I had dinner with four Uni friends last night, who I met when we were all mature students some twenty years ago, all women and all very much my kind of women – bright, intelligent, funny, with a great work ethic, good appetites, and in favour of a decent drink. Some of us hadn’t seen each other for several years, we spent time trying to pin down exactly when we last met, between 5-9 years. It didn’t matter, we carried on where we had left off during our last meal in exactly the same restaurant, quickly catching up with each other’s lives, families, jobs, partners, we ate and drank, and our carriages arrived a bit before midnight. Actually, I was parked around the corner.
Yesterday afternoon, during a half hour writing break, I watched a comedy drama on BBC Four, called A Civil Arrangement with the very agreeable and now silver-haired Alison Steadman. SPOILER ALERT. She played the mother of the bride. The bride was gay. The wedding a civil partnership. It was basically a monologue, though other characters dropped in and out silently. I know it wasn’t based in a big city, but in the provinces, and I know not everyone is okay with having a lesbian in their family, especially, as I am constantly reminded by people who live in the provinces, people who live outside London (actually there are quite a few inside London who have problems too). I did think it would have worked better on radio, then discovered it had been on radio, and possibly also in the theatre, and now it was getting its TV airing. I read one review prior to watching, actually the review made me want to watch, before that, I didn’t much care to see it. I knew it would be full of stereotypes and I knew I would be angry. I did laugh, some of it was very funny, and Alison Steadman always delivers, but my anger began when the soon-to-be daughter-in-law emerged in leathers and on a motorbike and continued where lesbians were portrayed as having no sense of humour. I can be very funny, quite often, really, I can. Then, after Alison Steadman and her brand new daughter-in-law have a snog at the wedding (the whole way through there are gradual suggestions that Alison Steadman’s character is falling in love with the wonderful Janis), they end up having an affair. It ended with Alison Steadman in leathers (and very lovely she was too) and her daughter-in-law waiting by her motorbike, no doubt to be taken off to Hebden Bridge for the weekend or Lesbos. I’ve never been to Lesbos. I have been to Hebden Bridge, but only en route to another location.
There were some lovely father/daughter, mother/daughter moments, especially when the father refused to go to the wedding, as he could not cope with it, and then, just as Alison Steadman had offered her daughter her arm, the father appeared all jolly and smiling and at peace with it all (see, miracles do happen), and the mother was left, alone. I loved that, it was true and sad and honest. What I didn’t love was the fact that yet again, lesbians were written and highlighted in a way anyone of ethnic origin was written about in the seventies, as stereotypes and usually the punchline to a weak joke.
I know I bang on about it, but banging creates noise and noise creates change, and those who remain silent, do nothing. If I wrote a Black or Asian character being depicted in the way lesbians usually are, I would (rightly) be reprimanded.
When will we start to see lesbians being written as women, not as ‘other’ to women? In case you hadn’t noticed, we are women, we do what other women do, we just happen to like other women in a way our other women friends don’t – actually I reckon quite a lot of them do, but would never admit it, or have, but would never say. When can we just be women, and not have our own TV series where we are other to the rest of the world, where we live in a ghetto, where we either have to be killed or kill ourselves or move away, or live with a dark secret, or marry a man? When will we just be? The inspirational David Simon (The Wire, Treme) writes women like me brilliantly, because he doesn’t make a big deal out of the fact that they are gay and the whole plot does not revolve around the fact that they are gay. As Stonewall’s apt tee shirt says – Some people are gay, get over it.
This comedy drama also made the need for equal marriage and equal civil partnership, more urgent, so that we can start to see weddings and civil ceremonies in comedies and dramas, with same-sex or opposite sex couples, and not separate one from the other. As long as we are kept separate we will stay separate. If you want to stay separate, that’s another matter, I don’t. So let’s stop reinforcing that all people who live in the suburbs or provinces can’t cope with anyone who is ‘other’, and give them a little more credit. They are not all right-wing homophobes.
My blogs are usually driven by some kind of anger with the world, and this one is no exception. I wasn’t sure how to start the blog, what to say exactly, but after dinner with my Uni friends last night, I realised that not one of us had used the word gay or lesbian. I was talked to and about just like the others, I was not made out to be different by my heterosexual women friends, because that’s not how they see me and not how I see myself, because I am a woman, just like them. The only difference for me was that I don’t have children, and the rest of them do. But that is another story and another blog and has nothing to do with me being gay.
For now, see me as a woman and a writer, who is very often quite funny.
8 thoughts on “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar (thanks Helen Reddy)”
Please know that I definitely see you as a woman and a writer and sometimes you have been known to be funny . Liked the article. Have a nice day x
Wonderfully said 🙂 xo
I am gay, and fully understand the need to keep equality moving forward. But for me, this play wasn’t about being gay. It was about a middle-aged put-upon woman not giving in to the expectations about her age. It was about a stroppy, rude, ungrateful teenage (well, she seemed like a teenager) daughter. Lets not even mention the husband…
I am also 50, and for me this was a gentle ‘boundary breaker’ for older women, with a backdrop of a very ordinary, commonplace (that’s a triumph) Civil Partnership.
Hi Kerry, good to hear your response, thank you. You’re right, the daughter did appear to be more like a stroppy teenager, but as the characters never spoke (yes, I know they acted) we were never allowed to know what they thought, just what Alison Steadman’s character told us they said or thought. Talking Heads it was not. The husband…hum…yes let’s leave him…
For me, there is much to be written about and for the more mature woman, but this wasn’t it. There were glimmers of recognition for me, as I said the father/daughter mother/daughter dynamics rang true in part…but that was about it.
But v glad to have a difference of opinion. I appreciate the feedback.
I’m also over 50, a gay writer, have very strong political awareness and I have to say I loved this short film. This story wasn’t about politics or political correctness. Yes there were stereotypes, but there are stereotypes all around us in life.
I saw it as the story of the emotional awakening of an unhappy middle aged, suburban woman and it’s told completely from her perspective in life. That’s why no one else speaks.
If you look at it with this in mind it becomes a beautiful, life-affirming and lovely story. It was perfectly cast and Alison Steadman played her part with wonderful humour, subtlety and sensitivity.
Thanks for this response. I’m not sure why the over 50s have to emphasise that they are over 50, not sure what that has to do with this comedy drama. Alison Steadman’s character was clearly well over 50! I think I said Alison Steadman delivered, I don’t think I dissed her performance. But we all have our opinions, and I am delighted yours is now included in this blog, it’s healthy to have a cross section of thoughts. There are so many middle aged stories to tell – ultimately we all have different tastes, which is a good thing!
Great post. Just what I think about lesbians in the media too. When will they be portrayed as women who happen to be gay rather than being featured because they’re gay and this is some sort of problem to them or someone else? I haven’t seen A Civil Arrangement but am going to watch online tonight and see what I think.
“When will we start to see lesbians being written as women, not as ‘other’ to women? In case you hadn’t noticed, we are women, we do what other women do..” Ten thousand times yes..