Forget Woman's Hour, how about a whole radio network devoted to women's achievements?

Reviews: Sunday Feature: Memoirs of the Spacewomen, Radio 3; Codes That Changed The World, Radio 4; Ways of Thinking, Radio 4
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The Independent Culture

The presenter Matthew Sweet came across Naomi Mitchison's 1962 book, Memoirs of a Spacewoman, two years ago in a box outside a second-hand bookshop in Hastings, shortly after completing a round of crazy golf. This unexpected find prompted Sweet, a long-term fan of retro sci-fi, to wonder what other 20th-century female writers have been overlooked in this overwhelmingly male-dominated genre. After all, hadn't sci-fi been invented by a woman: Mary Shelley?

The fruits of his research were collected in Memoirs of the Spacewomen, an thoughtful and eye-opening documentary – complete with dramatised excerpts – in which he highlighted the work of three female sci-fi writers and their greatest works. Alongside Mitchison's book (one critic called Mitchison "the Virginia Woolf of science fiction"), we heard about Rose Macaulay, author of 1918's What Not: a Prophetic Comedy, and Margot Bennett and her 1955 masterwork, The Long Way Back, about the African colonisation of Britain.

Their books told of female intergalactic explorers, caterpillar-led empires, time blackouts, nuclear holocausts, experiments in eugenics and sex with Martians. These women were pioneers who, through their bold alternative realities, questioned the morality and the gender stereotypes of their era.

While Bennett envisioned Britain as a nation in need of "civilising", Mitchison's sci-fi visions weren't about conquering other worlds but understanding them. Women reproduced but were far from the earthy nurturing types depicted in mainstream literature. I'm no sci-fi geek but these were books I wanted to read, written by women I'd like to have met.


Sweet's documentary was a one-off but, hell, why not a whole series? Consider the ways in which, historically, women have been overlooked, and then think of the glorious hours of radio you could create in giving them their due. If I ruled radio I'd have a whole network devoted to the achievements of previously neglected female writers, scientists, doctors, architects, inventors, artists, politicians and composers. Wouldn't it be glorious?

Two other programmes this week challenged prevailing gender stereotypes while alerting us to the hidden and seldom-understood practice that underpins our everyday transactions. In Ways of Thinking, the author Naomi Alderman looked at the business of coding and did her utmost to overturn the notion that it was the preserve of clever people.

Meanwhile, in the five-part Codes That Changed the World, Aleks Krotoski looked at the history of computing and the languages that we use to talk to machines.

If Alderman was trying to persuade us that coding wasn't the impossibly rarefied skill that so many believe, Krotoski was essentially trying to convince us that coding was interesting.

Krotoski's task was clearly the bigger one and there were points where even she didn't sound convinced. In an episode on Cobol, the programming language of business, she noted it was "crude" and "thudding" and "more battleship grey than 50 Shades".

I can't say that either show made me hot for coding. More thrilling for me was the fact that both programmes were written and hosted by clever, charismatic women who were operating in what is, according to stereotype, a male domain. A small step, but a significant one nonetheless.

Twitter: @FionaSturges