I have been an avid Radio 4 listener for many years and most weekday mornings I listen to Woman’s Hour, usually with increasing frustration about the content. Woman’s Hour, ironically enough, was created by a man and initially presented by a man; it was first broadcast in 1946 on Radio 2. It moved to Radio 4 in 1973 and is now usually presented by Jenni Murray or Jane Garvey. It generally covers health issue, debates a topical news item, there may be a celebrity interview and a recipe. Then follows a fifteen minute drama. Sometimes all of it it can be vaguely entertaining or can have me shouting at the radio.
The item which really frustrated me and which seems to be trailed all of the time is the so-called ‘Woman’s Hour Power List’ which is Woman’s Hour’s very own list of the 100 most powerful women in the UK today; these are the women who have the biggest impact on Britain’s economy, society, politics and culture today. My problem with this sort of mutual back-slapping nonsense is that the core audience of Woman’s Hour (it is broadcast each weekday between 10 am and 11 am) must surely be full-time mothers, the retired or the unemployed. It is rather galling when all of these high-flying women are interviewed sycophantically, in such a way as to make having a great career the only way to success and a fulfilled life. What rubs me up even more is when the presenters ask the high fliers how they managed to combine their work with raising children and listen in awe as they talk about juggling and making sure weekends are special and the importance of quality time. Nobody mentions the expensive nanny or the boarding school or the army of help required. Nobody asks how you can be any sort of parent if you are working twelve hour days and certainly nobody ever breathes a word about research which shows that under threes are psychologically damaged when long hours are spent in daycare. And what is the point of these power lists anyway. As one commentator wryly wrote, ‘ You usually find Angela Merkel has been beaten by a newsreader and Kerry Katona.’
My other gripe is that some of the articles are so trite; high heels, make-up, cupcakes or Joanna Lumley berating us for buying too may bras and a new wardrobe every season. I don’t know anyone who does that. A recent complaint to the BBC by a man interviewed on Woman’s Hour said ““Woman’s Hour is a determinedly anti-scientific dinosaur of 40-years-out-of-date extreme feminism and the now wholly discredited ‘standard social science model’; a serious blot on the BBC that cannot be long for this world if the BBC is in earnest about public service broadcasting.” The BBC Trust dismissed this as inaccurate but I think they should have looked more closely at the wider point being made. Is Woman’s Hour relevant any more?