Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Woman's hour tells us how it is!

You've got to love Woman's hour on Radio 4. Apparently there needs to be some balance with the rest of  the station's content, supposedly largely male-biased - though a quick glance at the schedules, or a cursory listen to programmes like Generations apart -  feminist output presented as mainstream - would seem to give the lie to this.

I used to find it hard to put into words exactly what made me so uncomfortable about Woman's hour, concluding that it was the sheer abundance of unchallenged assumptions which makes it such a politically charged programme - on  a channel that proudly boasts of its 'impartiality'.

Yesterday Jane Garvey and guests covered "slut-shaming" and the "sexualisation of girls" at school. One of her guests was Labour MP Dianne Abbott, Shadow Public Health minister. (do the Labour party leadership think everyone has forgotten Ms Abbott's last public relations triumph?). Now Abbott said nothing that surprised me or made me any fonder of her politics (as Public Health minister, would she devote any thought at all to boys? because she doesn't give the impression that she would) But more important, I think, is the nature of the discussion of the topic.

Of course, Woman's hour is a show designed to be by, for and about women. The problem comes with the sniping references to men. They are no longer simply giving a woman's view, but have moved onto different territory: making statements about men and women that need to be verified or not as may be the case. The makers of Woman's hour do not seem to get this point.

Put another way: once you start telling people how much easier men have it, or how they are entirely responsible for a perceived unfairness in sexual politics, then it is (or ought to be) necessary to provide some evidence, or some of the bigger picture that does include how men see things. You can no longer justifiably hide behind the idea that you're giving the "female viewpoint".

Abbott told us with relish (apparently talking about promiscuous sexual activity) that such behaviour is celebrated for men and how unfair it is that women have to suffer for it. This is a rather old and carefully chosen comparison that ignores the big picture of sexual politics.

A student representative joined the discussion to tell us what was going on "on the ground", as Ms Garvey put it. She similarly thought that it was always the girl who was blamed for 'sexting'. If this is true (any evidence?) you could argue that the act of sending a text is slightly more proactive than the act of receiving it, but hey ho. 

Interestingly, the student said, with regard to slut-shaming "but..girls do it to other girls as well. It's not just boys". This was off-message, and the conversation was hurriedly moved along. In actual fact, don't girls in fact care far more what other girls think of them, and compete with each other over how grown-up they are? Then there are the magazine's they read, the music videos they watch. Just how much of this new 'sexualisation' is caused by boys who desperately want sex - and have always been the same way?

Abbott seemed to think that if the adults were as internet-savvy as the kids it might help. But how exactly? She didn't believe in snooping, nor did she suggest how to make porn invisible to kids. The magazine's/TV/music and new attitudes among girls were only obliquely referred to by the discussion. Garvey and her guests skirted around them by talking in the passive - saying vaguely that "pressure was being put" on girls, and that girls were being "victimised by a pornified culture", whatever that means. 

Quick as they were to say how easy men had it, and to imply that all was the fault of men, they deliberately chose unclear ways of talking about where the pressure was actually coming from. This isn't an honest and impartial discussion of an issue, it's propaganda. Myself I prefer education. But I don't think people can tell the difference any more..