Rise of the hidden gender

28th November 1997 at 00:00
CHANGING ROLES OF WOMEN AND MEN. BBC2 2.00-4.00am November 28.

The roles of men and women have changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Many of the changes have been well documented; the rise of the women's movement, for example, has received extensive media coverage, and there has been a spate of programmes recently on such issues as single parents on benefits, the difficulties of finding childcare, and the problems facing dual-career families. Changing Roles of Women and Men is a collection of clips from a variety of sources - news bulletins, chat shows and documentaries - linked by themes such as work, family and equality.

Much of the first section on women's lives since the end of the Second World War covers familiar territory. Scenes from the excellent Out of the Doll's House series show how the women who took the chance to do paid work were forced back into the home after the war with the closure of state-supported nurseries (one mother reports hers closing in the very week victory was declared).

In the 1950s girls were educated as wives and mothers; clips from newsreels show secondary modern pupils doing housework in the school flat, entertaining a male visitor at a tea party, and bathing a pretend baby. Then came the 1960s with the Pill, family planning clinics (for married women only - an upper-class receptionist is seen inquiring sweetly for the exact date of the nuptials before referral to the doctor), and a booming economy that brought full employment for both sexes.

The 1990s show a more sombre Britain: there are moving interviews with redundant male steel workers trying to adapt to a life without work; a working-class househusband and former boxer admitting his difficulties in maintaining his macho image when out with the baby; a group of lads explaining that they played up in class in order to impress their mates. Under-achievement in boys is suddenly newsworthy; they talk wistfully about disappearing apprenticeships whilst their female classmates speed off to university. Finally, there is an all too brief look at the "girl power" phenomenon epitomised by the Spice Girls, and the arrival of 100 women MPs at Westminster. Will this herald a new era of equality and confidence, or will the glass ceiling remain intact?

The vast amount of material - excerpts from Esther and Good Morning with Anne and Nick follow interviews with academics and psychologists - should provide plenty of scope for discussion.

Elaine Saunders

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