Coronation Street character Stella has taken back her deceitful partner Karl after being rescued by him from a fire that, unknown to her, he actually started. Gemma Elliott, of the Tumblr blog Feminist Coronation Street, considers Karl’s new hero status and the power it has given him over Stella.
[Content note: contains non-graphic descriptions of abusive behaviour and violence.]
I initially started to think about Coronation Street from a feminist perspective in January of this year because I was impressed by the soap’s willingness to address the issue of women’s control over their bodies, such as when Kylie Platt (Paula Lane) openly stated “my body, my decision” in response to pressure from her husband, David (Jack P. Shepherd), not to end her pregnancy.
Along with this, Wikipedia includes a description of Coronation Street as a “matriarchal soap” that is “known for its portrayal of strong female characters”, drawing on the well-worn examples of Hilda Ogden, Elsie Tanner and Annie Walker.
Stella Price (Michelle Collins) most definitely qualifies as an assertive and well respected figure in the soap, following in the footsteps of Walker and a long line of formidable women as the landlady of the Rovers Return. However, despite her initial show of feminism – throwing out her cheating partner Karl (John Michie) and ignoring the street’s gossipers when dating the much younger Jason (Ryan Thomas) – Stella has recently been seen increasingly under the control of Karl, who she has unfortunately taken back.
Karl Munro has been portrayed as a stereotypical nasty-piece-of-work bad guy from early in his Coronation Street life: stealing, gambling Stella’s money and lying to her, although it was only the revelation of his affair with married bar worker Sunita Alahan (Shobna Gulati) which eventually led Stella to ask him to leave. Karl has never been a nice man but he wasn’t a frightening one in the beginning of his current storyline. Though not happy about being thrown out by Stella, he leaves willingly and begins the same pattern of dependence with his lover Sunita (now separated from husband Dev (Jimmi Harkishin), conning her out of money and lying about his source of income. It is perhaps this need to be cared for that has kept some viewers at an emotional distance from him, due to him coming across as pathetic, according to traditional expectations, rather than dangerous. However, more recently, this has changed…