The Misogyny Book Club, review: A history of women-hating with plenty of bite

The first episode in Radio 4's series, about the sexism that underpins landmark literature, was devoted to the Bible
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The Independent Culture

It was when Adam – him from the Book of Genesis – was labelled "a snivelling creep" that I knew that Radio 4's The Misogyny Book Club was my type of show. The first episode in this series, about the sexism that underpins landmark literature, was devoted to the Bible, specifically the bit near the beginning where Adam and Eve are gadding about in the buff when a serpent pops up and offers Eve a bite of an apple. This pivotal moment didn't just condemn humankind to eternal misery, it also gave men the excuse they needed to oppress, persecute and generally treat women like crap for thousands of years.

Listening to the presenter Jo Fidgen pondering the gender loathing unleashed in the Garden of Eden, I was reminded of my education at a girls' convent school. There we were told from the outset that we were, as young women, sinners by default and that our kind had pretty much ruined things for everyone. Being punished by God with the agony of childbirth wasn't enough. If we knew what was good for us, we should spend our lives atoning for Eve's misdemeanours. Even at the age of 10, this struck me as unjust.

Now here was a group of thinkers and academics underlining the wrongness of Eve's apparent culpability and looking at how sexism became woven into the fabric of society. You don't have to believe in God to see its effects. If you take the Bible literally, Genesis offers a clear explanation of misogyny as the by-product of God's punishment of Eve's naughty behaviour.

Fidgen examined how both Adam and the early fathers of the Church heaped the blame on to Eve, how men subsequently assumed leadership of pretty much everything (being emotional, women couldn't be trusted) and how misogyny and patriarchal oppression has always been "part of the air that we breathe".

 

The Misogyny Book Club was a terrific listen, not least because of its unapologetic title, which fearlessly nailed its colours to the mast, and because it was scheduled at lunchtime straight after World At One, and so was basically yelling "Down with patriarchy!" to hardcore news junkies. In fact, I'd like to see all BBC radio programmes given the same treatment. How about Misogyny Today, in which Mishal Husain and Sarah Montague examine the sexist agenda that underpins national news reporting, or Misogyny BBC 5 Live Sport, a programme weeding out the women-haters in sport?

If inequality is to be properly addressed, highlighting the female experience in all walks of life is crucial. But I admit I was suspicious of Women of Terror, a documentary about the roles women have played in assorted terrorist organisations. The title sounded a bit Daily Mail, hinting that such activities are somehow unfeminine or, worse still, alluring.

I needn't have worried since it was presented by the award-winning journalist Bridget Kendall, whose thesis could be summed up as "Women want to fight and kill, too. Why are we still surprised by this?" She made tremendous use of archive interviews with members of the IRA, Tamil Tigers and, in particular, the hijacker Leila Khaled, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Crucially, she had the tricky task of asking "Why can't women be terrorists too?" while not sounding like she was celebrating terrorism. Naturally, she didn't put a foot wrong.

Twitter: @FionaSturges

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