The first episode of Bear Grylls’ new survival show The Island premiered last week. And sparked something of a media storm.
Among the Twitter fury that a group of grown men could take almost two days to light a fire – and the gaggle of people, me included, who lamented the fact that modern life has left us so unprepared to fend for ourselves – TV-viewers started to talk about the lack of women on the show.
There are in fact none. The Island, as Grylls explains in the episode’s opening minutes, is about rekindling masculine ideals and testing the mettle of Britain’s modern men.
So, there are 13 men – and absolutely no oestrogen in sight.
You’d have thought Channel 4 would have anticipated jibes about how the ladies would definitely be able to light a fire more successfully and accusations that the broadcaster was being short-sighted and sexist to think that survival skills were just a man’s game.
But apparently sparking a sexism debate wasn’t something C4 was expecting. Writing in The Telegraph, the channel’s chief creative officer Jay Hunt, says, “I can honestly say I didn’t see the sexism row about The Island coming.”
The show, Hunt says, was a product of a “thought-provoking conversation about how the different roles of men and women were evolving”, adding: “In a world where hunting and gathering can be done in Sainsbury’s, where does that leave the traditional man?”
Instead of excluding the female sex because they couldn’t cope on an uninhabited tropical island, Hunt says: “Women are absent from The Island not because they are incapable but because they are so capable. Women are stronger, more independent and more self-reliant than they have ever been and that is changing gender dynamics in fascinating ways.”
Hunt concludes by stating that The Island shouldn’t be about the lack of women, saying: “The Island is a raw, and insightful look at masculinity in modern Britain precisely because we only cast men. To see an affront to women where one doesn’t exist simply diminishes the important battles that are still left to fight.”
Still, whether or not the decision to omit women from Grylls’ wilderness experiment can be classed as sexist, the debate does pose the question as to whether it was an oversight not to include the female sex.
It’s not just men who’ve been affected by our modern way of life, you know. Ladies do all their hunting and gathering in supermarkets too. And it would be interesting to know how both sexes would fare if all our everyday comforts where whisked away.
There would definitely be a different dynamic once Grylls boat disappeared into the distance – and all those angry tweeters would get an answer to that all important question: would women be able to light a fire quicker?
Grylls himself has been quick to say he’d like to do an all-female version of the show. So perhaps this unexpected sexism row could provide Channel 4 with an idea for The Island series two. Men vs women, anyone?
The Island continues tonight at 9:00pm on Channel 4.