Marina Warner has been invited into the strongly masculine world of the Reith Lectures (R4, R3), only the second woman ever to have been thus honoured. She is very aware of the fact that she will doubtless be seen as representative of her sex and, wisely, decided to deal with feminism straight away. She has called the series Managing Monsters and the first monster she tackles is the image of the unleashed woman. If the rest of the lectures are as stimulating as this, all monsters will cower.
Warner approaches her subject by means of myth. It is easy to dismiss myths as irrelevant fairy tales, but she shows how unwise that can be. She starts with dinosaurs. They used to be seen as interesting relics of pre- history, great lumbering creatures that exist only as fossils in museums or as large concrete toys in suburban parks, where they sit placidly amongst lush vegetation, ruminant, pastoral and inert. But in Jurassic Park they became agile, ferocious, cunning and female, able to reproduce without male intervention. Extremely dangerous, they were an image of the single mother who can conceive without intercourse and whose very existence seems to threaten civilised society. The subtle power of myth becomes clearer.
Cleverly produced by Elizabeth Burke, these lectures make skilful use of the medium. Though Warner's arguments are intricate and fascinating, her slightly hypnotic voice is interrupted with music and readings by other people, so that the danger of being hopelessly dazzled is minimised. Robert Stephens reads, with haughty and fastidious disdain, the speech from Aeschylus in which the god Apollo exonerates Orestes from the crime of matricide. His argument still has power to shock: the mother is seen as insignificant, a mere incubator of a seed sown by the vastly more important father. Citing examples from sources as disparate as Rider Haggard's She, Wagner's Tannhauser and the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Warner shows the strength and endurance of the idea that women who reject their traditional submissive roles are so dangerous that they must be destroyed.
But her conclusion is positive. Such myths are scare-mongering. Using the medieval legend of Sir Gawain, who marries a loathly damsel and generously offers her autonomy over her own fate, leading to bliss for them both, she shows the way forward. She ends with a pleasing piece of recent research that shows that the praying mantis, when left to mate in peace and given enough food, does not
eat her mate but enjoys conjugal rapture. An exhilarating, optimistic display of scholarly enthusiasm - even Lord Reith might have been delighted.
Powerful women were much in evidence this week. On Woman's Hour (R4), the regal Jenni Murray talked to Princess Anne about Eglantyne Jebb, who founded the Save the Children Fund 75 years ago. The Princess was delighted to extol the magnificent work done by the Fund and express her own pleasure in visiting the often isolated and dangerous spots where it flourishes. But when Jenni Murray mentioned the attack on Prince Charles in Australia, of which his sister had not heard, there was trouble. Dismissing Murray's apologies for giving her a shock, the Princess made it clear that the rules were being infringed: 'I'm not sure that had anything to do with Eglantyne Jebb.' Back in your place, Ms Murray.
Literally embattled women were interviewed for Women in Combat (World Service). In 1990, the Royal Navy introduced mixed crews for its ships (where brains, these days, are more important than brawn), but other services are reluctant to allow integration. A jolly Wren said that, on her battleship, the activity most enjoyed by both sexes was watching videos - the favourite was 101 Dalmatians. But conflicting evidence came from the USS Arcadia, which came back from seven months in the Gulf with 36 pregnant crew members. Wife, mother and doctor, Rhonda Kornum was in an American helicopter during that war and was shot down. In the back of a truck, an Iraqi soldier tried to assault her, but couldn't get her flying-suit off over her broken limbs. She was tremendous, incredulous that the man had bothered - 'He even smelt better than I did' - and furious that her case had led to women being banned from such jobs in future. After all, she said, many more women are molested in college and nobody cares about that. Her conclusion was that, if they want to, women should be allowed to run such risks and not have decisions made for them. She certainly sounded like a fighter.
Back in the unreconstructed world of Radio 2, Terry Wogan was playing Peter Skellern's 'You're a Lady' (excuse me, a what?) and reminiscing 'I mind well playing that, just after the Peninsular War'. His is a reassuring, early-morning voice, affectionately dismissive of his audience, the music he plays and the Director General of the BBC who, according to Wogan, lives in a cardboard box by the door of Broadcasting House, glad of an occasional visit from his wife, the gracious Lady Susan. I turned to him when despairing of Today (R4). Sue MacGregor was used as a dishcloth by the disgraceful Gordon Brown, and John Humphrys was sibilantly tutting at Harriet Harman, giving unexpected comfort to the Portillo Pretender. How we miss Brian Redhead. On Monday, in a series of moving tributes, colleagues, duty editors, researchers and friends testified to the same shock and sadness that I felt. His great riposte to Nigel Lawson was played again, as was his suggestion that he voted Labour because of his arthritis: 'I do lean to the left, but that's only because of my hip.' His magnificently intelligent and humane Priestland Memorial Lecture, broadcast last year, might now, sadly, stand as his own testament.Reuse content