Television Review

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The Independent Culture
DAYTIME TELEVISION is a den of femininity into which real men - and this obviously exempts Richard Madeley - stray at their peril. The men ushered into their pews to take part in Sex Wars (BBC1), every weekday, a daily debate at 9am on the eternal differences between the genders, had the look of barnyard animals queuing patiently at the business end of a stun gun. They mooed and oinked and crowed, as if to say they could handle the alien surroundings of the studio's pastel amphitheatre. But that's men for you. The women, segregated on the other side of the aisle, ate them for breakfast. Being for the most part their wives, it must have made a nice change from making them their breakfast.

Each day the programme tackled a fresh area of mutual incomprehension. On Monday it was why men hate the way the women they live with dress, on Tuesday why women want to change the men they marry, and yesterday why men won't marry women they meet in nightclubs. Inevitably, the debates blurred at the edges, and the male guests tended to dunk their foot in the same cowpats whatever the bone of contention.

Sex Wars was arbitrated by Kaye Adams, yet another woman from Scotland who offers a telegenic mixture of lilting Celtic elegance and refrigerated Presbyterian hauteur. (See also sundry Kirsties and Carols). This version has Sue Lawley's sloping eyes and a new outfit for each vexatious issue. For the "Baby You Can't Drive My Car" debate, she slipped into a silver satin trouser-suit which, had she worn it in the "I Hate The Way She Dresses" programme, may have excited comment from the Ciceros on male benches. It made her look like one of the women men encounter in nightclubs and refuse to marry.

If there was one thing she wore every day, it was the fig leaf of impartiality. Now and then she let it slip, baring her gender, but in most instances she could plead provocation. When one man explained that he had a low opinion not of women but of women drivers, she had snapped his twig-thin casuistry in two before she even knew it. "But women drivers are women," she explained. "I must have a low opinion of women then," said the man.

With caves no longer deemed fit habitation for humans, you wonder where the programme's researchers dug up these Neanderthals with their Ford Mondeos and their PlayStations. There seems to have been an especially fruitful recruitment drive in the Midlands, because the most dyed-in-the-wool resistance to the feminist revolution came fitted with a Birmingham accent. My favourite was the Brummie who refuses to get out of bed until he has been served his cup of tea. When his wife goes out in the morning, this rigid stance sometimes involves a three-hour vigil propped up against the pillows.

The best debate of the week - and by best I mean most entertaining, because enlightenment didn't form too large a part of the brief - was the one about driving. More than wardrobe or parenthood or any other area touched upon, the car is the citadel of masculinity. Women can take away a man's swift half in the pub and his weekly game of football, but his sense of himself remains inviolate so long as he's got his fingers wrapped around the gearstick. In the topography of a man's value system, a woman's place is in the passenger seat - unless, like a couple of male guests from Birmingham - he's lost his licence and has to be taxied around by the wife. God knows how man defended his maleness before the invention of the automobile. Was there ever such a thing as public bridleway rage? You almost pitied the men as they shook their heads, more in sorrow than anger, at the statistics which prove that women are safer drivers.

If Sex Wars produced a representative sample of sentient masculinity then my dad is Bernard Manning. But then maybe he is. One young woman, by her own admission useless with cars, told a story against herself about leaving the handbrake off when she parked her Audi in her sloping drive. The neighbours rang the doorbell to warn her, she had to get out of the bath, wrap a towel around her naked body and go out into the darkness to pull on the brake. I can't have been the only male viewer wondering if the anecdote would end with her towel around her ankles. Can I?

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