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Tune in to The Modern Man
|by Barbara Lewis|
For six decades, women across Britain have tuned into BBC Radio 4'S Woman's Hour, a much-loved national institution that has played a major role in defining female identity. Arguably, it's a sign of how beleaguered men feel as more and more women take on the top jobs and leave stay-at-home husbands to take care of the children that another BBC radio station has seen the need to introduce Men's Hour.
From mid-July this year, Radio 5 Live has been airing Men's Hour on Sunday evenings. "It's about capturing the spirit of when good mates sit around nowadays - amidst all the banter you can actually open up about what's on your mind without being ripped apart. We're celebrating modern man's mix of swagger and neurosis," said Tim Samuels, the programme's host and creator.
Woman's Hour has built up a hugely loyal following, eager for its intelligent discussion of the gamut of women's issues, from cohabitation to menopause. It is chaired by long-serving presenter Jenni Murray, an established feminist, who has been awarded an Order of the British Empire for her services to broadcasting. Special guests have included former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the run-up to this year's general election - as he campaigned, not successfully enough given that he was not re-elected, for support from women voters.
So far men and women of the media have been unconvinced men have any need for their own radio hour. Critics have questioned whether the whole idea is misguided. Running the risk of gender stereotyping, some argued that what most men like best when they sit around as "good mates" is bloke-ish humour rather than meaningful debate.
A studio discussion about men being genetically predisposed to infidelity resulted in "the sound of five men staring at their shoes filling the airwaves," wrote Sarah Vine in 'The Times' newspaper. "The reason Woman's Hour works is because women love talking stuff through. Men on the whole don't."
Journalist and campaigner Rosie Boycott, who founded feminist magazine, 'Spare Rib' in 1972, had different reasons for disagreeing with the concept.
"I'm not sure it's healthy. Woman's Hour started very much because women weren't being listened to. This implies that men aren't being listened to," she has been quoted as saying.
Back in 1946, when Woman's Hour was first aired, women struggled to be heard to the extent that the radio programme especially for them was presented by a man, who addressed housewives as they went about their household chores.
Now roughly 213,000 UK men stay at home while their wives carve out careers, according to government statistics for the first quarter of the year, although they pale by comparison with the roughly two million women who decide not to go out to work.
Britain's 'Guardian' newspaper imagined how a dialogue between the Men's Hour presenter and a caller might proceed. "This is the most idiotic concept imaginable. A programme for men? What is Radio 5 Live, if not an entire station for blokes?" the imagined caller asked.
Some 70 per cent of the roughly 6.5 million-per-week audience of Radio 5 Live is men, with an average age of 47. They are lured by an output with a high content of sports programmes, including coverage of the football World Cup, which stoked laddishness across Britain in June and early July.
A BBC spokesman argued Men's Hour had a relatively subtle appeal. "It's a kind of a mix of the light-hearted and the thoughtful," he said. "It's not lads culture. It's interesting and entertaining as well."
A BBC statement went further, promising the show would "delve into uncharted emotional territory for men - bringing real candour to the challenges of relationships and life, alongside irreverent manly chatter".
"Less about leering at ladies and more concerned with how to maintain monogamy, this is the men's magazine women have been waiting for," it said.
Britain's 'Independent' newspaper asked a man and a woman to review the first edition of Men's Hour and, while unanimous in their dismissal, they agreed it was not laddish.
"Men's Hour seems petrified of feminist reprisals and thus intent on emasculating its guests," wrote Tim Walker.
"Atmospherically, the mood was more GP's surgery than football terrace," wrote his female counterpart, Jane Thynne, referring to the programme's focus on male health issues.
With six programmes planned initially, whether Men's Hour can emulate Woman's Hour and still be running in six decades time remains to be seen.
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