Radio review: Start of the Week - What women want – to know where it all went wrong


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The Independent Culture

Betty Friedan's landmark book The Feminine Mystique came out 50 years ago, and although there's plenty of legislation in place that addresses issues of gender equality, on the ground, as it were, it sometimes seems little has changed, and this new hypersexualised world of ours doesn't seem to have done much to advance women's rights.

The Friedan anniversary was marked by a provocative double bill on Radio 4, which kicked off on Start the Week with a discussion of where we're up to with feminism. Anne McElvoy chaired a largely impressive panel, with Living Dolls author Natasha Walters, radical feminist Finn Mackay and the journalist and academic Shereen El Feki, who has been looking at changes in the Arab world (signs of hope there but still some way to go ...). Oh, and there was Catherine Hakim, whose book Erotic Capital says that to get ahead women must exploit their attractiveness and take advantage of what she calls "the male sex deficit" – the fact that, in Hakimworld at least, men want sex more than women do. It's "women's trump card". Mackay was incredulous. "It's like we've gone back to the 1950s," she said, baffled.

When Woman's Hour (Radio 4, Monday-Wednesday ****) held a phone-in on listeners' reactions, the few men who called in didn't come out of it well. Rob from Scotland said he's not a feminist but a "peoplist" and that it's not "mankind" but "womb-mankind". At this point he was mercifully faded out. Come on lads, I thought, surely we can do better than this. The female callers were all eminently sensible, though mostly all frightfully middle-class (like every other Radio 4 phone-in, in fact).

There was a shocking postscript in Wednesday's Woman's Hour, when Jenni Murray spoke to Rebecca Meredith, a student who had just taken part in the annual Glasgow University Ancients Debating Competition. When she got up to speak she was booed and catcalled, with shouts of "Shame, woman" and "Shut up, you frigid bitch". On taking this up with the organisers, she was told not to make a fuss – "Women are always booed – it's expected." Happily, the matter is being investigated. Unhappily, it's being investigated by the organisers themselves.