Kate Chisholm

It’s (still) a man’s world

It feels wrong in 2016 to be fretting about what women want, and what makes them happy

When Jane Garvey announced to the audience who had just ‘taken part’ in the 70th birthday celebrations of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Monday morning that a woman listener had sent in an email asking, ‘Why do we need a programme like this in 2016?’, she almost caused a riot in the BBC Radio Theatre. A riot of disbelief and horror. What? Abolish the only programme on the BBC entirely devoted to the issues that affect women? Cut down in its prime a daily audio magazine that since its first broadcast in October 1946, and in spite of initially being commissioned and presented by men, has raised provocative questions about the right to equal pay (Nancy Astor, the first woman MP, was a frequent guest on those early programmes), to equal appreciation for the role of motherhood and housework in the national economy, to equal opportunities for women in the workplace, and to equality within the home? That has never failed to champion women’s achievements, from the pioneering composer Elisabeth Lutyens to the extraordinarily graceful and quietly subversive Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain (who was a guest on Monday’s birthday programme). And that has allowed women to talk freely on air about those aspects of life normally kept hidden behind the net curtain — the menopause, abortion or how to de-slime your face flannel (yes, that really was a topic).

A sneaky part of me has been thinking for a while that the notion of a programme devoted solely to women’s issues is past its sell-by date and this brave listener may have a point. Do we still need a daily hour (or rather 45 minutes) devoted to the issues of a single sex now that men are not ashamed to change nappies or rush home from work to make supper? Is it not time that Woman’s Hour was transformed into an arena for both sexes to debate, reveal, confess and confer about issues that matter to both sexes, not just the bodily ailments and inner travails of one of them? Shouldn’t a programme that discusses everything from bugs in dishwashers to the peace negotiations in Colombia reach out to a wider audience, with a different name, now that we’re supposed to be sharing household chores as well as the top jobs?

It’s true that as we gathered in the Radio Theatre on Monday morning the latest headlines from the presidential debate in the USA took us straight back to the Dark Ages.

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