Soldiers in petticoats

One of the problems of driving a car is that I occasionally find myself listening to a radio programme that I would never consider turning on in other circumstances but which is so compellingly dreadful that I have to keep listening. Undoubtedly the biggest culprit, which invariably sees me yelling at my car radio and crashing into road barriers, is Woman’s Hour.

What is this programme even for? Is it there because the rest of Radio 4’s heady mix of politics, analysis, culture, drama and gardening just won’t appeal to the poor dears who stay at home to bathe the children and peel the potatoes? Of course, we don’t need a Gentleman’s Hour – we have The World At One in which serious issues of the day are discussed; but thank goodness that Radio 4 have put aside an hour, at least, for those of lesser intellect to hear about more domestic, frivolous concerns.

One recent edition that nearly made me throw my car off a motorway bridge had Emma Thompson’s mother telling a truly horrendous anecdote about a time she inserted a clove of garlic into her bottom to cure her piles, but – my! – imagine the dreadful smell when she passed wind! Is that really suitable subject matter for daytime radio? Is it? IS IT?

But it’s not the sheer randomness and silliness of the content that drives me up the wall. It is the fact that this programme is habitually sexist in a way that even Jeremy Clarkson couldn’t get away with; even if the programme’s very existence didn’t implicitly reinforce a gender stereotype, its discussions regularly take a whole load other other mythical gender distinctions and shamelessly repeat them as if they’re scientific fact.

I was pretty damn cross about last week’s “why women want a bigger kitchen” discussion (why, pray, am I not allowed a bigger kitchen too?) but yesterday went a whole step further in a discussion of “why women don’t write as many letters to newspapers as men do”.

First up with a neat answer was Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard, who explained that “time is a big issue”. Apparently, women don’t write letters to newspapers because “they’re just too busy”.

Doing what, exactly? At no point did Ms Sands stop to explain what it is that means that men are so much less busy than women, except in a vague sentence that seemed to imply that all men are students or retired. She clearly has an unquestioningly Wodehousian world view in which women do all the work while men sit around writing letters to the Telegraph.

Without pausing to justify her illogical theory, she went on to add that with women “there’s this innate modesty” which means they’re less prepared to mouth off about things which annoy them. Which is so laughably inaccurate that I might have chuckled heartily, but for the fact that the Observer‘s Stephen Pritchard leapt in to agree that “women have a natural desire to be more considered and reflective”, a brazen fallacy compounded by the patronising edge in his voice which suggested that he was prepared to tell the little ladies what they wanted to hear if it kept them out of the way while us men got on with running the country.

Not one to make a sweeping generalisation about women without modestly dragging his own gender through the mud, Pritchard added: “men are single-issue people… we tend to be incredibly blinkered!” Unlike, presumably, Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard who believes that women do all the work in the world. In the same simpering tone which, horrifically, seemed calculated to forge a path into Jenni Murray’s knickers, he went on that “women have this tremendous ability to do half a dozen things at once which men certainly don’t share!”

How bloody dare he!!! I couldn’t do my job if I wasn’t able to do half a dozen things at once! Besides which, if women are able to do half a dozen things at once, why aren’t they writing letters to newspapers at the same time as doing all those other things they’re so busy with?

I’m the last person to advocate equality as sameness and know that, broadly speaking, men and women have important physical and emotional differences. But if you were to believe the sweeping, self-contradictory, discriminatory, patronising crap spouted about men and women on Woman’s Hour you would form a view of gender that was last fashionable around the beginning of the 20th century, the very thing that women chained themselves to railings to escape from in a brave yet apparently uncharacteristically single-issue manner.

The feminist in me is half-inclined to chain myself to railings outside Broadcasting House until Radio 4 pull the programme from the airwaves, but time is an issue as I’m so busy, so instead I have written a considered, reflective blog about it (I’m too innately modest to write to the Telegraph).

Shit – I’m a woman.

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