Sunday, 30 August 2015

Corrie's Mithered Men

Coronation Street has a well established history of strong women whose talk, camaraderie and resilience springs from its very foundation. An organic offshoot of such female representation has proven to be the beleaguered male; never too far from a telling off, apparently unable to get anything right despite his best efforts, getting away with what he can when he can, and usually to comic effect.
Names such as Stan Ogden and Jack Duckworth immediately spring to mind, but what of the current men of Coronation Street?
Courtesy of a recent set of Friday episodes, we were presented with a window on how men are perceived by some contemporary Corrie women. The double episode of the 9th of August opened with Sally and Gail strolling along the street, the former complaining about Tim putting fun ahead of work, and the latter offering the following observation:

“The problem is that most men are on the laziness spectrum. Top end’s lying on the settee all day watching re-runs of Bullseye and eating last night’s kebab, and well, the bottom end is just leaving the lid off the coffee jar, that sort of thing. I think it’s just inherent in men, laziness.”

It wasn’t necessarily laziness that saw the men of that Friday’s Corrie fall foul of its women, but nevertheless, they were undoubtedly playing second fiddle.
Nick learned that Robert was the new chef at the Bistro by finding him behind the bar, already working. Hired by Leanne, Nick had no say in the matter, and tried to exert some belated authority by introducing a trial period which all three knew held no weight. Nor did Nick offer much in the way of advice or encouragement during Carla’s intervention. In a subsequent episode it took Erica to break up with him even though he’d slept with Carla.
We had Michael at the behest of Eileen and Gail, flitting between them like a pawed mouse as he attempted, failed and was caught breaking into Barlow’s Buys. As if his situation couldn’t have been any more dismal, his tool of choice was a spatula.
And while Tony has proven himself worthy of anyone's fear, there was little he could do as an undaunted Liz stamped his flowers into the concrete outside Roy’s with a determined stiletto. We also later saw Tracy move Robert into number one with no regard for Ken who was powerless to intervene.
Perhaps the most hen-pecked of all is Tyrone who appears to be getting it from all angles of late. If Fiz isn’t berating him or fighting his battles for him, he’s under pressure from Kevin at the garage despite having an equal share, and the recent camping holiday saw him completely emasculated by alpha-male Dougie. He wasn’t the only one, but appeared to be particularly singled out for ridicule as he attempted to assert his manhood, and failed miserably.
Poor Kirk is also well used to being on the receiving end of a scolding courtesy of Beth, and as he skipped behind her through the woods, attempting to keep up while she relentlessly berated him for getting them lost, he too secured his place in the ever burgeoning Corrie catalogue of mithered men, joining other existing characters such as Steve, Dev and Tim.
While persistently making little of men is no laughing matter, and is not an activity I engage in, I think what makes it work in Corrie is the manner in which the stories are portrayed and performed. While we can sympathise with the women some of the time, these men have often been victims of ladies who aren't always in the right, and we are encouraged to align ourselves with the men, and celebrate and share in their triumphs, enjoying their antics as much as they do. Indeed, you sometimes get the impression that they wouldn't have it any other way.
With the exception of the very serious and aptly portrayed domestic abuse storyline between Tyrone and Kirsty, for the most part, instances of mithering have generally consisted of light hearted additions to storylines, or subplots which have humour at their core. What is essential is that there are plenty more male characters who don't find themselves mithered, and enough women who don't engage in talking them down to redress the balance and counter the erroneous perception that 'all men are the same'. I did feel that Steve's past treatment at the hands of Michelle and Liz overstepped the mark, and was glad to see this remedied.
Another positive element is that the hen-pecked are given the opportunity to assert themselves, as last Friday's Corrie demonstrated in two ways. Firstly, the opening dialogue saw Steve roundly discredit Michelle's arrogant assertion that Aidan wasn't used to intelligent female conversation with the line "Yeah, I often have chats about renaissance art with Beth Tinker”.
Secondly, when Mary declared cut flowers to be "a time honoured pathetic male gesture," Tim taking the bunch home as an apology to Sally affirmed her assertion. But it also interestingly succeeded in diffusing it. Tim may have skipped out on cutting the grass in favour of a lark about at an art class, but he was thinking of Sally nevertheless, and seized an opportunity to soften her anticipated anger with something he knew she would like.
We didn't see the scene, but such is the quality of the characters that we can easily imagine it play out in our heads; an initially furious Sally mildly chides him with a twinkle in her eye at the sight of the bouquet before picking her best designer vase to proudly display her floral surprise while Tim reclines happily on the sofa cracking open a beer and wondering what's for tea.
As above, there are plenty of male characters who aren't actively harangued by women. Kevin, Jason, Sean, Billy, Callum, Lloyd, Gary, Roy and Zeedan, for example, are all well capable of asserting themselves when necessary.
While I enjoy the balanced comedy which arises from beleaguered males and scolding females, I also like to see men strongly represented. I enjoyed Tony avenging his son, I pitied Jason as he experienced the indignity of talking about being beaten up from his hospital bed, I like Kevin's new found entrepreneurship and Lloyd's decision to reject Andrea. Aidan is also shaping up to be a very positive addition to the male cast.
But whatever happens, there is no denying that the poor hen-pecked Corrie male, who is of such long standing and has provided many hours of entertainment, will continue to be found sneaking off to the Rovers for the apocryphal 'swift half' for many years to come.

By Emma Hynes
Twitter: @ELHynes

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Llifon said...

Tony's personality reminds me of the likes of Jim, Len Fairclough or Ray Langton. The alpha male the show needs after Owen's departure. Although Kevin could also step up to the role.

abbyk said...

Kevin might have been able to stand up to Callum 15 years ago but now I don't think he could have won with his fists against the much younger and taller man. I think that was part of David's smile last night. Knowing he is small and could not possibly pound Callums face into the brickwork, the one man who could physically intimidate him did and he got to see it. I wouldn't be keen on having a street full of big bullies but they do come in handy.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth,I would consider Kevin to be one of Corrie's 'mithered men'where Sally is concerned.He was willing to give up custody of Jack to ger back with her and even now he's always at her house like a puppy dog instead of being at home with HIS son.
As for alpha male candidates,I would nominate Luke Britton and Kirk Sutherland.Yes Kirk.Granted Kirk can be henpecked at times by his wife but I've also seen him as the protective older brother and you do not mess with his sister!

Stephen said...

What a great article. There is much comedic value in a henpecked husband/boyfriend, but yes, too much of it is embarrassing.

Thank you for pointing out that some Corra men, such as Roy, Kevin and Jason, are not doormats.

George Dunning said...

The strange thing is I try to imagine all the henpecked males and "strong" women relationships in soaps and wonder what the audience reaction would be if the genders were reversed.

Anonymous said...

@ George Dunning My personal opinion is that strong men and weak women is the mainstream's daily bread, so the "audience reaction" if "the genders were reversed" would be just about the status quo. Corrie is unusual because it challenges the norm and puts female characters in an unusually powerful position - and, at the same time, that "power" does not depend on them being b*tches or femmes fatales.

Emma, I loved this piece and I love how you keep bringing Tony back to our attention. While his need to avenge Jason has that Jim McDonald brawn over brain desperation, his other scenes, especially the ones in the hospital with Eileen, remind us that he is also trying to get over his own guilt for not being around more when Jason was a kid and when Eileen too could have used his help and protection. Then there were the scenes a few weeks ago where Liz was taking out her rage by thumping him and it was so obvious that Tony could have stopped her with a flick of his finger, but he took it, knowing he deserved it. A fabulous character played by a fabulous actor. I hope they keep him on.


Anonymous said...

George,Your post was definitely food for thought as did I wonder what would the reaction would be if it was the women who were henpecked and the man 'strong and I think [I'm female]the audience reaction would definitely be negative with claims that Corrie is 'anti-female'.
What does bother me is Fiz who was supportive to Tyrone when he was being abused by Kirsty is now becoming as controlling as she was at times and yet,Fiz is considered a 'strong' Corrie woman.

maggie muggins said...

Bravo, Emma, great blog-post! I think this topic is often discussed, and from different angles. Female strength in the face of adversity is one thing, but I like this comic mithering quality. It can go overboard at times, and I love how you don't judge the males badly, which is often done. Vera, for me, was the queen of mithering!

I think maybe it has something to do with post-war Britain, and how the women who learned to do men's work while they were in the trenches, maintained an inner strength after the war, which was passed down to their daughters.

Emma Hynes said...

Thank you Stephen, ELK and maggie for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece.
I agree Llifon, the show does need an alpha male and Tony certainly fills that gap. You're also right abbyk, I wouldn't want a street full of bullies either, and by populating it with different types of male characters the programme ensures it has the necessary balance.
On the role reversal, I have thought about that too George. I often notice, to my mind, unacceptable ads where men are belittled by women and it frustrates me that these are even permitted to be televised. I don't think they would be if a female was being made little of by a man. But there are a few things about depictions of mithered men in soap or sitcom which make it work.
Firstly, as I've said, we're encouraged to empathise with the man. Secondly, there's the distinct impression that the men concerned wouldn't have it any other way. Thirdly, the women aren't always right, thus putting the men in the superior position, and fourthly, the men must regularly be given the upper hand rather than being relentlessly relegated as somehow beneath the women.
I do worry Anon @ 21.09 that this balance isn't quite right in the case of Fiz and Tyrone and they can act as an example of how it shouldn't be done.
I think maggie hit the nail on the head regarding post-war Britain, and there is a tradition of such representation following on from then. I was just watching an episode of Last of the Summer Wine which is a clear case in point.
It's really all about how it's done if it's to work right.

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