Belfast Telegraph

If you want my opinion boys, this show’s all wrong

By Sarah Sands

There is an obvious difference between Men's Hour, the new programme devised by Radio 5, and its Radio 4 earlier counterpart, Woman's Hour.

A pre-feminism forum was designed for women because they had no voice in broadcasting. By contrast, men are vigorously represented by the media.

One of the major channels, Sky Sports, has been invented for men. Dave is for men. The whole of Radio 5 is tonally for men, prizing certain opinion above discussion.

Male presenters take most of the work and the money. During the election coverage, women were sent into purdah.

So this is less about marginalisation and more to do with what urban designers call “shared space”.

I suspect that men were more welcoming when women could be absorbed, as a former male newspaper editor put it, as “ honorary white men”.

Now the numbers are greater, the sense of cultural infringement is more acute.

Men have to pretend to take an interest in relationships, lampshades, women's tennis (as opposed to pictures of women tennis players); Jennifer Aniston, health (as opposed to sports injuries); Hilary Mantel, low self-esteem, women's views on anything.

Men may welcome female participation in public life in principle, but there is also a sneaking sympathy towards Peter Mandelson for reportedly telling Harriet Harman to “shut up”.

The male construction constantly used on Radio 5, “If you ask my opinion”, has no female translation because most women do not assume that anyone would ask their opinion.

Global attitudes suggest that the male sense of entitlement is undimmed by feminism.

A survey of 22 nations by the International Herald Tribune last week concluded that in developing countries and rich ones alike there is a hypothetical belief in equality.

But many also believe that men should get the jobs and the educational chances. This is naturally reflected in broadcasting.

It is not only what women have to say but the timbre of their voices that disturbs the natural order.

One woman non-exec told me that there was a selective deafness towards her at board meetings.

Men did not intend to be rude when they talked over her. It was simply that her voice resembled the Mosquito anti-teen sonic devices, unheard by the adult population.

If men unavoidably hear a female voice on radio, they do not feel rage, but they do notice the aberration, in the same way that Radio 4 listeners note, with slight puzzlement, the fruity Caribbean tones of Neil Nunes.

People form stronger, more divisive, opinions about female presenters than male ones. Men surrounded Stephanie Flanders at the FT party last week as if she were a strange though gorgeous specimen.

I am not sure women fantasise about Robert Peston in quite the same way.

On another newspaper, I was hotly accused by a distinguished male journalist of running “girlie” commentary pages. I checked back to the offending columns and found they were by Emma Duncan, deputy editor of the Economist, and Flanders. They are the least girlie women I know. Yet their gender overpowered the poor man's perceptions. He got no further than the imagined perfume.

Men's Hour makes no sense as an extension of Top Gear, but it could have a reassuring role balancing the world view of Woman's Hour.

Recipes could concentrate on chillies, domestic tips would pertain only to gadgets. Nothing on rape.

And, most of all, everyone could talk and nobody would listen. It could be a programme mercifully free of the strange buzzing sound of a female voice.

Belfast Telegraph


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