Two years ago, we decided to put a trio of Weatherfield women on the front cover of Radio Times accompanied by the headline: ‘Queens of the Street’. It seemed apt because Coronation Street was, at that time, full of bold female characters like Sally Metcalfe and Michelle Connor who epitomised the image of strong, northern, working-class matriarchs dusting themselves down in hard times, as originally envisioned by the show’s creator Tony Warren.
But fast-forward 24 months and the Corrie landscape is looking very different. Catch any current episode and you’ll be hard pushed to find any of its high-profile heroines triumphing over adversity. Instead, they’re all being duped, used and abused by their menfolk.
Take Maria, who has morphed into a lonely singleton wondering why she can’t keep hold of a boyfriend. One-time no-nonsense factory boss Carla has returned, having only found her way back from the psychological brink thanks to the intervention of her booze-soaked saviour Peter.
Sarah is now solely defined by which rogue she’ll decide to hook up with. Audrey has been robbed by her own grandsons. Michelle is being hoodwinked by Robert, who has secretly got Vicky pregnant. The once fiercely independent Yasmeen is being coercively controlled by amateur magician-cum-master manipulator Geoff. And, in the most extreme case, Rana was crushed to death under the weight of factory rubble.
Meanwhile, what’s become of Bethany, who now does little except tell her mum to get back with Gary? Or Sally, now saddled with a sappy storyline that has seen her bring a tired old horse back to the family home just to please her partner Tim? And don’t get me started on the increasingly caricatured Gemma, who spent six months trying to impress Chesney, who then assassinated her personality and told her that he didn’t like who she was…
So who – might you ask – is currently being favoured by show boss Iain MacLeod? Well, the answer here is simple: the fellas. There’s Gary Windass, who has become a backstreet Michael Corleone after copying every other Corrie serial killer plotline and taking over Rick’s loan-shark empire. Or David and Nick, who are at war over stolen money despite no viewer being able to remember why they pinched the cash in the first place. And then there’s chef Robert, who – for some unknown reason – is seen by Vicky and Michelle as the perfect man, despite his only known skill being to read the specials board at the Bistro out loud.
As you can see, the power balance is totally wrong. All the women are either being ground down or sidelined, while the men’s crimes go unpunished. Now, of course, you could argue that Coronation Street has always been about female characters masking heartbreak with make-up. After all, how many times have we seen the likes of Bet Lynch, Elsie Tanner, Liz McDonald, even Michelle Connor, paint on a smile and face their neighbours while hiding private pain inflicted on them by a bloke?
But what the women have traditionally always had is each other. The Weatherfield sisterhood was there in those early episodes when Ena, Minnie and Martha ruled the roost in the snug. More recently, we had Eileen, Liz and Deirdre’s solidarity.
Now, though, you get the sense that the women are being kept apart by the men. What chance do they have to bond when there’s the human shield of Peter or the sinister overprotectiveness of Geoff standing in the way? Even fledgling bonds – like the one between Sally and Abi following their spell of incarceration – appear to have been snuffed out for no good reason.
Instead, that trope of the sisterly support network is being appropriated by other soaps. Look at Sinead, Nancy and Sienna on Hollyoaks, who have united after transcending the machinations of sexual predator Laurie. Or Karen and Sharon on EastEnders, who formed an empowering alliance when they kidnapped Keanu (not that we’d recommend emancipation through abduction, obviously). And we also had the Big Little Lies-style team-up of Emmerdale‘s Priya, Tracy and Leyla, who took the law into their own hands to protect Jacob from Maya.
Coronation Street needs to reclaim territory that was once its own because, at the moment, Elsie Tanner is a blur of faux fur as she spins in her grave.