Kathy Burke, All Woman

Hello! Any Brits reading this may have seen the Channel 4 programme, Kathy Burke, All Woman over the last few weeks. For those of you that haven't, Burke has been around British TV for years as an actress, comedian, writer, producer and director and is well known for her no-nonsense take on the world. This series follows her looking into the social expectations of a woman in today's society.

Episode 1: Beauty

In episode 1, Burke looks into the sometimes, unattainable beauty standards us women feel we have to live up to. We're living in an Instagram-fuelled world where we have to look perfect every day because that's how we show ourselves online but how are we meant to look like our filtered selfies away from Snapchat? Burke explains it very simply as "it's people fancying each other that makes the world go round" but cannot understand where the pressure to be perfect has come from, going on to say "babies don't come out looking like Beyonce" (well, unless you're Blue Ivy, then maybe). And it's true, we are all born covered in blood and gunk, so at what point do we suddenly feel pressured to be perfect?
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Burke's first interview is with Love Island's Megan who admits she has had a number of cosmetic surgeries, all of which started with getting her ears pinned back because other children at school bullied her for the way her ears stuck out and called her a rat. People are quick to blame social media for the increased pressure on us to look perfect nowadays, but at 25, she would have been experiencing the bullying 10+ years ago when Instagram didn't even exist, so it's not all down to the dog filter and likes which put pressure on us, it's each other. Even now, Megan still receives death threats from online trolls for the way she looks. I know from personal experience, my eating disorders stem from the comments I used to get at school when I was 11, again, before likes and filters. However, Megan does speak candidly and makes it clear that she struggles on the inside despite the £40,000 she's spent on cosmetic procedures. She also argues that it's a Catch 22 of (generally) women being bombarded with different adverts about making yourself look more attractive, including adverts for MYA (Make Yourself Amazing) where Burke visits later in the episode, which promotes going under the knife, but when women choose to do so, they are berated by others for doing so.

Burke goes to meet a cosmetic surgeon who explains that the idea of beauty has been discussed by Ancient Greek philosophers for many years and she is quick to correct him saying "male philosophers". So have the expectations of women been controlled by the opposite sex all this time? There's a comment made in the programme that women wear makeup to impress men and I know for a fact, yes there is some part of me that wears it in preparation for the day Zac Efron walks into my life, and he would never give me a second look without my eyebrows done, but for the most part, I wear makeup because I want to, not to please anyone else. Burke also meets a young girl who is going under the knife for a breast enlargement and although she is happy post-procedure, she admits that it's not the be-all-and-end-all to being happy.

Although I mentioned earlier that women have felt the pressure to be perfect for many years before social media came around, I will acknowledge the fact that it definitely increases that pressure. I mean, just look at the 12-year-olds of today compared to 10 years ago! My make up was all Dream Matte Mousse, blue eyeshadow and lipgloss that tasted nice, but now those girls (and boys) are slaying the game and that's definitely a result of social media.

In all honesty, I don't see us moving away from these expectations: more and more boys and men are feeling the pressure, numbers of people being diagnosed with eating disorders are rising and we see how the media fuel the pressure to be perfect on celebs and influencers more and more. So the answer to not being affected by the pressure? I have no idea.


Episode 2: Motherhood

The second episode follows the journey of how women go through motherhood and fertility whilst having a career at the same time, madness I know! Burke is very clear on the fact she doesn't and never did want children and she "ignored [her] biological clock and opted out of motherhood all together". She makes it clear from the start that women have this constant ticking time bomb from the moment they go through puberty and are fertile and other people feel like they have the right to comment on women's choices about their own bodies.

Burke visits Joanna who knows she wants to be a mother but has recently come out of a long term relationship and is in a high-powered job which she has worked hard for. She wants to have a career before becoming a parent, so she's freezing her eggs. This is an expensive process and it does not result in a 100% chance of becoming pregnant in the future, however, it is what Joanna wants to do. For many years it was unheard of that women could have a career and a child, I was even told a couple of years ago by a guy my own age that I couldn't have both (it's safe to say I did not strike up a friendship with him), but women are having children later and later. My own mum was 20 when she moved in with my dad and his son, and she was 24 when she had me, and the thought of me becoming a mother in a year's time is terrifying! The average age of women having their first child last year is 26, but many women wait until they're in their 30s, and that's okay. People seem to feel they have the right to ask newly-weds when the baby will be arriving at the bloody reception, but a woman's sole purpose is not to just produce children. Don't get me wrong, I definitely want to have a baby but just not any time soon.

Burke meets a young woman who is desperately trying to find someone to sterilise her but doctors won't because she's seen as being too young and simply "not wanting children" isn't a good enough reason. Women are so often judged if they say they don't want children but a man doesn't get bombarded with comments like "you're not a real man if you don't want children", they are respected for their choice and nothing more is said. She also meets Sam Morton (from The Walking Dead among other things) who said that her husband chose to be a stay-at-home dad so she could continue the work she loved. It's becoming more and more common for the dad to put their career on hold to look after the children but ultimately, it should be an open conversation between both parents as they're both responsible for the offspring!
Kathy Burke in scrubs
Burke also meets a woman who is about to give birth, and as she watches her in labour, she comments that if men were the ones who gave birth, money would be pumped into research to make it painless and look after them postpartum. It's only recently that people have taken any notice of postpartum depression and psychosis. She uses the lovely description of "I mean, gee whizz, you'd be depressed with an eight-pound beast coming out of your vagina, your body is completely fucked for a few months and you might have to put up with piles for the rest of your life. I really think this wouldn't be the case is men were having babies." Now I'm not saying that men have it easy, but like episode 1, there's definitely more pressure and expectation on women to fulfil their 'duty as a woman'.


Episode 3: Relationships

The final episode in the series looks at different views of love and relationships and asks if we really need them. Burke starts with a classic line that all it takes is "vodka and fags" to woo her, and explains that she'd rather go to a funeral than a wedding because it's more honest. She says that she won't go to a wedding if it's between people of under 30 because it won't last and she doesn't want to waste her money on a card or a present, at least with a funeral that's it. 

Burke goes to visit a soon-to-be bride trying wedding dresses on and she gives the fact that although marriage extends a man's life, it actually shortens a woman's. Now I don't know why this is the case, but maybe it's something to with the expectation (in heterosexual marriages) that the woman takes care of the man, so maybe we exhaust ourselves to care for them, who knows? 

Next, we visit our beloved Caroline Flack, queen of Love Island whose love life is a favourite topic for the Daily Mail and other gossip columns. She tells Burke about her different relationships but how they never pass the three-year mark: maybe this is because, after the "fun bit" of falling in love, relationships aren't all that exciting, or maybe it's because she puts her career before her relationships (thank god, because Love Island wouldn't be the same without her dramatic walk-ins when there's a dumping). Whatever the reason is, she believes you're more powerful when you're happy and single because you don't need to rely on anyone else to do anything for you. 

Burke then visits an anthropologist from Oxford University about the science behind love. She explains that love is an evolutionary bribe in order for us to survive - it's like a drug that makes us feel great in order to mate and for the human race to continue. The drug that lies behind love is an opiate like morphine, which is why love can genuinely hurt when it's broken, we don't get that pain killer anymore. She also explains that the need for friendships is much greater than for romantic relationships because ultimately, we can reproduce without a committed relationship, but without the emotional support and love we get from friendships, it can drastically affect our health and wellbeing.  Burke finishes this part with what I think, is the greatest quote of the whole series: when discussing whether it's harder for men to compliment women, she mentions the MeToo movement, but puts it very simply, "giving a compliment is fine, just don't put your hand on her fanny unless she wants you to". 
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We then take a trip to a nunnery and I agree with the Sister who thinks people are obsessed with finding love so much so that they end up with the wrong people, in relationships that don't work or with people who aren't good for you, and admittedly, I'm definitely one of those people. She reminded me of the quote from Moulin Rouge: "the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return", because I think that's what a lot of people are striving for. 

Finally, Burke ends the series by visiting the Profanity Embroidery Group where one of the members, Jackie, talks about how after she lost her husband, she didn't know how to be on her own, or who she was now she's on her own. This hit me hard because for those of you who don't know, I've recently come out of a 3-and-a-half-year relationship that I put my all into, and although I see myself as 'strong independent woman' (my headteacher would love to read that line), I don't know who I am out of that relationship, but that doesn't mean I should stay in it. I guess it's true how Burke finished the episode saying how people are scared to be on their own and being trapped with their own thoughts, but eventually, you'll realise that you're actually a pretty good person. 

So...
I bloody loved this series, I thought it captured some of the aspects of what it's like to be a woman in 2019 so so well, and I've loved seeing some of the comments from men saying "are we going to get a series made about men", and to be honest, that would be something I'd love to see, fronted by Piers Morgan or Jeremy Clarkson. In no way am I saying that being a man is easy, but I definitely think the social expectations of women are much more complex. 

Congrats on a great series, Kathy.

xo//

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