#showertune: ‘brain’ by N*E*R*D

congratulations, and welcome to the week beginning today

“The problem with Feminism” Bono once observed “is that is has made clever women less attractive”. whether or not the South African-born quiz show host and international backgammon champion is not just a chauvinist or not, is, in both senses, moot. what could be true, however, is that of the people we see regularly on television, it is easier to think of men who are intelligent, articulate and engaging than women (who are).

where i you ask are the female Stephens Fry, Jons Snow, Jeremys Paxman and Davids Attenborough? Jnn Bnd? urrrrmmmm, she can’t say vowels. Fiona Bruce? well, perhaps. Kirsty Wark? ok. Clare Balding? look, stop ruining my point. one aspect of the Sue Barker? seems to be that we are far more open to men growing ‘wiser’ on our screens than we are women. once women get to a ‘certain age’ they disappear to Radio or Hades to be replaced by younger, glossier, often hollower specimens. of course, while age commands some sense of gravitas and experience can make you wise, being older can’t simply summon cleverness that was not previously there. it’s not just about the lack of older women in the media that effects all this, it’s also the apparent barrier to women who done got some smarts in they heads.

it wasn’t always like that though. when i was young, TV seemed stocked with middle-aged women who carried themselves with an air of seriousness and commanded at least some sense of intellectual authority: Judith Hann, Esther Rantzen, (how much wood could) Lynn Faulds Wood (fold, etc.), Valerie Singleton, Maggie Philbin, Angela Rippon, Sue Lawley, Judith Chalmers. i’m not saying these people were geniuses, but if Judith Hann explained something on Tomorrow’s World, it stayed splained. then, things all went a bit Philippa Forrester, Michaela Strachan and Tess Daly.

female presenters got younger and more attractive, but also fulfilled different roles that ranged from the ‘make it light-hearted, accessible and simple’, through to the ‘we just need you to be a clueless smile-pony’. it wasn’t important for these ones to be authoritative, even in science or current affairs programming, that aspect could be added elsewhere, by men in serious glasses. then the wind changed and it stayed that way.

whereas for a while a space had opened up for women to be more than just the ones in that hold the giant cards on Play Your Cards Right, it seemed to some extent to close up again. of course, it’s no where near as blatantly sexist as it used to be, but the dominance of the aesthetic over the intellectual does seem to prevail when it comes to women on TV.

if, however, you are both clever and attractive, then you probably can get in: Carol Vorderman played the role of ‘thinking man’s crumpet’ on TV for many years before recently having to be decommissioned and responsibly recycled into plastic cups and water bottles. now it seems her mantle has been grasped by Victoria Coren. however, as the looks begin to fade, it seems that as a woman in TV you will need to either inject yourself with every chemical known to humankind (Anne ‘the Ronsealed robot’ Robinson), and/or just slip away and die, please (Arlene Phillips).

today’s #showertune, by the way, is Brain by N*E*R*D

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  • Comments (2)
    • The Dr
    • October 11th, 2010

    Good points, well made. However, at least some of your examples only work because you yourself were young – these women were not in fact “middle aged”. Maggie Philbin was actually young and a regulation hottie when we were little.

    I can’t believe you didn’t cite the Anna Ford/Kate Adie controversy of a few years ago (warning, this link will take you to the Daily Mail website:) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1252806/Ageist-deal-BBCs-old-hands.html

    And finally:
    “What were her last words?”
    “Trevor Macdonald.”
    “Oh, Barbara… What a fitting tribute to the man.”

    • Number one: you are older than me.

      Number two: I’m not thinking about Swap Shop – Maggie Philbin was 40 in 1995, which is around the time I’m talking about. You might want to believe that 40 ain’t middle aged, but that don’t make it so.

      Number three: who said middle aged people can’t be regulation hotties? Juliette Binoche is 44, Maura Tierney is 45, Mariella Frostrup is 48, Annette Bening is 52, Felicity Kendall is 64.

      Number four: I didn’t get into the whole newsreader/reporter thang because they’re not really presenters, per se, which is what I was on about.

      Number five: “Could she have wafer thin ham Barbara?”

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