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The Nanny

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Back in the nineties, when I was a young adult, I used to love watching The Nanny. It was a funny TV series about a stunningly gorgeous woman who found herself employed by a dashingly handsome widower, to raise his three young children.

It appealed to me, because I could relate to the character, Miss Fran fine, played by Fran Drescher. Back in those days, I was skinny and tall, with dark hair, and looking for a husband! I would have loved some attention from Charles Shaughnessy, who played Fran's love interest, Mr Maxwell Sheffield.

The cast of The Nanny - CBS TV series 1993-1999

The rest of the cast delivered funny one-liners and site gags, just as perfectly as the lead characters. Every year, when preparing my Christmas pudding, I'd watch an episode, so I'd infuse the mixture with love and laughter.

But, just recently, I've seen this series in a different light. Make no mistake, it is still funny, and I'm still watching re-runs to this day. Apart from the obvious issue of a romantic affiliation between a boss and his staff member (a conflict of interest because he was in a position of power over her), other red flags started to flap before my eyes.

I read an article recently on gaslighting, and I began to recognise some examples of gaslighting in Mr Sheffield's behaviour towards Miss Fine. He particularly used trivialising and diverting techniques to belittle her.

There she was, living with a man who yelled at her, blamed her for the littlest things, trivialised her wisdom and her feelings, and led her on romantically. Why would she want him? Was she blind and deaf to how he treated her? I certainly was. Like Fran, I was swept up in the look of Mr Sheffield, in the ready-made family, and the lifestyle. But Mr Sheffield was a bully and a brute. No-one deserves the way he treated Fran. And, by the way, no-one deserves to be treated the way her mother, Mrs Fine, would treat Niles, the butler.

I also recognised gaslighting in an old movie that was on free-to-air TV on the weekend, called How to Murder your Wife. Starring Jack Lemmon and Verna Lisi, this 1965 movie showed examples of gender stereotyping that are now considered extremely offensive.

This all got me to thinking about how these examples of entertainment may have influenced my own thinking at those times. The movie was made before I was born, and it could have been played on TV as the midday movie, or a Sunday movie, which I would have enjoyed over the years. The gender stereotyping could have been insidious; covertly manipulating my own thoughts about a woman's capacity to do absolutely anything, throughout my childhood and beyond.

I used to love old movies. I used to think they could be shown at any time of the day and to any viewer regardless of age; because they never had strong violence, swearing, or sex scenes. But, I look at my back-catalogue and realise that this was a trap. I thought that anyone could watch them, including the kids, but they often seemed to place women in inferior positions. Women were portrayed as being weaker - physically, mentally, materially, and academically.

TV programmers really need to look back over the films and TV shows they might play, to see if they portray any kind of stereotyping - gender, race, religion, age, ability, education (just to name a few) - and make the choice not to include them in their station's programming.

If we see examples of gender stereotyping (or other forms of prejudice), we have opportunities to consider what is wrong in those scenes, and how we should behave. They give us the chance to discuss what is respectful-versus-disrespectful behaviour with our families, and how we incorporate their influence into our own belief systems.

In this week of International Women's Day, we're all being challenged to #ChooseToChallenge something that thwarts the equality of women and girls. We need to look at all our forms of entertainment, and choose not to support that which is disrespectful. Maybe, we'll also get into the habit of calling out disrespectful words and behaviour in our everyday lives too ...

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