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She’s resting. The Doctor Gave Her a Sedative

The Crisis – Frank Dicksee 1891

I wonder how many books, films and dramas have contained these words? Often set in a country house, the ‘mistress’ has suffered a shock her fragile female form cannot bear. The gruff but avuncular doctor is seen coming down the stairs. ‘I’ve given her a sedative,’ he says. ‘I’ll call in tomorrow.’ Then off he rides on his horse.

When the police inspector comes calling, needing to talk to the lady, her husband says, ‘That will not be possible. She’s resting. The doctor gave her a sedative.’

It’s a stock situation with stock script. It would definitely be more interesting if it were the husband who was resting after a sedative, his wife the stoical manager who can challenge all adversity.

In this slice of narrative how much is said about perceptions of strong men and weak women. We’ve moved on considerably from such stereotypes but they’re still to be found in ‘cosy’ contemporary fiction and television.

Thoughtful, intelligent fiction does not work with stock images. That is left to the churning out of the thoughtless and simple writers and readers. Yet there is for a writer a rich and fertile ground that is never exhausted in the exploring of sex and gender.

One other thing. There is an interesting and clear path from the nineteenth century idea of doctors’ ‘treating’ emotional distress with pills, potions and injections to the present day. Perhaps, for instance, ‘mothers little helpers’ as Valium became known through the Rolling Stones song, were the drugs needed to keep ‘a good mother and housewife’ functioning.

And as drugs were needed to sedate women trapped in tight gender roles, perhaps now all of us in a toxic culture have to turn to sedation. Ironically, in an age touted as the zenith of personal freedom, we have never been more constrained, and never will we be strong enough to meet the demands of a devestating capitalist realism.

Mother’s Little Helper

What a drag it is getting old”Kids are different today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
There’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day”Things are different today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak

And goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And two help her on her way, get her through her busy dayDoctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old”Men just aren’t the same today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
They just don’t appreciate that you get tired
They’re so hard to satisfy, You can tranquilize your mind
So go running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And four help you through the night, help to minimize your plightDoctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old”Life’s just much too hard today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore

And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose
No more running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
They just helped you on your way, through your busy dying day

Keith Richards / Mick JaggerMother’s Little Helper lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

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