Panel 5: Gender and Care

Tuesday 6 September, 2016

By Gaby Smith and Zoë Shacklock


  • Kristyn Gorton (York), ‘Nurse Jackie and discourses of care on TV’
  • Susan Berridge (Stirling), ‘Gendered discourses of childcare in the UK film industry’
  • Hilary C. Aquino (Albright College), ‘“Mother knows best” Selling public heath with 1950s femininity’



– Uses of the television character to help understand the implicit nature of care, anxiety and emotion in a context of neoliberalism.

-How childcare affects and prohibits some from  working with the Film/TV sector, and childcare is not solely a women’s responsibility.

-Medicine and healthcare for television audiences in 1950’s U.S. society; how women pioneered mainstream practices of TV health shows.

Kristyn Gorton highlights that we can, and often perceive care as a feeling, but also as an anxiety. In a discussion of how practices of care can be transgressive, this paper delves into care-giving in a neoliberal landscape, as seen on television in programmes such as Nurse Jackie, and Enlightened.  Talking of Nurse Jackie, she uses the description of her as ‘a care giver, who cares too much. She overcares.’ Following the character of Jackie, a woman who works in a public hospital, but who also has a drug addiction – the contrasting personality between her nursing, caring self and her double life of drugs, affairs speaks to a good mother/ bad mother dichotomy, not to mention the risk we take when we care.

Care is negotiated in this programme in a very interesting and engaging manner- Gorton notes that Jackie is often pegged as the flawed character. Through a neoliberal rhetoric, the expectations for the character are highlighted here in a way that draws the audience in, through the saint/sinner personality. The theoretical work on care speak to this- as Mol, Ingunn and Pols argue, ‘good and bad may be intertwined; good intentions may have bad effects.’

There are too, the moral boundaries that often govern care. As Tronto argues, ‘care as practice involves more than simply good intentions. In such, the unknown carer, shows Jackie doing more than her job requires. Issues of performance in neoliberal economies are also challenged by the series, and Jackie’s need for escape, her role as a mother and the wider demands on a woman in her situation show Jackie as an embodiment of this subject, Gorton says.


Susan Berridge discusses industry reports that have highlighted the general lack of women working within the Film/ TV sector. Whilst she notes that they are generally better represented in television, it is fair to say they are often not seen in higher or more senior roles. Why is this? Berridge explains that usually women cite that childcare is the reason.

She notes that a risk that we might perpetuate is the essentialist notion that caring for children is, and should be, a women’s responsibility. Her work centres around this gender discrimination and how it is notable that women are disproportionately affected by this. In exploring the experiences of balancing care with work, Raising Films helps to challenge the demands of the film industry whilst supporting parents and carers to stay in work in this sector. There are women with care responsibilities who work across a range of roles in the Film and TV industry, and although discourses of care that emerge in this context discuss care on a practical level, there are of course the emotional aspects of care, and the inherent difficulties in talking about this.

Problems cites that disadvantages those with childcare problems are wide and speak of the inconsistency of this type of labour, the long hours, little money, as well as the difficulty in taking time off. A toll overall on family relationships, creative work is often also viewed as a hobby, or something indulgent which also speaks to a lack of maternity rights more broadly.

Freelance contracts too, speak to informal recruitment processes which make it difficult to speak out against gender discrimination and inequalities. No-one wants to be seen as ‘rocking the boat’. In creating a context in which care responsibilities are rendered unspeakable (Gill) this type of childcare also reinforces neoliberal ideologies about responsibilities in the workplace.

In addressing issues of access to the sector, especially ones that women face the messier or more difficult aspects around care still remain unspeakable. Pregnancy, childhood and emotional challenges of care, show the emotional and practical hardships of working and balancing childcare as discussed by Berridge. The examples shown in the testimonials speak to a similar frustration of care at work, and at home. This can lead to self-blame, rather than an interrogation of the structural systems in the workplace. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ type of care.

Hilary Aquino discusses a discourse of care, Cold War public health in America, and how medicine was integrated within mass media during this time. Given the status of these powerful industries, consumer programming, media and medicine were a highly effective tool that were harnessed by Dr. Leona Baumgartner in the daytime US programme Home in the 1950’s.

In using the screen, the right of the individual to determine his or her healthcare choices, compelled to embrace health norms Dr Baumgartner used radio and television as vehicles in which to deliver her messages of health to the wider public. She was an innovator in this manner, by combining public healthcare with media tools and technology to reach a large audience. In mixing traditional feminist approaches to communication with new media, she helped to pioneer the practice of this in the mainstream.

Her interesting approach in displaying a maternal figure who dispensed useful, medical, and professional advice in a softer way- – she understood that tv had the power as a device to do this. Aquino refers to Arlene Francis, who she says had the ‘approachability’ factor, making the Home show a perfect place for publicity, and sponsorship with a weekly budget of $50,000.  This both challenged and reflected cold war attitudes of women in America during this time, but also required a certain engagement with a performative femininity as hosts of the show- from magazines to television shows.

In replicating a cultural hegemony, the vital lessons of healthcare provided by Dr Baumgartner helped women to put healthcare into their own hands and gave them their own agency. As a crusader for the expansion of healthcare, she armed women with the knowledge to participate on a more even level- healthcare messages disguised as domestic consumerism.


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