Radio review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
On Monday morning, the philosopher Sadie Plant was forecasting, in "Beyond the Millennium", the end of the current patriarchal consensus, with women finally achieving a sense of themselves as fully fledged human beings, and a wholesale deregulation of the sexual economy, in the same way that we've already seen the deregulation of the general economy (which suggests that senior executives of privatised utilities will be getting vastly more than anybody else). In this new society, wondered Sheena MacDonald, where men were marginalised and women called the shots, why would anybody choose to be a boy? Good question, Plant thought, but possibly not the right one: "There will be so many creatures besides women and men," she said, "that those will not necessarily be the only two options."

MacDonald suggested that this sort of talk was liable to get men foaming at the mouth over breakfast tables across the nation; but, to be quite honest, it all sounded rather fun, especially the bit about the multiple options for sex. Will there just be a small selection of new genders to choose from? Or will you be able to select from a menu of gender-defining features, like building your own pizza ("I'll have it with extra mushroom")? Or perhaps it will be more like selecting the precise shade you want on a paint card ("I think the aubergine would look good in the bathroom"). I'd be keen on any gender that didn't involve shaving. At any rate, what we seem to have in prospect here is a brilliant breaking of the bank, a quite unlosable game.

The excitement ran out when Plant started talking about the erosion of traditional conceptions of masculinity, though: suddenly she raised the spectre of oestrogen in the water supply reducing sperm counts, and how this would rework our image of what it is to be a boy. Aha, you thought, she's not, as we assumed, working on the basis of specialised knowledge: this is just any old bollocks she's picked up from the Sunday papers.

Still, at least she was challenging the old sexual roles. On Radio 3, over evenings this week, they're running a series of monologues, "Picasso's Women", in which wives, models and mistresses remember from beyond the grave what a bastard Pablo was. Brian McAvera is clearly attempting to give a voice to forgotten women; but, however well-intentioned, the picture of long-suffering females sacrificing themselves to the self-obsessed, sexually voracious male feels like the worst sort of stereotyping. If you really could design a gender, you feel, you wouldn't bother with either of these.

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