Women and Children

by John Boland

Irish Independent, November 12, 2011

Women who have children not only have the right to go out and get themselves a job – they have an absolute duty to do so. That was the opinion of critic and columnist Emer O’Kelly on It’s Not Personal (RTE1) and, boy, did she tell us about it.

Indeed, in Emer’s view, what she was expressing was much more than an opinion, it was a “deeply-held principle,” and never mind the fact that some women might wish to stay at home and care for their children – they were just plain wrong to harbour, let alone indulge, such feelings.

Never mind, either, that there are hardly any jobs out there for them anymore ( not to mention for their husbands or partners), or the fact that the cost of childcare precludes many women from taking up full-time employment, or indeed that the children might benefit from having a parent at home – these were trivial realities that Emer, pondering her principles, didn’t deign to consider.

The programme was too silly for words. At one point, the filmmakers installed an electronic bawling baby in Emer’s house, though what insights a childless single woman of a certain age might be expected to derive from this experiment remained mysterious – not least to Emer herself, who dimissed the stunt as stupid.

And Emer clearly has no time for stupidity. After talking to a woman who went back to her IT job a year after the birth of her daughter, she lauded her for recognising that “she’s got a damned good brain and a very good education and that it’s important to use them” – unlike couples who couldn’t deal with this work-life divide because they lacked the “mental or emotional ability” to do so.

“Lazy spongers” was her term for women who “don’t play their part in the economy”, though, given this, it was somewhat odd that she didn’t focus at least some of her scorn on single mothers who collect social welfare benefits, but these were never mentioned. Instead, the women who featured were impeccably middle-class, though that didn’t prevent them from being gratuitously insulted.

“Do you not feel humiliated at not having an income?” Emer asked mother-of-six Monica. No, she didn’t, replied Monica. And told by a pregnant woman in an ante-natal class that no outsider could care for a child as well its mother, she declared “You are actually wrong there” before going on to say that all a baby needed was someone to hug it, feed it, change its nappy and “sing to it.” On hearing this, another mother observed “She hasn’t actually had children,” which at that moment had been my own thought exactly.

Asked at the end if her viewpoint had been changed in any way by the women she’d encountered, she chuckled at the notion that “I could be persuaded out of my principles.” For some reason I thought of the Father Ted sketch in which Ted asks Dougal if he’s learnt anything from what has just happened and Dougal, after reflecting for a moment, stoutly responds “No!”

Brian Hayes was the producer-director of this twaddle and he performed the same dual function on Crisis: Inside the Cowen Government (RTE1), a two-parter whose first episode told us nothing we didn’t already know but offered the spectacle of various Fianna Failers trying to distance themselves from the regime that ended last February.

The film’s only interest lay in its soundbites, the most lethal of them emanating from Mary O’Rourke – made even more lethal by being uttered in that sweetly wondering voice of hers. “We always heard of the good speeches he made,” she said of her former leader, “but they were always at things we weren’t at.” Ouch. And a double ouch for “He was very shy, so maybe the drink helped him.”

The Naked Presidential Election (RTE1) announced itself as “the true story” of the recent race for the Park, a story that would be “stripped bare of spin”, but in truth there were no revelations on offer about a motley crew of candidates whose varying foibles had become wearily familiar to us during their two months of intensive campaigning.

It would have worked better as a comedy about seven egos on the rampage, but the makers never even strove for irreverence, and it was left to Fionnan Sheahan and Lise Hand of this paper and RTE’s David McCullagh to provide the occasional much-needed note of sardonic scepticism.

BBC1’s Imagine film, Simon and Garfunkel: The Harmony Game, told the story of the duo’s triumphs in the late 1960s and both men were fascinating about how the various songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water were conceived, written and recorded.

They split up soon afterwards, Simon going on to forge a major career of his own, but they spoke with great warmth about each other. Curiously, though, they were filmed in separate locations and you were left wondering about the current state of a relationship that had started in childhood.

Panel

New to the cast of Love/Hate (RTE1), actress Susan Loughnane opened the drama’s latest season by getting up from bed naked. “I didn’t mind getting my arse out,” she told a newspaper last Sunday. “It made sense and it looks good.” I’m not sure about the sense, but any heterosexual male will testify that it looked good.

A pity, then, that the new series is already looking a bit jaded, or am I the only viewer with a limited tolerance for foul-mouthed Dublin scumbags shooting themselves up and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity?

Those of like mind might opt instead for The Slap (BBC4), an Australian-made adaptation of the bestselling and award-winning novel by Christos Tsiolkas, which chronicles the fallout from the whacking of a child at a surburban barbecue in Melbourne.

I found the novel turgid and somewhat crass and never finished it, but it transfers brilliantly to the small screen and the opening episodes of the eight-part series – each focusing on an individual character – have been riveting.

The performances are superb, most notably from Essie Davis as a TV executive whose life is in freefall and from Jonathan LaPaglia (brother of the more famous Anthony) as the man in mid-life crisis at whose party the fateful slap occurred.

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