

  2. inkface

    I know. Far too much like hard work, thinking about it this way tho’. Won”t happen again. It’s only in the company of my erudite friend (who admitted she herself had been listening to the omnibus in bed yelling at the ghastly duo until the music came on and she woke out of the Archers trance, remembering, until the next time, that she’s a serious feminist academic) that I can ‘step outside’ that world and comment on it myself.

  3. sohcahtoa

    Well said. I sometimes wonder whether feminism (even in its broadest, most non-specific sense) has passed the scriptwriters by completely. Remember the reaction of Kirsty – usually one of the more feisty, fun, independent female characters – to Helen’s pregnancy: ‘Helen the career girl turned Helen the mum!’ I’m not sure whether the dated stereotype of a ‘career girl’, the implication that Helen has a fabulous career (er, she runs her parents’ shop, nothing wrong with that of course, but it’s hardly breaking the glass ceiling), or the idea that motherhood, when it comes, will solely define a woman’s identity, is worse.
    To your examples above I’d also add Vicky: in some ways she’s quite the entrepreneur (cutting deals with Joe Grundy, investing in Mike and Ed’s dairy business) but is generally portrayed as inept and insufferable, and incapable of understanding the workings of business (as in the case of the veal calves).

  4. sohcahtoa

    P.S. Having read your previous post on The Archers, I was reminded of Sabrina Thwaite. The recurring ‘joke’ about her being attractive, unintelligent and in possession of a rich husband isn’t the slightest bit funny, though it might have been c. 1974.

  5. De-lurking here (about time, too! Have been enjoying my visits) to wonder if the production team really wanted or needed to inflict shockhorror widowhood on Lizzie. I wasn’t exactly a fan, but always derived enjoyment from hearing someone demonstrating superb management skills. Rare enough in real life, just as are happy and successful marriages. So it was a treat (+ strangely comforting) to hear both portrayed – and so well. Surely that made LP a sound role model of sorts? Or am I just another redundant corporate saddo (rhetorical q ;-))?
    Now Lizzie’s a victim, joining a long line of others – as your post so eloquently suggests. It does seem that victimhood is the only possible part a female character may play in a dramatic plotline, according to this producer. Disheartening, not to mention dreary listening.

  6. inkface

    Hello Minnie! How delightful it is that you have revealed yourself to us, and most welcome you are. I’m not the attentive listener that Qwerty is (who normally does Archers blogs here), but it may help that I’m not, because I might notice the odd thing that the regulars wouldn’t necessarily stop and think about. Presumptuous perhaps, since Qwerty is very observant. But I wonder if, since the show has been going for 6 billion years, the writers themselves don’t stop to take a step back and look at what they’re doing, in terms of gender politics or whatever. It seems lazy and careless to my way of thinking, going along with such stereotypes.