Sisters, we have gone too far. We took a whole day out of the calendar and made it all about ourselves, leaving men to make do with a mere 365 days (because it is a Leap Year, after all) where they can go about their business without being obliged to think about the 52% of the world’s population that isn’t male. We made them feel left out! They don’t know what their role in society is anymore! Are we women not content with the fact that we had an International Women’s Day this time last year? Talk about greedy.
This is what somebody at Radio York clearly thought when they decided to devote a whole hour of their morning’s programming on 8th March to the subject of great men. Presenter Julia Lewis, whether of her own volition or because she was told to, presided over this laughable affair, opening with the proposition that celebrating men is something that “we hardly ever do”. Do we not? A quick glance at the TV schedules for that same day show me that I could have watched documentaries about Charles I, James I or JFK, or maybe travelogues fronted by Timothy Spall and Robson Green (not both together – just imagine), or if I’d fancied a bit of comedy there was a double-bill of QI featuring precisely one woman in the whole line up. There were no programmes specifically about great women. But let’s swallow Julia’s odd assumption for the moment and move on to her next justification for this man-fest.
“Men can be just as inspirational as women, sometimes more so”. I don’t remember getting the memo that IWD was supposed to be a competition to see who could be the most inspiring, but OK. I can see how some people would feel threatened by the suggestion that women sometimes do good things and maybe it would be nice to talk about that occasionally. But only on one specified day of the year, obviously, part of which we’re still going to use to talk about the people who really matter.
“We don’t want the boys to feel left out, do we?” Well, no, if there are men whose masculinity is so fragile that it can’t withstand the prospect of women talking about women for an hour or so, then it would probably be safest not to tip them over the edge. I doubt that such men really exist outside Julia Lewis’ imagination, but I think we’ve already established that said imagination is a strange place.
Julia then decides to talk to Lisa Clifford, who happens to have climbed Mount Everest and is “an inspirational coach”, but instead of asking her about anything that she herself has achieved or done, she merely asks her what she thinks about men’s feelings and whether or not IWD is really necessary. At this point, the existence of International Men’s Day is mentioned, but only in relation to how low profile it is and why we all ought to be making more fuss over it. Lisa valiantly attempts to talk about the sort of people who inspire her, but Julia is on a mission now – “but you’re talking about both women AND men, aren’t you?”
There is more, much more, of this sort of stuff. The first “great man” suggested by a listener is Nigel Farage. The Nigel Farage who wants to abolish all anti-discrimination laws and make marital rape legal again. That Nigel Farage. A male councillor is dragged on to talk about how inspirational he is, and when he suggests that he himself actually finds women more inspiring than men, Julia exclaims “Really? How interesting!” All the callers except Lisa Clifford are men, and the token concession to female recording artists is Shania Twain with her classic feminist rallying call “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”.
I confess that I didn’t make it to the end of the hour, so it’s possible that this show turned out to be a big satirical joke about the lack of representation for women in the media generally – if so, then it was an exceptionally subtle joke – but the overall feeling was of a huge kick in the teeth to women everywhere. Men already dominate media stories about politics, sport, business, science; pretty much everything apart from the “women’s pages” which are primarily about fashion and make-up. We’re constantly told that women don’t feature in these stories because we don’t achieve anything in those fields, but even a cursory glance at the history of science would tell us that this isn’t true. Women’s sport exists and thrives but it is rarely covered in any of the tabloids, except to maybe feature a picture of Anna Kournikova in her pants. On a daily basis, women’s contributions to the world are undermined and ignored. The whole damn point of IWD is to redress that balance a little and to actually talk about these things for a change, before we go back to the standard state of affairs for the rest of the year. Radio York’s decision to take that platform away from women and give it to men, on the one day of the year that they don’t already have it all to themselves, is not only facile and insulting, it displays contempt for women the world over.
What next, Radio York? What are your plans for Black History Month – maybe you’ll talk to some prominent white people about just how little recognition they get for their achievements? Or LGBT History Month – how about a phone-in where everybody can tell their favourite homophobic joke, just in the interests of balance, you understand, so that straight people don’t feel too left out? In any case, we’ll look forward to your coverage of International Men’s Day with great interest. For now, though, how about an acknowledgment that this was a terrible idea, and an apology to the women of York and beyond for treating them so shabbily on the day that was meant to celebrate them?