Women’s issues, part 3

There are many strong women among the characters in this show, besides Aunt Joan and Louisa. I would include Mrs. Tishell, Edith, Ruth, Molly O’Brian (the midwife), Maggie, Elaine, Pauline, and even Morwenna. Many of the aforementioned are professional women who have regular jobs and behave self-assured. Mrs. Tishell runs the pharmacy very competently until she has an emotional breakdown in the last episode of season 5. She stays abreast of recent medical developments and would like to discuss some of these with the doctor. She is very efficient and can offer good advice when needed. She may consider herself a little too much like a doctor (a common concern between doctors and pharmacists), but she obviously wants to be well-informed. I think Doc Martin should be quite pleased that this little village has such a well stocked chemist who takes such a personal interest in providing him and the town with the proper supplies and medicines. She operates the pharmacy alone most of the time, although her husband shows up about midway through the first 5 series. Even after Clive appears, however, it’s his wife who takes care of business and who determines the direction of their relationship.

Edith Montgomery, the doctor and former fiancee of Doc Martin, is depicted as an unemotional and highly accomplished medical practitioner. We can even say that season 4 provides us with an example of a woman working in a man’s world, i.e. Edith as an M.D. surrounded by men and being as much of a hard-ass as any man could be. Perhaps this is a way of addressing the tales of female doctors being tougher than their male counterparts because they are trying to prove themselves. Her fire red, spiky hair and slender, relatively unfeminine figure always dressed in dark colors make her look somewhat daunting. (The writers could have been thinking of Cruella DeVille when they came up with her.) Certainly her approach to medicine and to Martin also reflect a very clinical and passionless manner. (Her personality stands in direct opposition to Louisa who is quite passionate about many things and who takes an interest in most of the people of Portwenn.) Edith attempts to take control of Martin in terms of his future and his effort to overcome his hemaphobia, and in the process she oversteps her boundaries with him. He no longer wants a woman like her, and she unwittingly puts an end to any possibility of reestablishing a relationship with him when she decides to make a hotel reservation for one room without consulting Martin and then removes her blouse to reveal a corset that to me looks like she should be in some sort of S/M setting. She looks like a dominatrix, which is really pretty appropriate. The fact that she has decided to reconnect with Martin when she knows he’s about to have a baby with another woman is rather hateful to me. I see it as another way for her to compete for something just to get the satisfaction of having “won.” She is a stereotype of a female doctor insofar as she fits the profile of driven, striving, dispassionate, and too concerned about showing up the men. I know there are women who are doctors and are like her, but there are plenty who are not. Nevertheless, she has to be called strong and independent, and she has to be added to the number of women in this show who are managing well on their own.

Ruth Ellingham, who is also a doctor, is another contrasting character to Edith while being comfortable by herself. She, too, has never married or had children and she seems very content to live by herself. She talks of being brought up in a family that didn’t allow emotions, but she’s very capable of assessing a situation and handling it well. She has an even temper and a cleverness that make her appealing. Whether she’s dealing with a couple of strange neighbors, Martin and Louisa, Al Large, or PC Penhale, she finds the right balance of straight talk and wit to have a good outcome. Her strength is in her calm demeanor and self-possession. She is a wonderful female character played excellently by EIleen Atkins.

Then we have Molly O’Brian, the midwife, who comes on strong and combative. She may be small in stature, but she packs a wallop. Midwives have become much more involved in births these days, even if the births take place at hospitals. Most work in tandem with OBs and seem to have a good working relationship with them. With Molly we are given a midwife who has some extreme views about where to have a baby and prenatal care. She fills Louisa with all sorts of antagonistic ideas towards men and doctors, and since Louisa is in a contrary mood, she internalizes what Molly says. In the process, however, the show takes on the concerns of mothers about avoiding medicines while pregnant and that hospitals are too antiseptic for having a baby. We all imagine giving birth in a quiet space with our own belongings and family around us, but many births do not work out like that. The fact is that having a baby is pretty risky and not every woman is lucky enough to have the process go so smoothly. Better to be safe in a hospital with the best equipment than risk the lives of the mother or baby. Louisa is a high risk mother due to her age, which makes Molly’s recommendations to have the baby at home in a tub especially foolish. Of course, it turns out that the baby is delivered outside of a hospital after all. At least there are EMTs in attendance as well as Martin, a highly capable doctor. Molly gets her comeuppance when Louisa’s urinary tract infection gets worse after Molly stops Louisa from taking the antibiotics she’s been prescribed. Louisa is, after all, pretty savvy and realizes in time that what Molly has been filling her head with is so much nonsense when it comes to her health and the baby’s. I doubt that most midwives have such anger towards male physicians and believe that Molly is an exaggeration for the purposes of the show. Nonetheless, she never backs down and is a female character who makes an impact.

Finally, we should look at the 3 receptionists: Elaine, Pauline, and Morwenna. Of the women in this show, they are the most alternative in their appearance and, at first glance, would not inspire much confidence in a doctor or his patients. As it turns out, though, Pauline and Morwenna are quite competent and Elaine manages to initiate the doctor into the village. Again, all three are confident and happy to have a job. Although I am a little surprised that Martin takes them on and allows them to come to work in their unusual outfits, they get the job done and sometimes impress him with their efficiency. Elaine doesn’t last very long but may be the reason Martin doesn’t ruffle feathers again by firing any of them. Elaine may not be the person he’d like to see as the receptionist, but getting rid of her proves to be a big mistake because the village turns on him. There are times when one has to respect the will of the people! Pauline and Morwenna are different cases. Pauline has her problems, but she always comes running with his medical bag when called by the Doc, and she wants to take on more responsibilities. She really becomes Martin’s right hand woman who knows him as well as anybody. She can make fun of him, argue with him and criticize him, but he depends on her and shrugs off her comments. (I also love it when she turns the tables on Ross, the town gigolo.) When Morwenna takes over, she surprises the Doc when she saves her granddad from dying by doing CPR. She’s pretty cool under pressure even when she assists on an operation. I think these young women are a good example of not judging a book by its cover. They all find a way to mock the Doc’s problem with blood, they all put up with his gruffness with a sense of acceptance and humor, and they all respect his ability. They may look flighty, but they are far from it and the writers have done young people a service by creating these characters.

This show may be called Doc Martin, but without the plethora of strong female characters, the show would be much less appealing. We need that interplay and it’s great that the writers realized that.

Originally posted 2013-09-13 20:43:15.

8 thoughts on “Women’s issues, part 3

  1. Oliver Hinson

    I enjoy your blog about Doc Martin. In your article about the women, you don’t mention the main female character Louisa. I mostly agree with you descriptions of the women in the show. The ones you mention are very competent and smart, with some eccentricities that make them unique.

    But you don’t mention Louisa, and I wonder if you did that because they have not presented her as a competent mother or teacher in the last 2 seasons and it looks like they may do the same in the current season. I admire many of the show’s depictions of women, but it falls short with me in its depiction of the main female character who is actually supposed to be one of the most competent women in the village.

    Keep writing your blog! Thanks.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I did not mention Louisa in the post you read because I had separated my comments about her and put them in my Women’s issues Part 1 post and I had written about her in the Mothers post as well. Please read those and see what you think. I have a very different reaction to her mothering skills from yours. I find her a much better mother than most depicted in the show. But please read all my posts and tell me what your thoughts are. Thank you for reading the blog and writing!

  3. Teri Flores

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas about Doc Martin. I truly appreciate your no nonsense, straightforward style of writing which to me, is similar to an afternoon of relaxed conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee or two. I know a majority of your readers like me, find the atmosphere you create in your discussions to be very conducive to learning and promotes a healthy exchange of talk.

    I appreciate that you bring up issues of child birth, child rearing and parenting. I think discussions on these subjects should continue as it is a good resource for couples and parents alike who are raising kids in societies that still adhere to traditional mores and beliefs.

    I hope you continue with your blogging!

  4. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thank you for your kind words and your encouragement. I will definitely be writing more and continuing to write about the parenting issues brought up in this series. The writers have chosen to include so many parenting concerns and that is one thing that keeps the series so easy to relate to. I really enjoy doing this analysis and want people who read what I’ve written to feel like we’re having a good conversation about the program. It’s nice to think that has happened! I have many more topics to discuss and hope you will keep reading.

  5. Santa Traugott

    It’s always struck me how much this show is “about” parenting issues. Perhaps this is because it is of prime importance to the show’s creators and writers.

    I think in general that Louisa has a more realistic understanding of how children develop. Martin may know in theory about physical development, but she gets the whole picture.

    And there’s also plenty to chew on about how grown-up people relate to their own parents — are they healthfully separate people, or are they either enmeshed or unhealthily disengaged (of which Louisa and Martin seem to be examples, respectively.)

    Martin seems to have shut out of his mind his relationship with his parents, rather than worked through the consequences of their emotional and physical abuse of him. Perhaps still in denial in that respect, but as we know, there will be plenty of opportunity for that to change in later episodes.

  6. Amy

    I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Elaine had stuck around. I don’t know whether she was written out or the actress wanted to leave the show, but Elaine was even meaner and ruder than Martin. It’s funny to watch S1 now and contrast Elaine’s relationship with Martin to either Pauline or Morwenna and their relationships with him. Elaine acted superior, bossed him around, and yelled at everyone. Martin may have fired her, but he put up with more from her than from anyone else, including Louisa.

    I wonder if they replaced her once they decided to make the DM character more brusque, rude and angry. A medical practice where both the dr and the receptionist were so rude and impatient might have been too much for the show.

    Other strong (and unattached) women characters: Dr T, the vet Dr Sim, the crazy scientist sister, the Susan Sarandon character.

  7. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I think you mean the Sigourney Weaver character. All the others you mention except the scientist were added in S7. I didn’t write another post about strong women after these three and therefore missed talking about them. There seems to be a trend to keep the women independent and self-assured yet some can be rather grating. The weaker women, like Peter Cronk’s mother and a few others, often have medical problems. It is interesting.

    The role of Elaine was played by Lucy Punch who you can look up on Wikipedia. She’s a well respected actress who may have thought she would take on this role as an interim job and wanted to move on after the first series. My son recognized her immediately when he watched one episode of the first series of DM. But I also agree that having both of them be offensive would have been a little much for us as viewers.

  8. Amy

    Yes, Sigourney Weaver. Damn, aging is awful. Thanks.

    There is something weird going on with the blog—when I got the email with your response and clicked on Reply, it brought me to an error page. I had to search for this post to find it and then find your latest comment. Just thought you should know?

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