Call the Midwife reminds me to be thankful for living in 2015

Call the Midwife highlights the fact that women in the west haven’t lived in this privileged position for very long, says Ellie Walker-Arnott, and that there's still a way to go

I’m a stickler for a spot of nostalgia. I love Pyrex teacups, tattered old books and vintage shoes.


My boyfriend recently looked at me blankly as I handed over five of my hard-earned British pounds for a rusty OXO tin and a chipped enamel ladle that was probably past its best in 1978. And it didn’t take my dad much to persuade seven-year-old me that good music equaled 60s music.

Those were the good old days, when summers were hot and endless, my dad had an impressive pony-tail and my granny was startlingly young and beautiful. They had pirate radio, Twiggy, free love and shift dresses. Apparently, it was socially acceptable not to wear shoes and put flowers in your hair. What’s not to like? The 1960s were a better, simpler and more stylish time, right?

Well, Call the Midwife has reminded me that I’m looking at it through a rose-tinted, sepia-toned romantic haze.

You could easily prejudge BBC1’s Sunday-night period drama as an hour of vintage fluff. But alongside the floral dresses and slices of Victoria Sponge, the drama is quietly and subversively telling serious stories about women in an intolerant time.

The current series, more so than the three before it, is tackling big social issues in a hard-hitting and powerful way: unmarried mothers shipped off to give birth away from society’s disapproving gaze; the stigma surrounding sex before marriage; the lack of contraception or control over their own bodies. Countless women without a choice or a voice.  

In 1960 abortion was a crime. And so was being gay. The contraceptive pill wasn’t available yet, and still wouldn’t be for years to come if you didn’t have a ring on your finger.

It wasn’t illegal to sack a woman because she was pregnant until 1975.

Take the credit cards in your purse for granted? Women couldn’t even apply for a loan or credit in their own names until 1980. Bars and pubs were allowed to refuse to serve you until 1982. 

Marital rape wasn’t deemed a crime until the early 90s.

In 2015 you might not instantly identify with the term feminism (plenty of us reportedly don’t) or see ours as a world where women are second-class citizens. And it’s great that for the most part, here in the west, we live our day-to-day lives freely and easily. But Call the Midwife highlights the fact that we haven’t lived in this privileged position for very long.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. In the UK, female bosses earn 25% less than their male counterparts, and are less likely to make it to management level in the first place, while in some parts of the world the historical difficulties I’ve mentioned are still very much a living reality.

Call the Midwife is a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. Period drama can be cosy escapism, but it can also do an important job of shining a light on the issues of today from the perspective of the past.


Call the Midwife continues on Sunday at 8:00pm on BBC1