Lately I’ve been wondering whether my radio is some sort of time machine. It may be a sassy DAB digital model that I was given for Christmas but when I switched it on to Radio 4 last Thursday at 10 am I was instantly transported back to the 1940s. It never ceases to astound me that in the third decade of the 21st century, the BBC are still broadcasting a programme called Woman’s Hour. Woman’s Hour, which has been going since 1946, is still on five mornings a week with a “Best of” edition every Saturday afternoon.
Seriously? In 2020? Did feminism never happen? What about the valiant battles for equality and inclusivity? Have they just been blithely ignored? The programme’s very title seems anachronistic and faintly ridiculous. It implies that women needn’t worry their pretty little heads about the rest of Radio 4’s output because those nice patrician men at the BBC have set aside an hour a day for you “ladies” to discuss knitting patterns and recipes for nettle soup. I half expected to switch on the TV afterwards and see Miss World, Benny Hill or Brucie telling Anthea to “Give us a twirl”.
But you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and maybe I’d got it all wrong so I began to listen. I was immediately drawn in by an engaging tale about a woman in her forties, given up for adoption as a baby, who went in search of her birth parents. My first thought, obviously, was “Why on earth is this on Woman’s Hour? It’s a wonderful human story and would be of interest to all humans not just those with XX chromosomes.”
But then, for decades, that’s been a constant criticism of Woman’ Hour. Issues relevant to 100 per cent of people are often skewed to suggest they only apply to 50 per cent of them: “So, Professor, how will climate change affect women?” Which is why I began to wonder: if the adopted baby had been a boy would this story have even been included in the programme? Or would it have to be told from the mother’s point of view rather than the child’s?
After that, it was straight back to the era of Benny and Brucie. I listened in disbelief to a serious discussion about whether it was now acceptable for women to wear trousers. Then – and I swear I’m not making this up – a woman came in with a recipe for nettle soup.
How could we begin to explain concept of Woman’s Hour to someone from a more progressive culture? How would we excuse the fact that – broadcast at 10am every weekday morning – the BBC patriarchy must assume that women are available to listen to it. Perish the thought that a woman might be out at work.
By patronising women and excluding men, Woman’s Hour has the rare distinction of irritating just about everyone, so how much longer can it continue? The BBC are under enormous pressure at the moment, routinely slated for being too “woke”. But by continuing to broadcast a programme as dated and condescending as Woman’s Hour, I’d contend that they’re not woke enough. Auntie pulled the plug on Miss World in 1980. It must be time she realised that pulling the plug on Woman’s Hour is about forty years overdue.