I love The Replacement on BBC1 but I hate what it says about women

The Replacement. Picture: Mark Mainz

The Replacement. Picture: Mark Mainz - Credit: BBC/Left Bank

I put off watching The Replacement, the new BBC drama about a high flying professional woman’s anxiety about going on maternity leave, writes Liz Nice.

Of course, it is written by a man (Joe Ahearne) and don’t they know so much about how women feel in this situation, just as they are so often experts on childbirth, I find, despite never having had to push the equivalent of a bowling ball through a polo mint.

Anyhow, what inflamed my inner Mary Whitehouse, before I had even watched the programme (a habit Mary shared), was the idea that women in the workplace are constantly competing smiling assassins who go about pretending to be lovely, all the while plotting each other’s doom.

I have worked with a lot of women. Some have irritated me. Especially the passive aggressive ones who slag each other off while saying, ‘I love her but’. (No, you hate them. Be honest!)

Some have made me despair. Especially the ones who are more sexist toward other women than any man I know. But I have only ever worked with one grade A bitch (a word I reserve exclusively for this particular person) who set out to destroy me and my career in every possible way.

Of course, she failed. But that’s one woman out of what must be at least 1000! And I’ve worked with as many rotten men. (He was grade A too). Despite what (many) may think, women are generally very supportive of each other in the workplace. They back each other up. They send supportive emails to boost each other when things are going badly. They mentor younger or more inexperienced colleagues because it gives them pleasure to see other women doing well.

And I must say, when I went on maternity leave, what would happen to my job was the least of my concerns. At that point, my view was – I’m going to have a baby! Who cares about my job? (As it happened, it was still there, exactly the same as before, on my return – seeing as that’s the law).

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Now, of course, having watched The Replacement, I can’t get enough of it. While my inner feminist is disgusted at such lunatic and unflattering portrayals of women, my inner Hitchcock fan is deeply absorbed. Who is the crazy one? (They’re women, of course one must be crazy – or maybe they both are? What a ‘twist’ that would be). Either way, it’s brilliant telly. But it would be nice if the final message turned out to be a truth more shocking than anything tonight’s denouement (BBC1 9pm) is likely to conjure up: that a woman who is truly great at her job can never be easily replaced.

All man should try being women

I was intrigued to read about two co-workers in Philadelphia who swapped genders for a week in their email correspondence to see if clients treated them differently.

They came up with the idea after the man, Martin Schneider, accidentally emailed a client using his female colleague Nicole Hallberg’s email address and found the client ‘impossible’ to deal with, being ‘rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions, telling me his methods were the industry standard (they weren’t) and (claiming) I couldn’t understand the terms he used (I could).”

As soon as he let the client know there had been an error and he was in fact, ‘Martin’ and not ‘Nicole’, the client’s attitude changed completely. Thus, Martin and Nicole pretended to be each other for a week, particularly as Martin had been asked by their boss to figure out why Nicole took much longer to deal with clients than he did.

Martin soon had the answer. While Nicole had ‘the most productive week of her career’ as a ‘man’, Martin was ‘in hell’ as a ‘woman’. “Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients... were condescending. One even asked if I was single”.

I shared this story with female friends and ex-students and they were unsurprised, saying that all men should try being a woman for a week to see how it feels!

Meanwhile, Martin said the most shocking part of their experiment was that Nicole was so used to her daily dance for respect, she believed it was part of her job. She had no idea her male colleagues never had to jump through the same hoops.

Later, Nicole said that when they explained what had happened to their boss, he didn’t see it as proof of sexism. Clients could have behaved as they had for other reasons, he suggested. Again, no surprise. Whenever I’ve complained of sexism, most of the men I know reply: “It’s not sexism, it’s (more palatable blank).” I would have thought as the woman on the end of it, I was best placed to judge, but maybe I’d better spend a week as a man to be sure?

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