Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Nadine Dorries: Still blaming the patriarchy

The Guardian is is puckish mood today, publishing (almost in the style of a Comment is Free piece but without the comments) an extract from Hansard in which Nadine Dorries MP takes on the BBC for being sexist.

Dorries begins with an anecdote about the "shocking" tale she had from an unnamed (but well-known) broadcaster, who said that sexism was rife at the corporation, adding that "should he raise the issue within the BBC, life would be made so difficult for him that the end of his career would be just around the corner." Dorries goes on to point out that many of the Licence Fee payers who compulsorarily fund this alleged behaviour are women.

Dorries' main criticisms are (1) that there are too few female presenters, especially on BBC radio and (2) that middle-aged and older women are particularly discriminated against. On the telly, "it would appear that in the minds of TV bosses, the viewing public only enjoy watching ageing male hosts accompanied by young blonde females." And even if, as with Today, there are women as part of the presenting team, "if the female presenter is away from the presenting team, one can go two whole hours in the morning when listening to the "Today" programme without a single female voice, and have male voices speaking at you throughout all that time."

Which is of course a horrible prospect. Still, there's always Woman's Hour. And sometimes Kirsty Young has a female castaway on Desert Island Discs.

Her evidence for this comes not just from listening to the radio a lot but from a Guardian article by Kira Cochrane, which she describes as "research" (though Cochrane herself admits that it "wasn't a scientific study"). Actually, she doesn't mention the most striking of Cochrane's findings (striking, that is, if you're coming from a Guardianista perspective), which is that off all the media she surveyed the most gender-balanced was the Daily Mail. As Cochrane somewhat grudgingly admits, "whatever the Daily Mail's style and tone, it clearly recognises the commercial importance of its women readers, targets a mass of material at them, and is rewarded as the only daily national, besides the Daily Express, whose female readers currently outnumber male readers."

Nadine Dorries has a similar point of her own, though, which must have caused a bit of wincing at King's Place:

The BBC is seen as the holy grail by the left. I believe that an irrational desire by the left to protect the BBC and not attack it or highlight its faults has allowed the present situation to occur, under the prolonged former governance by Labour. It is a worrying theme that the left irrationally protects what it regards as the issues on its turf, sometimes to the detriment of women.

That's moral blind-spot on the Left doesn't just apply to the BBC, of course. But that would be to digress.

There's a strong personal element in Nadine's critique, and it centres on one ageing male host in particular. While she is "not proud of the fact" that she once described Andrew Neil as an "ageing, overweight, orange toupee-wearing has-been" (though she's not sufficiently ashamed of the fact to avoid mentioning it) she's happy to complain that the ex-Sunday Times editor is "aggressive, abrasive and often rude" - and, moreover, "massively turns women off". He accuses him of only having Diane Abbott on his show to use her as a punchbag. She recalls her own run-in with him:

I ran over to College green and did a little piece to camera and gave a quick quote on David Cameron's election campaign. Mr Neil thought I could not hear him as I finished, but I still had the earpiece in, and heard him say, "Well, she looked tired and out of breath there didn't she?" Would he have said that about a male politician who had run over to College green to do that piece? No. It was another sexist, negative Mr Andrew Neil pearler, saved just for the women politicians.

She speculates that the sight of male political journalists making sexist comments about female politicians will put women off entering politics: "Why would any woman want to join us in this place when that is how they are regarded and spoken about?"

This is all vintage Nadine. It also confirms what I've long thought about her, which is that she is essentially a feminist. She uses not just the language and assumptions of feminism in her public utterances, but also (perhaps especially) its basic emotional propulsion, which is its sense of grievance. Rightly or wrongly, but either way like a classic old-style, Guardian feminist, she sees sexism everywhere, she interprets the basic operating system of the world as men taking advantage of women. She blames the patriarchy.

Hence, of course, her passionate belief that girls should be taught to withstand the pressure coming at them from the media, from their peers, but above all from boys and Say No To Sex:

It's girls who get pregnant, girls who lose their education, girls who are left to bring up a child on benefits, girls who reach old age in poverty, girls who are subjected to a string of guesting fathers as they throw in the towel in a life of welfare misery, girls who seek abortion, girls who suffer the consequences of abortion, girls who are subjected to the increased medical risks of giving birth at a young age, girls who have little control over condom use, girls who are pressurised, girls who are targeted by lad mag marketing, it's seven year old girls Primark made alluring padded bikinis for, girls who are targeted by paedophiles...

It's something of an irony that Nadine Dorries gets so much flak from feminists on the Left, who typically accuse her of being some sort of misogynist. I would say something about Caliban raging at his reflection, but I suppose that, too, would be sexist. Or something.