September 22, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are– Robin Gibb: a missed opportunity to discuss gendered professions.

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Who Do You Think You Are Robin Gibb 21/09/2011

I like who Do You Think You Are. I like the Bee Gees. However, through no fault of Robin’s, it seems the two together are less than the sum of their parts. My quibble lies with their discussion of his midwife ancestor, who, judging by her character references, was undoubtedly an excellent midwife and a treasure in her local community.

It seems that in 1937 she neglected to inform a doctor, as per the regulations, that a child she was looking after had an eye infection. At the time, gonorrhea was seemingly rife and children could go blind if the infection was passed to them while they moved through the birth canal.
Robin, through misty eyes, assumed that, as a doctor had seen the child previous to the midwife, his ancestor MUST HAVE assumed that the child was already under a doctor and therefore did not need to inform a doctor herself. The midwifery powers that be, of the time, disagreed and cautioned her for negligence.

While I do not doubt the soundness of calling a doctor for a potentially blinding infection, I also think there are other mitigating circumstances that would preclude hurrying to the nearest doctor- for the mother’s sake. The programme failed to make a point of the pre NHS situation that this incident transpired in. When doctors cost money. Maybe the mother couldn’t afford a doctor and a midwife and his ancestor was doing the mother a kindness which common sense suggests may have been commonplace. If the mother had gonorrhea, could she have caught it while operating as a prostitute which would have been shameful and illegal, leading to a well-founded fear of authority- another reason not to get too involved with medical professionals, who would also have been predominantly male, which leads me to my next point.

The programme alluded to the stringent nature of midwifery rules at the beginning of the professions professionalization and probably did not have time to ask why they were so stringent for anything other than medical reasons. They did explain that doctors (male) made these rules for midWIVES. They did not take the time to discuss the idea that they were deliberately codified to restrict the power and initiative of a female profession dealing with feminine issues over which men had never had the opportunity to wield power before. Suddenly men qua doctors could set the rules over something they had previously had no power, and they set, what was referred to throughout as, restrictive and stringent rules.

What a terrible couple of missed opportunities.

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