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Last night was the first in a series of shows NPT will be doing on the state of children's health in Tennessee
. The title is a bit of a misnomer. The shows will be focusing on a bunch of interrelated health crises Tennessee children face, from high infant mortality rates to obesity to mental health issues to poor nutrition to high rates of asthma and so on.
These things interconnect for sure, don't get me wrong. But it's one thing to watch a show thinking you're going to be talking about one monolithic health crisis. It's more overwhelming and daunting when you realize there are actually all kinds of different things going wrong with our kids (and by extension all of us).
It's an important series, poised to do a lot of good. But last night's episode brought up a couple of things that stick in my craw.
For starters, Dr. Warren
repeatedly used the singular term "mom" when either a plural "moms" or "mothers" or "the mom" or "the mother" would have been more appropriate. He also used "mom" when referring to all women of childbearing age, whether we have kids. For instance, he talked about the importance of "making sure that mom is healthy before she ever conceives."
I know this sounds like crazy feminist nit-picking, but the use of "mom" like that is condescending. Women have names. If you don't know our names, look at our charts. Women are not some monolith, mothers are not some monolith. When you start talking about what "mom" needs to do, like there's one universal experience of motherhood, it signals to many women that you've moved from talking about concrete things to pulling stuff out of your ass.
I suspect that many doctors (in my experience they've been mostly male) use this construct because they think puts women at ease, makes us think they're folksy and connecting with us.
It often does not.
From personal experience, it is especially terrifying when doctors slip up and use the "mom" construct with a woman who is not a mother. Do you not know which patient is before you or is this your way of telling a gal she's expecting? Either way, not cool.
Second, NPT, cut it out with the headless fatties
. (I even saw one headless fatty who was just pregnant.) If obesity is a health issue and not a moral issue, stop acting like there's something so shameful about being fat that you won't even show these kids' faces (except, of course, for the one girl who is getting help).
To quote Kate Harding (while changing tenses), "decapitating the fatties dehumanizes us, [...] the photos chosen are inevitably unflattering and clearly meant to evoke disgust rather than merely represent an ordinary fat person, [...] the headless fatty shot injects a bit of editorializing into even the most objective article."
If you wouldn't include a shot if it showed the child's face, then you know
the way you're representing those kids is unfair. So stop it. They're just kids with a health issue. Don't film them like they're freaks.
Otherwise, I think this is a really incredible piece of journalism. Even in the brief hour and a half of this first show, they covered an incredible breadth of health care problems and told some really moving, in-depth stories that illustrated particular issues very well.
And as well-done as the documentary first hour was, I thought the half-hour round-table at the end was even better--smart, thoughtful people sitting around and talking about these issues in their full complexity.
I'm looking forward to more.