Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Black-ish struggles with women’s issues

Illustration for article titled Black-ish struggles with women’s issues

“Manternity” is an episode that reveals one of Black-ish’s few shortcomings. The show has never had an issue combining comedy and the politics of race, but it’s never really attempted to turn its critical eye toward black women or feminism. With Dre as the show’s central mouthpiece, it’s not surprising that these issues rarely get the spotlight they deserve. Season two’s “Johnson & Johnson” is perhaps the show’s closest episode to anything addressing feminism as Bow and Dre clash over wives taking their husbands’ last names. “Manternity,” however, is more blatantly political since it tries to address the issues women face balancing pregnancy and work life. While this would be a great opportunity to let Bow lead the plot, she somehow feels secondary to Dre’s conflict over paternity leave. The two plots don’t quite intersect enough to feel like a singular A-plot, and the result leaves both characters floundering.

“Manternity” is funny, but the episode skates by on laughs alone. This would be fine if the episode didn’t follow the rhythm of its usual political storylines. It starts with Dre setting up the issue––working women choosing between their careers and motherhood. But, there’s only so much Dre can say on the topic. The usual Stevens and Lido educational moment that follows is derailed by the issue of paternity leave, rather than looking at Bow’s struggle with her career or a conversation on working pregnant women. Dre’s co-workers’ sexism on the topic feels unusually old school, even for them. In the end, whether Dre takes paternity leave or not, he’s not sacrificing as much as Bow. The scene where Dre considers the effect of his presence on his kids is hilarious, but again, it’s not the most pressing issue at hand.

It’s great that Bow’s career has been given more space this season, but it pales in comparison to the time the show spends with Stevens and Lido. That’s a shame, because I’d be happy with more hospital time if it means more Andy Daly and Holiday Hannah. We’ve seen Bow struggle to gain respect this season, but now she’s suddenly up for partner. It all feels too fast. The episode rushes through Bow’s struggle to keep her pregnancy a secret and her realization that pregnancy really will alter her career. It doesn’t help that the show brings back Vivian (Black Nanny) to reflect Bow’s struggle back to her. Regina Hall’s character hasn’t been on the show since season two, so her conversation with Bow doesn’t feel particularly meaningful. Black Nanny does put Bow’s hypocrisy on display, but it would’ve had more impact if it didn’t feel like they just threw her in to make a point.

When Bow finally has her ”educational monologue” moment with her partners, it doesn’t quite make sense. She’s motivated to help employers and pregnant women find a compromise, but it’s not really clear what that means. The music swells, the words sound inspiring, but what action is she really asking for? It’s a monologue that lacks the history or direct action of Dre’s speeches. Bow’s speech could’ve been rooted in the long history of black women who were stunted in their careers or forced to sacrifice them entirely. Or the long history of black women who were forced into nursing or mothering roles because they had limited options. Instead, Bow meanders through random, vague statements about “the sacred trust between employer and employee.” She says society hasn’t figured out how to support pregnant women, but it doesn’t quite sound like she knows how to make that happen either.

There are improvements in this week’s C-plot as the kids partner with Ruby again. Last week’s spades competition didn’t quite work, because the motivation behind the kids joining Ruby felt unrealistic. This week, however, the gang joins Ruby when they think their personal items have been stolen (except for Diane, who just never liked Black Nanny). This could’ve been another over-the-top farce, but it feels more like family bonding than the typical Ruby plot.

This is because there are small moments that help strengthen the relationship between Ruby and her grandkids. When she’s stating her own “golden rule”––when someone steals from you, catch them and shame them––Zoey mouths along as though it’s something she’s heard her whole life. As Dre and Bow get more baby focused, it’s smart for the show to build on the relationship between the kids and Ruby. As long as Ruby’s influence on them continues to reflect their history together, it works well. Ruby has never felt like a stereotypical grandmother, but the show isn’t struggling to make her seem like one in “Manternity.”


Stray observations

  • Honestly, it feels like Bow has been pregnant for 10 years. There have been some inconsistencies in how much she’s showing from week to week, but it was great to see them poke fun at the way TV shows typically have pregnant women hide behind objects or wear ill-fitting clothes.
  • The paternity test joke was the best one in the Stevens and Lido scene, but otherwise, Charlie felt underused.
  • iPod shuffles: the greatest piece of non-vibrating technology the world has ever seen.
  • I wish we’d gotten more Black Nanny before this episode. I really think it would’ve made Bow’s plot stronger if they had more of a connection before Vivian’s pregnancy reveal. Hopefully she doesn’t just disappear now.
  • “Why are you still on the floor?”
  • The Baileys product placement was a bit much this episode. These things usually feel more seamless.
  • “Lil pervert”: Junior’s creepy pictures felt like a step backward for the character, but he is a teenage boy.