The Week In Radio: Exasperated by only the company of men
It was around 7.57am last Friday, while listening to the Today programme, that I started quietly banging my head on the kitchen table. John Humphrys had introduced a story about the psychological welfare of women who had had abortions. A new report carried out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested that having a termination appeared not to increase the risk of serious mental health problems, a conclusion that contradicts the claims of some anti-abortion groups.
So who did they bring in to enlighten listeners on this issue that applied exclusively to women, their choices during pregnancy and the stress that these choices can provoke? Let me give you a clue: none of them had ovaries.
I mean no disrespect to the men taking part in the debate, who comprised the author of the aforementioned report and the chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship. Both contributors had done research on the subject. But listening to them using phrases like "evidence collated" and "to go to birth" (the latter meaning to choose to have a baby rather abort it), I couldn't help but picture a group of farmers discussing the problems afflicting a herd of cattle.
Exactly how hard would it have been to get a woman on the programme? Maybe a counsellor accustomed to dealing with termination issues, or a spokesperson from a women's group. Failing that, perhaps a researcher could have stepped outside Broadcasting House with a loudhailer and shouted down Oxford Street: "Anyone here ever been pregnant and depressed?" There would have been a stampede.
When it was suggested that the study hadn't differentiated between the stress caused by pregnancy or that caused by the prospect of a termination, the report's author remarked: "I'm not an expert in abortion; we're experts in dealing with evidence", thus highlighting what was wrong here. This was an academic discussion, essentially a dispute over data. It had nothing to do with female experience.
I, like so many radio listeners, have grown up with Today. The voices of Sue MacGregor and Brian Redhead were, throughout my childhood, as familiar to me as those of my parents. Over the last 20 or so years I have relied on the likes of John Humphrys and James Naughtie to drag me out of bed and tutor me in the issues of the day.
But there has been an unease about this relationship. As a female listener I have often felt marginalised and overlooked. A cloud of despondency has settled every time I've heard the women presenters being steered towards the jokey topics, with the weighty stuff reserved for the men.
This status quo has endured even after the programme's editor Ceri Thomas's witless remark 18 months ago about women being too thin-skinned to hack it on Today. This is clear in the astonishingly low numbers of female contributors compared to male ones (according a newspaper report last week, men make up 84 per cent of guests and reporters on the programme). Tellingly, last Friday's main topic, David Cameron's veto in the EU treaty negotiations, contained not a single female voice. Why? Maybe they thought we were all too busy making our husband's breakfasts. or doing the school run, or just sitting at home with our clothes on back to front and knitting booties for the babies we aborted years ago.
Whatever the reason, the answer to the Today problem is quite simple: invite more women on to the programme, and if they decline invite some more. There are a lot of us out here, many with brains and opinions. And if you don't ask, you don't get.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant