Is it sexist to lust after Aidan Turner in Poldark?

TV presenter Mariella Frostrup questions if it's OK for women to celebrate Aidan Turner’s sultry Ross Poldark

Aidan Turner in Poldark, BBC Pictures, SL

The levels of excitement in my house for the return of Poldark are seriously high. Naturally, I admire the sumptuous Cornish seascapes, the elevated drama, the cliffhanger plotlines and all-round entertainment offered by the series. But in truth it’s none of those admittedly equally enticing elements that have got my adrenal glands pumping.

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Instead it’s the promise of an opening scene to rival many manifestations of Bond, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, that’s got my pulse racing – with a shot of a shirtless, sea-soaked Aidan Turner, emerging from the white-capped waves of the Atlantic.

I know I’m lucky to have the freedom to express myself in such a way. As a woman, I can own a comment like that without too much fear of censure. Indeed, there’s an undeniable sense of celebration among my girlfriends at the return of this sultry, tormented character, embodied by a delectable young thespian pleasing all viewing generations.

But we live in confusing times and I’m the first to admit to double standards. If a male colleague had penned those preceding lines about any of Turner’s equally appealing female co-stars, his cries of contrition would be drowned out by Twitter’s Troll Chorus.

I fear we are losing not only our sense of humour but our sense of proportion as we throw every act of perceived sexism into the #MeToo basket. There’s an enormous difference between judging a person’s worth only on the basis of their physical assets and expressing admiration for a fellow human with God’s gift (allegedly) of good looks.

The human form has provoked desire and artistic celebration since we crawled from the primordial swamp and evolved far enough to stop, look and admire. Was Michelangelo sexist for carving out his vision of male perfection in solid rock?

Admiring the physical attributes of the loveliest manifestations of the human form, and objectifying, commercialising and demeaning one sex for the pleasure of the other are two very different pursuits. Only one of them reduces us to a flesh-market.

I don’t much fancy a world where I can’t give voice to my carnal impulses without provoking a storm in a teacup. As we crawl slowly toward equality I hope both sexes can confidently express desire without demeaning the object of our admiration. Admiring Aidan Turner should be an acceptable National Pastime, as a thumbs-up for the glories of humanity and another for his engaging performance.

Certainly, his looks were part of what earned him the gig and that makes perfect sense to me. A small, swarthy Ross Poldark with ruddy cheeks and a beer belly would be a disappointment, even if it were truer to life.

But were Turner’s entire career to be based solely on his ability to provide eye candy, his appointment dependent on whether he put out to the producer and his salary half that of his female co-stars because he was judged to be of lesser importance, I’d call foul to the sexism in a heartbeat.

On a level playing field, small-scale human vices like harmless lasciviousness are unable to do us any damage.

By Mariella Frostrup – published in the 2-8 June 2018 issue of Radio Times magazine

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Poldark season four starts on Sunday September 30 at 9/8c, Masterpiece on PBS


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