Why I love “Call the Midwife”

Call the Midwife

Babies. Nuns. Bicycles.

Sometimes, I have a hard time explaining why I love this TV show so much.

At face value, “Call the Midwife” doesn’t seem like it could be the epic, thought-provoking, heart-warming, on-the-edge-of-your-seat-intense TV show that it is. Now, I’m entirely willing to admit that this show is not for everyone. One of my friends described it as “a lot of screaming”; I’d be the first to acknowledge that. If you don’t want to see lots of babies and bodily fluids, this is not the show for you.  

(Fortunately for me, this is right up my alley. I’m working in healthcare administration right now as I get ready to apply for graduate school in Nursing, and as I decide exactly what route I want to take. Midwifery has always been on the table for me, and I’m not going to lie…it’s a little bit hard to tell if my life plans are being influenced by a TV show. Because I’m majorly leaning midwife right now. But hey, correlation does not equal causation, right?)

But but if you can handle the birth-related bits, “Call the Midwife” should be the next thing you put on your Netflix queue.

1) “Call the Midwife” is story for today.  An idealistic and naïve young woman sets out to save Poplars (a neighborhood in the slums of East London), one home-birth at a time. Though she finds that the problems are bigger than she ever knew or imagined, that she is more naive and unaware than she’d care to admit, and that there are things she cannot change, time and again she also finds that she can change a life, and that that is enough. It is a coming-of-age story, a story for my generation.

2) It is a story of women. Written and produced by a largely-female production team, based on the memoirs of a real woman, with all-female lead roles – it is by women, about women. A story about a young, newly-certified midwife who moves into a convent to work with other nun-midwives and non-nun-midwives, much of the story is driven by the relationships between these women – women with different histories, different places of faith, different struggles, yet with the same mission. It is a story of community, as each brings her own baggage, but finds freedom and healing and identity in community.

3) But it is still also a story for men. This is not a platform for angry feminism, for anti-man angst, for gender rants. Men are not overly vilified, nor are they overly glorified. There are some fantastic male supporting characters – the selfless doctor, the lovable best friend, the prickly but tender-hearted groundskeeper – that show you that women can still write some of the best men. Yet there is also very honest engagement with the reality that – then and now – there are some very broken gender dynamics in the world. But the point remains, though this TV show is still a story for men, it is not about the men. The show is always honest about being a story of women.

4) Nuns. Need I say more? Nuns are fly.

5) It’s secretly all about social justice. Though set in 1950s London, the real power of the show lies in the timeless, universal problems and truths it explores. It explores problems and inequalities that are as present now as they were then: urban poverty, healthcare access in under-served populations, gender violence, wealth and lifestyle disparities. It deals with the issues of missions – savior complexes, ignorance and naïveté, guilt, disillusionment, hope and despair, success and failure.

6) In a world where many avoid talking about God and religion, it is incredibly well-handled in this show. It would be hard to get around God in a TV show where half of the major characters are nuns, and “Call the Midwife” wisely doesn’t try. Yet the religious elements are not overplayed either, nor used divisively. God is a quiet presence, an almost unmentioned character, but not unseen. He is seen in the lives of worship of the nuns, and modeled in their actions. He is in the intentional community of the nuns and the midwives, living together in the community they serve. The nuns’ faith is a rock to the other midwives in times of pain and uncertainty, even though most don’t claim the faith themselves. It is a faith that is shown, not preached.

Need more convincing?

Why I Love Call the Midwife

“Call the Midwife” has it all: nurses and nuns, boys and babies, romance, friendship, faith, and social justice. It is honest and sincere, touching, sad and hilarious in turns, and chock full of some of the most compelling characters in television right now, with a story that is as relevant as it is engrossing. Just give it a try.

On Angsty and/or Angry Feminism

Every once in a while, I begin to trick myself into thinking that people aren’t at sexist as I think they are. Every once in a while, I start to think, “Maybe this isn’t such a white man’s world anymore.” Every once in a while, I start feeling safe in the affirming community I have built around myself.

But every time, eventually something crashes through my walls. And then…dang, does the angst come out.

This last time, it wasn’t even because of things that happened to me*. A few days ago, one of my roommates came home with a frustrating story from the church College ministry in which she is a leader, about issues with a college freshman-theology major who is a volunteer under her. (I do have to say, give this kid a tiny bit of grace. There should be a syndrome for theology major freshmen…they have been in it long enough to pick up some big words that make them feel cocky, but not long enough to have their unquestioned assumptions and beliefs dashed against the jagged rocks of theological academia. Boy, does this kid have some rough seas ahead of him. I can’t help but be a bit wickedly excited for this.) He has undermined her authority and been disrespectful to the point that my roommate, who isn’t an egalitarian, and is part of a church that is about as complementarian as you can get, and hates conflict, has had to tell him that he will not be leading anymore this year. (Of course, this conversation went much differently than it would have had I been the one talking, but I am very proud of her!) And then, the very next day, my other roommate who works with a high school ministry came back from a leadership meeting practically steaming at the ears. She was leading the meeting, and had a male co-leader first act disrespectfully by being blatantly flirtatious, and then when she ignored him he began to make comments about the administrative issues the group was having, saying that it was “because all of the staff are women.” “You came from my rib,” he said, as if it excused or explained his behavior. My roommate was professional, putting off a direct conversation for later when the leadership staff could be present, and when she was not in a position where she needed to maintain her composure with the rest of the group**.

I’m not such an angry feminist as I used to be; I’m beginning*** to be more measured in the ways I express myself. I have found a community that affirms me in my womanhood. I have taken ownership of my beliefs, and am beginning to be able to express them better. I am still working with some questions, and I am realizing that I have even fewer answers than I thought I did…and that this is all good. I have found people I respect who have built me up in more ways than I probably even realize. I have come to some measure of peace with this up-hill battle.

But every once in a while, something breaks through the buffers I have put around myself. This isn’t always bad – I need to be shaken out of the complacency that comes with comfort. You can have my complacency. But if you disrupt my peace, don’t be surprised when the angst comes out. There is always a reason for angry feminism.

So when one of us gets angry, don’t think, “It’s just another angry feminist.” There is no such thing.

Here’s a productive alternative: ask yourself why we’re angry. And if you can’t figure out the answer, ask us. Believe me, we’ve all got stories.

. . . .

* Let’s not even talk about the fact that both of these stories are about men in ministry demonstrating their sexism and behaving disrespectfully towards women over them in leadership.
** Good thing it was her, because if it had been me, I probably would have gone all feminist ape-shit on him. And not  in a God-honoring way. Clearly, I’m still working on this whole thing.
*** “Beginning” may or may not be the key word here.

On Women and Words

Gaslighting. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t, before reading an article by Huffington Post opinion writer Yashar Ali: A Message to Women from a Man: You Are Not “Crazy”. I found this article to be so hugely important, that I think you should read it right now, before even going on. (Go ahead – click it.)

Ali cuts right to an issue facing women today – an issue that I didn’t even recognize to be one, until I read his article. This problem is called “gaslighting” – a clinical, psychological term for a type of manipulation which, at its core, tells people that their emotions and reactions are not valid. It is a type of manipulation which anyone, of any gender, can experience, but is one which I have observed most, and to the most negative effect, in women. For women, it is an epidemic; “an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions.”

How many times have we women been spoken to by men in borderline (or more than borderline) insulting ways, only to be told when we react to it, “I was kidding!” or “It’s a joke; you’re overreacting!” or “Stop being so sensitive!”  And, after it has happened with the same person or people several times, we stop objecting – we let the mildly chauvinistic, “joking” slights go, maybe laughing a bit, pretending not to mind, pretending that it is “all in good fun.” And, slowly, we start internalizing the message.

We start internalizing the chauvinist messages that are being given to us, only barely concealed under the cloak of a “joke”. We start believing that our responses when we are treated this way are invalid. We start doubting and down-playing our emotions, believing the lie that our emotions are crazy, hormone-driven, irrational responses that make us less able to function in this “man’s world” if we listen to them.

When we give in to this treatment – when we say, “Forget it” – we’re not dismissing the treatment. We are dismissing ourselves.

And that’s the problem with this epidemic – we all do it. Men do it to us; we do it to each other. Our culture as a whole projects this on us, male and female.

So, ladies: you are not crazy. And men: stand up for the women around you. Often, all that we need is validation, and with a problem like this you are our best support.