Editor of RESET Magazine, Martin Cordiner, questions why a BBC documentary about the pressures on modern family life erased fathers from the discussion.
Most TV programmes these days have titles designed to tell you everything in an instant – The Man with a Cow for a Head, The Woman who Lost a Shoe and Got Fed Up and Went to the Shops etc – but the BBC gave us something with the opposite problem a few nights ago.
Parents Under Pressure (an exploration of why British kids are amongst the unhappiest in Europe presented by news reader Sophie Rayworth) may have been worthy in many ways but should really have been called “Mothers Under Pressure”.
The programme spoke to various parents and kids about the issues facing modern families, and explored possible remedies to foster greater emotional health amongst family members. Unfortunately, during the hour-long programme, we heard from only one father (as compared to about five or six mothers each with individual five minute segments) and that was only as part of a couple, rather than interviewed individually as the mothers were.
To be honest, it was just a bit strange. Either they were making some kind of meta-documentary with a never-mentioned subtext, or they just didn’t see a problem with ignoring fathers.
We heard about the unhappiness of three sisters who never got to spend any time with their parents because they worked too long every day, and how their mother had moved to part time and would be home to greet them from school. She was happier, they were happier. But the father – had he changed his working hours? Did he get a chance to spend extra time with his children? If not how did he feel about that? How did the kids feel about that? Don’t know.
Another mother suffered from post-natal depression, and received counselling to help her deal with the pressure of being a new parent that she felt was all too much. But what about the father, was he understanding? Did he help more? Was he working at the time, at what and for how long hours? Don’t know.
The programme also talked about on-going research looking at possible neurological stimulations that occur in the brain when a parent interacts with their child, but the whole segment used the words “mother” and “parent” almost interchangeably.
Not as in, “this mother’s brain went ping at this point” but as in, “new evidence suggests mothers’ brains react certain ways in response to their child”. So are men’s brains different? Does science feel that the genetic elements of motherhood/fatherhood are possibly so different as to require separate studies? On a genetic level, does the uniquely-female physical relationship of child birth afford mothers some additional link to children over and above that possible for men? Is there any evidence to show it?
Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.
I don’t necessarily think it would have been particularly useful for this programme to have taken a, “this is what it’s like for a mother and this is what it’s like for a father” approach for all these issues, but where were the bloody men? They couldn’t find anyone who had anything interesting or relevant to say?
One of their demonstrated ways of improving children’s happiness couldn’t have been what happens when both parents are equally emotionally engaged with their children? None of this occurred, at any point?
Maybe the programme meant to echo the legal situation, where men’s legal rights to be with their new born children are not equal to those of women. If maternity leave was meant to ensure women didn’t lose out at work as a result of having kids, men are still in a position where they are losing out at home. Maybe the programme meant that, but I doubt it.
Here’s a thought experiment. If the BBC ran a documentary on the traditionally male world of business entrepreneurs, do you think they would interview only men? Not on your life – they’d make absolutely sure the programme showed women were just as capable as men at setting up their own businesses. So why does the corporation not follow through and show men are just as capable and important as women in looking after children?
Instead, the programme reflected another sad problem all too well. We are often told of the negative effects of absent fathers. But here, too, they were also absent. This programme didn’t criticise fathers or blame them, but it did forget and ignore them. Which just might be even worse.