Carrie Dunn asks why the TV executives behind new channel Dave assume that only men are interested in ‘witty banter’
Do you find Stephen Fry entertaining and amusing? Are you filled with ’90s Friday night nostalgia at the very mention of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Are your spring evenings brightened by Sir Alan Sugar growling: “You’re fired!”? Why, then you must be a man.
UKTV G2 relaunched last week as Dave, which was apparently chosen as the channel’s new name because “everybody knows a bloke named Dave”. Now, I have nothing against Daves per se – in fact, my boyfriend is one – and clearly UKTV G2 isn’t the catchiest name in the world. I also like the idea of having a place on my digibox where I can locate hours of classic comedy and clever entertainment. Indeed, Dave’s new slogan is “the home of witty banter” and its regular evening line-up bears that out: Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Top Gear, QI, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You. But is it utterly inconceivable that you don’t have to be a man to appreciate witty banter?
Perhaps the channel’s controllers would argue, along with Sir Patrick Moore, that television is simply too feminised now and that every other channel in the digisphere is aimed at women. The little ladies are only interested in watching the cookery shows, the costume dramas and the long-running rom-coms – what do they need intelligent entertainment programming for? Nobody is actually physically stopping them from watching Dave, if they really want to watch it, so what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that if you stereotype “witty banter” as male and “fluffy tripe” as female, you don’t cater for your audience, you just perpetuate stereotypes.
For a start, setting up parameters of “blokeness” means that any man falling outside that will feel that he’s inadequate in some way. This isn’t a new media phenomenon – think of the plethora of Nuts and Zoo clones that stuffed the magazine shelves a few years ago. My friends and I used to joke about making our own men’s magazine by numbers: “Girls! Men like girls! Cars! Men like cars! Gadgets! Men like gadgets! Guns! Men like guns! Sport! Men like sport!” But basically it is a very reductive, very essentialist view of gender.
Putting a deliberate masculinised veneer on your “witty banter” creates an atmosphere that is unwelcoming to women, so that the women who do dare enter that particular arena have to adopt a “one of the lads” persona. From that, it is a short step into outright misogyny, which is given covert credence and approval by the presence of the women participating.
If you think I’m being melodramatic, compare it to that other major leisure interest of Britons: professional sport. The audience is assumed to be male – check. It is a nice refuge for men away from the domineering influence of the ladies – check. At a push, women can watch if they like, but there are much more suitable pursuits for them than this rough knockabout stuff – embroidery and baking, for example. Check.
Moreover, in both situations, overt and blatant sexism is entirely acceptable, if not a badge of honour, and women will get told: “If you don’t like it, then keep out of it.” When manager Mike Newell engaged in a “there is no place for women in professional football” rant, he kept his job, was not subjected to any genuine internal disciplinary procedure, and had a token fine imposed on him by the Football Association.
We already know that girls are growing up thinking that they would rather die than exercise, and I have no doubt whatsoever that this is partly because they’re indoctrinated at a very early age to think that sport is for boys. Do we really want them to grow up thinking that pop music, cars, incisive wit and quick-thinking are also the domain of men?