James Innes-Smith

Is it any wonder that men are put off by the BBC?

Is it any wonder that men are put off by the BBC?
Line of Duty (Image: BBC)
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Is it any surprise that research carried out by the corporation for its annual report found that more than a quarter of men feel that the BBC 'no longer reflects people like me'?

In a concerted effort to redress gender imbalance men are gradually being airbrushed out. Across much of the BBC men have become something of a rarity. Many of the corporation's high-profile dramas are now female-focused, including the Pursuit of Love, I May Destroy You, Starstruck and Motherland. Female presenters dominate shows such as BBC Breakfast, The One Show and Songs of Praise. A rejuvenated BBC Three will be almost exclusively female led while Radio 4 has turned into one long episode of Woman's Hour. 

But you can hardly point the finger at the BBC; its female-centric programming reflects a cultural trend that is rife across society. Take the growing disparity between the way high profile men and women are treated in the public realm. Whatever you may have thought about Matt Hancock's duplicitousness, some of the personal attacks heaped upon the former Health Secretary would never have been countenanced had the politician in question not been a man.

Women in the public eye may have grown accustomed to being judged on their appearance but these days any criticism is usually levelled at their fashion sense rather than on physical attractiveness. If I were to describe a female politician as 'ugly' or 'punching above her weight', as has happened with Hancock, I would, quite rightly, be labelled a vile misogynist, not that any such comments would ever make it to print of course. And why is it now fine to drool over male bodies in a way that would be deemed unacceptable the other way round?

I thought we'd agreed not to judge each other based on our immutable characteristics – nobody can help piggy eyes or a weak chin. Shouldn’t we at least show a bit of consistency and apply the same rules to men as we do to remarks about women?

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Rowan Pelling describes Hancock's 'inexplicable sexual allure' and how he went from 'looking like a travelling denture salesman to a scrubbed-up game-show host' and while I'm sure Hancock can take it the real question is, why should he have to? Criticise the man's actions by all means, but why the low punches? Pelling might want to ruminate on how she would feel if someone described her sexual allurement as 'inexplicable' in a national newspaper.

This casual misandry, often proffered by alpha females who would balk if the tables were turned, has become ubiquitous. Last year's best selling book 'I Hate Men' by Pauline Harmange took double standards to dizzying new heights.

Some might argue that men deserve a taste of their own medicine but old-fashioned male leeriness, although still around, has been considered socially unacceptable for some time now. When did you last hear a builder bellow 'phwoooar' at a passing female pedestrian? Such behaviour simply isn’t tolerated – indeed, it can now be reported to the police as a hate incident.

Sadly, having a pop at men – whether it's their appearance or apparent ineptitude – is deeply fashionable. Men are increasingly written and spoken about in ways that would be deemed wholly inappropriate if the roles were reversed.

In her book Re-educated: How I Changed My Job, My Home, My Husband and My Hair writer Lucy Kellaway boasts about ditching her husband 'for a 20-foot strip of bright orange Corian', as though dumping a spouse for a slab of modernist architecture were the mark of a successful midlife makeover. One can only imagine how her husband, the respected author David Goodhart, feels about appearing alongside Kellaway's new hair colour as an example of enlightened change. And imagine the sort of flak someone like Jeremy Clarkson would receive if he wrote a book entitled 'Re-educated: How I Changed My Job, My Home, My Wife and My Car' – I can hear the wails of indignation now.

Meanwhile Sarah Vine has highlighted her husband's ineptitude over several hundred column inches, firstly for the Times and latterly for the Daily Mail. All those intimate little annoyances that in any normal relationship would remain private are treated as acceptable click-bait. Vine's gripes range from huffing about his hopelessness behind the wheel – 'my husband is the worst driver in England, possibly the western world' – and his uselessness around the house: 'true love is being married for ten years and successfully resisting the urge to throttle him when he asks you where you keep the plasters.' Such remarks may be made half in jest but if they were reversed and aimed at a woman it's hard to see how they would be tolerated.

Time and again in popular culture we see the expendable husband used as a metaphor for female empowerment; think Eat, Pray, Love, Sex/Life and any number of inspirational self-help books penned by female writers. Anti-male sentiment is now rife in books such asWomen Don't Owe You Pretty by Florence Given and Grayson Perry's The Descent of Man. Then there are the blundering, ineffectual male oafs who have become a staple of TV advertising, along with their super-efficient, eye-rolling female partners.

Over the past few years it seems the gender war has become increasingly one-sided. But now that we have established that women can be just as cruel as blokes, can't we all just shake hands and call a truce?

Written byJames Innes-Smith

James Innes-Smith is the author of The Seven Ages of Man — How to Live Meaningful Life published by Little, Brown on 5 November 2020.

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