Any other Archers’ listeners out there? Anyone else supremely irritated with the Helen-turning-into-Stepford-wife scenario? Anyone else tempted to scream at the radio (or ipad): no full-time carer of a three-year-old is ready to drop everything to pander to needs of hubby (or fiancé, in this case) at a moment’s notice, at any time, except, if they’re lucky, after 9pm?
Where was that three-year-old, as Helen was preparing trout to order at 30 minutes notice last night? Why was he not tired, fractious, somewhere in the background, resisting his bath and demanding attention? (Did he also get trout for dinner?) Why was the place suddenly even more spotless than usual, how did Helen find time to tidy and polish the dresser, at last, before hubby (in this case fiancé) got home? What house with a three year old in it, especially one no longer at nursery, is ever spotless and tidy? Why does the scriptwriter think Helen suddenly and easily has time to do all these things JUST BECAUSE SHE IS NO LONGER AT WORK?
It’s that old dichotomy: paid work is real work, unpaid work is, well, not really work, just a sort of optional hobby. Even if it’s old-fashioned housework. Even if it’s childcare involving pre-schoolers. Who actually does that nowadays, I hear the scriptwriters chorus, apart from our poor, duped Helen?
No prizes for guessing where this storyline is going. There’s Helen, victim of an untold number of past traumas, a supremely vulnerable single mother. There’s Rob, the improbable man of her dreams, who clearly has a few nasty skeletons Helen is resolutely refusing to see. There’s Helen’s “feminist” mum Pat, railing to her own long-suffering hubby about Rob’s sinister influence on their daughter, inducing her to give up work to focus solely, nominally, on her child, but actually (see above) on him. Cue for a drawn out exposition of an encroachingly manipulative, increasingly abusive relationship, probably non-violent, but which may reach a violent climax. Pat will be vindicated, Helen, probably, catapulted into another bout of depression/anorexia. Rob will disappear in disgrace. As for Henry, the three-year-old? He’ll disappear too, conveniently, for a while, as Archers children always do whenever heavy-handed plots require it of them.
Or so I’m guessing. But to be honest, I’m so pissed off with this part of the equation I don’t really care. It’s so old-fashioned, so limited, to see Paid Work as the feminist holy grail, and the principle demand on a modern-thinking mother’s time and energy. In fact, many middle-class mothers view the office as a place they go to recoup from the chaos and drudgery of home life, drudgery they can afford to outsource. At the office, at least, they have some choice, or at least set routine, about when to go for a wee, or a sandwich. At the office, they share responsibility for the enterprise’s outcome with a whole team of capable colleagues. At the office, they enjoy some basic human rights.
And as for Pat’s feminism – well-meaning as she clearly is, no feminism is ever really going to cut through traditional Daily-Mail prejudice while it fails to acknowledge the vast amounts of unpaid work most of us do. No feminism can afford to neglect the fact that in many many cases, the hardest workers of all in our and many other societies are not the “career-women”, but those, overwhelmingly female, who are grafting round the clock without ever ‘earning’ an actual penny, just keeping their households and families on track (benefit scroungers, anyone?). This storyline just brushes all that under the carpet again – most infuriatingly, in the name of feminism itself. If I didn’t trust Radio 4 a little better, I’d suspect it was a Daily-Mail inspired set-up, using “feminist” Pat to remind us, cleverly, how out of touch with real women’s lives “feminism” is and always was. Instead of which, I’m giving The Archers’ scriptwriters the benefit of the doubt. They’re not actually being malicious here, just rather dim, and clearly not carers of three-year-olds.