Women’s issues, part 2

The pregnancy brings up all sorts of contentious women’s issues: marriage and unmarried parents, along with out of wedlock babies; making the decision to have a baby; single parenting; how to determine the best care during pregnancy and childbirth; proper disciplining of babies and children; and whether a woman should work during pregnancy or after pregnancy. Considering that most of the writers for this show are men, I’m pretty surprised that all of these women’s issues are given a very evenhanded treatment. (I do have to mention that when Martin and Louisa are planning to marry the first time, Joe Penhale tells Martin that women just want to be like men and that sounded a lot more like what most men think. Of course, that’s not true!)

So let’s start with Louisa’s initial decision to have the baby. (We are already going to have to assume that both Louisa and Martin decided to have unprotected sex twice. That’s a little questionable because of Martin’s inclination to be less than spontaneous, but the first time was supposed to be totally unplanned. The second time, Louisa expected to stay the night. But let’s not get too concerned about this circumstance because we know that even one time can result in a pregnancy.) Louisa is in London when she finds out she’s pregnant. She’s always wanted children, she still loves Martin, she’s past the prime time for a woman to have children, thus it’s unlikely she would want to end the pregnancy. Should she have contacted Martin immediately, after a couple of months, or when? Martin confronts Louisa about her decision not to tell him in season 4, episode 2, calling her high-handed and telling her she was just trying to score feminist points. She explains that she wanted to tell him but she expected him to want her to have an abortion. What a dilemma! It is a woman’s prerogative to let the man know, however, I bet if you ask most men, they would think they deserve to know early on and be a part of the decision-making process. In this case, it’s hard to know what Martin would have wanted Louisa to do. He says he would have backed her up if she had chosen to have an abortion, or whatever she had decided. But wasn’t she in a difficult position? Isn’t it likely that Martin would have discouraged Louisa from keeping the baby? After all, he isn’t a fan of children in general and he has not been planning to have a family. This sort of situation plagues women and is in our national consciousness regularly. It’s kind of nice to know the UK struggles with it also.

Louisa has returned to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and not only surprises Martin, she also surprises the whole village. She has chosen to return because she has lost her job in London due to the pregnancy and because she wants to be in familiar surroundings. We have to figure that she is hoping to rekindle her relationship with Martin too, especially when we see her response to Edith’s presence. His initial reaction is what we’d expect: surprise followed by “Do you want to get married?” Martin is nothing if not traditional and conventional. But Louisa has returned determined to handle things on her own and not be seen as a woman who has guilted the father into marrying her. She knows she’s made the decision to have the baby without telling Martin and she’s going to prove she can manage without his help. The villagers may think Martin ought to offer her a place to live or some money, but Louisa doesn’t want anything from him at the moment. She will go back to teaching and find a place to live and even prepare for the baby’s delivery by herself. Is she wrong to assume that Martin won’t want to be involved? Well, he may not have been planning to have a baby in his life, but throughout season 4 we see lots of evidence that he resents the assumption that he isn’t interested. He certainly cares about Louisa’s health and welfare, is stunned that she plans to be followed by doctors in Truro rather than by him, and would like to take her to her doctor’s appointments. Despite Edith’s immediate reaction that Louisa will have to take the baby classes by herself because the father won’t be of any help, I think it could have been lots of fun to see Martin participating in those classes and that he would have gone. Louisa, however, is bound and determined to be independent and Martin only makes her more determined than ever when he continually tells her she should not be working. He doesn’t want her to work much during the pregnancy and definitely thinks she should stop once she has the baby. Louisa doesn’t want to be a “kept” woman, meaning she doesn’t want to depend on Martin’s income, and she wonders why she’s the one who should stop working. He finds that ridiculous, but aren’t those concerns that many modern families must have? I thought we had gotten past this issue long ago, but it seems to have come back into our national discourse. We now have books about mothers staying home, or women trying to do too much. Mothers have been working through pregnancies for decades and most women simply keep doing what they’ve been accustomed to doing without any bad effects. Is the fact that this subject surfaces in this show a sign that there are still questions about whether pregnant women should work? How about mothers going back to work after delivering a baby? Women in most countries have successfully demanded maternity leaves and no longer lose their jobs either because of pregnancy or once they give birth. However, having rights does not necessarily mean society approves. We can see there are some villagers who are not pleased about an unwed pregnant woman teaching at the school, e.g. Jimmy, Pauline’s uncle, and some members of the school board. Clearly this issue is not entirely settled and the writers of the show considered it important enough to bring it up. Martin’s retro views are also at stake here.

Once Louisa has the baby and Martin has decided to stay in Portwenn a while longer, the show deals with dividing up parenting duties and, eventually, single parenting. (By the way, Martin’s pursuit of a job in London without telling Louisa is somewhat comparable to Louisa not telling Martin about the pregnancy. In both cases, they are torn by how to tell the other and when. And in both cases, the person in the dark is angry and thinks he/she had a right to know.) I don’t know about men or doctors in general, but I can say that my doctor husband would never have taken our babies to work nor taken them for a ride early in the morning to calm them down. The current climate in the US is more amenable to fathers helping with the children and many more do, and even when mothers are breastfeeding, fathers often get up out of bed and bring the babies to the mothers. That’s why I found the brief segment in season 5, episode 3 when Louisa is somehow sleeping through the baby’s crying and Martin shakes her awake to be so true to life. She looks at him with this irritated look as if to say “why don’t you get him?” But the moment is gone quickly.

Of course, Martin’s ideas of dealing with crying are also somewhat dated. He wants Louisa to let the baby cry for a while to teach him. Now we would be unlikely to let a newborn cry and think they will learn from it.

Ultimately, Louisa decides to move out because she begins to feel too disrespected by Martin. There are too many times when he makes decisions without checking with her, and there are too many occasions when he makes remarks about her job or the school that offend her. She once again tells people she can deal with life on her own, although she seems to have mixed feelings. Several times she asks Martin to help with childcare, which he generally agrees to without much resistance. We can see her waffling between protecting her pride and not wanting to let him go. Louisa is strong but realizes how important it is for James Henry to have his father in his life. It’s pretty clear that both Martin and Louisa let their egos and pride get in the way. Once again the writers have hit on exactly what often breaks up relationships, and the last episode of season 5 finally shows Martin willing to humble himself to win back Louisa. In their case, the baby has brought them together again and he has created a bond between them.

Originally posted 2013-09-12 20:03:39.

One thought on “Women’s issues, part 2

  1. Amy

    Another post I hadn’t read before!

    I am surprised this didn’t generate more comments. It’s a topic that is so important to so many women—how to balance family and work, maintaining an independent identity while also becoming part of a family. I really identified with Louisa in these episodes and wanted to strangle Martin. One of the things that always bothered me about his character was how he did not appreciate Louisa’s career, her skills, and her desire to keep working.

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