Neil McNicholas: Woman’s Hour radio agenda is anachronistic

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IT just so happens that, on those mornings when I find myself behind the wheel of my car and switch on the radio for some background entertainment, my station of choice is usually Radio 4 and it always seems to be the time for Woman’s Hour.

The alternative would be Radio 2 but it’s always Ken Bruce and “Pop Master”, which I can’t stand. I actually enjoy Woman’s Hour and so, it would appear, do those men who it was recently estimated make up around 40 per cent of its audience.

If my programme choice wasn’t confession enough I have a further admission, and that is that until today I had no idea there was a programme called Men’s Hour on Radio 5 Live – which just shows how much publicity and promotion it receives. Exactly what its format is, or its agenda, I have no idea.

As much as I enjoy listening to Woman’s Hour, it always rankles with me that there has to be a programme specifically targeted at women – especially when it turns out that 40 per cent of its audience are men. By the same token, therefore, there should be no need for an equally discriminatory Men’s Hour. Could we not simply have a radio magazine programme produced with a general listener demographic in mind – or would that just be You and Yours?

Most Woman’s Hour segments would be of interest to any listener and don’t need to be part of a programme targeted solely at women, as the name implies. This immediately raises the question as to what proportion of the women who listen to it want a programme specifically with them in mind? Also, in this day and age, just how many women are happy with Woman’s Hour constantly promoting the feminist agenda? Isn’t it getting to be a bit of an anachronism? For your own safety, please stand back while I open this particular Pandora’s box.

With its roots in the suffrage movement of the 19th century, feminism with the “women’s lib” tag was strong in voice and action from the 1960s, followed by a further effort at revival some 30 years later. The fact that Woman’s Hour guests are still banging the feminist drum (aided and abetted in particular by its long-standing, or in this case long-sitting, presenter, Jenni Murray) seems to be an admission in itself that little has been achieved in all of that time. If they do in fact perceive this to be the case, then these good ladies clearly need a new game plan because the old one has failed them badly. I can’t help wondering, however, whether they have they been banging that particular drum for so long now that that’s all they can hear.

I simply don’t accept that as a society we are no further forward on women’s issues and women’s rights, and it can be toe-curlingly embarrassing having to listen to their feminist agendas, and turning everything into a reason to get rid of every male off the face of the planet. At times it almost verges on a persecution complex. Indeed one of the major problems those of the feminist persuasion create for themselves and their cause is the relentless raking over of the coals. It’s like putting sugar in your tea – for those who do – and then doing nothing other than continually stirring it so that you never actually have the chance to drink and enjoy it.

I can’t help feeling that as long as a gender-specific programme such as Woman’s Hour continues, it will be used as a platform for equally specific feminist agendas. Is this what the female portion of the Woman’s Hour audience wants to hear? Surely a general magazine format would be more generally acceptable to all who make up that audience each day?

The concept of a programme being compiled and produced solely for women – or one for men, for that matter – seems not only anachronistic, but patronising. It conjures up – wrongly, I hope – the image of the 1950s perfect TV family mother, in her best suit and high heels and fresh from the hair dressers, chained to the kitchen sink, waiting for a radio programme that will offer a 60-minute escape from her domestic drudgery. Is this how Woman’s Hour sees its audience and its raison d’être? If so, then it is Woman’s Hour that needs saving (from itself) – not its female listeners.

• Neil McNicholas is a priest in the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

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