“The women characters talked about men all the time”: Is the BBC’s #HearHer campaign really helping women in TV?

"Hear Her is a kind of gluten-free television loaf, stodgy and dull'," TV critic Alison Graham argues

Snatches (BBC, EH)

BBC seasons give me indigestion. There are only so many of these virtue-signalling “now listen while we explain something for your own good” parades I can stand. We’re currently in the midst of two: hear her, promoting programmes featuring women; and a pile of documentaries and live reports marking 70 years of the NHS. Or maybe that should be “nhs”, as the bbc seems to have a problem with upper case letters. It should be Hear Her. Or HEAR HER.

I take particular issue with Hear Her, whose virulent logo (big red lips on an orange background) keeps popping up, like a tiresome relative on a camping trip, at the oddest, seemingly random moments.

Or maybe they aren’t random at all. Maybe Our Girl, BBC1’s Bunty Goes to War comic strip, is seen as some kind of feminist-forward shout-out to fighting women everywhere, rather than a mawkish soap punctuated by violence, and thus deserves the Hear Her sticker on its trailers. (It doesn’t.)

Though it’s really stretching a point to shove the recent, excellent two-part documentary Conviction: Murder in Suburbia into the same lady-bracket just because the people re-examining a (man’s) murder conviction were women. Isn’t that just the kind of thing we aren’t supposed to notice any more, it’s people just getting on with valuable work, rather than Women Getting On With Valuable Work?

There’s something unprepossessingly worthy about BBC seasons but Hear Her must be the most wretchedly narcissistic, a kind of gluten- free “it’s good for you so shut up and listen” television loaf that ends up feeling stodgy and dull.

Or in the case of Hear Her, tokenistic. Live at the Apollo: All Girls? Why? And Snatches, BBC4’s season of monologues (and is there a more deadly phrase in the English language than “season of monologues”?) written by and for women. The first was by Abi Morgan, who wrote The Split, which, as we have discussed on this page, was a female-centric drama where the women characters cried in slow motion and talked about men. All the time. That’s emancipation for you.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating, “seasons” are fatuous because, whoever the broadcaster, they always sound as if some new and fine wisdom is being handed down from a big mountain. But really it just feels like someone’s throwing boiled sweets in the hope that you might catch one, like a particularly educational pantomime dame.

Of course, the irony of a season such as Hear Her, which is supposed to give a platform to women’s voices through, mainly, documentaries, is that it’s always let down by another member of the family, in this case dramas.

Sian Reese-Williams and Rhodri Meilir in Hidden (BBC, EH)
Sian Reese-Williams and Rhodri Meilir in Hidden (BBC)

In the miserable Welsh crime thriller Hidden (Saturday BBC4, Wednesday BBC1 in Wales) a young woman is abducted by a serial killer of women and imprisoned in a dismal cottage on a grotty smallholding in the middle of a wood.

Yes, of course it sounds familiar, substitute “dungeon” for “dismal cottage” and you describe a particular drama template that I thought maybe, just maybe, had vanished for good.

But no, here we go again. The young woman is without any dominion or control, she’s physically overwhelmed by her captor in a very distressing scene, and tied to a bed where she’s left to scream and scream for help into the unforgiving darkness.

So no one can “Hear Her”, can they?

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