It isn’t just Professor Beard’s facts and stories about Roman life, delivered leaning towards the camera because this is important, that makes this new history programme so refreshing. It is the respect Beard has for her audience’s ability to understand without the employment of actors leaping about in togas and speaking in some wild appropriation of a Latin accent.
It is the near perfection of Professor Beard’s All Roads Lead to Rome that I imagine had AA Gill clawing for criticisms from the school of Trinny and Susannah. To read AA Gill’s silly criticisms out of context you might think Professor Beard had returned to her BBC A Point of View essay on Miss World. As a contestant.
AA Gill is well aware of what criticising the few women in the media who prioritise their interests (which, as I understand it, is what their contracts insist they are paid for) over their vanity can get him. Publicity. I know, just as when I wrote about Unilad’s misogyny (as did Squeamish Louise) I will be told I am giving AA Gill the oxygen of publicity.
When AA Gill described Clare Balding as a “dyke on a bike*” Balding complained to Press Complaints Commission. Even if Gill is from the school of No Such Thing as Bad Publicity having ‘misogynist’ on your CV is no good thing. If you need to be told that then all the more reason to publicise this misogyny as unacceptable.
This is exactly what Mary Beard has done in the form of a scathing Daily Mail article in which she ponders on Gill’s obvious fear of clever women. “Throughout Western history there have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds”.
Yes Gill is something of a professional misanthrope (which surely by definition embraces the term ‘misogynist’?), hunching over his keyboard to type criticisms of Wales, Tony Robinson and The Isle of Man and smirking over his own jokes (hey - somebody’s got to). Robinson, Wales and The Isle of Man have yet to publicly bridle at Gill’s superficial jabs.
But Wales and The Isle of Man have tourist boards to tout the beauty of their landscapes. Robinson’s worth is set by his talent and Blackadder. It is easier to brush off because for every Robinson fronted Time Team show, there’s also a Starkey programme. A Starkey programme which would practically invite you to examine Starkey’s many short comings rendering anyone caught curling their lip at his looks given short shrift: ‘Why pick on the face?’
This is not a case of ‘sticks and stones’ as the Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon would have it. Beard’s reply does not let the side down or give the impression of womankind getting “our proverbial knickers in a twist about the pathetic comments of some idiotic misogynist who wants to provoke a reaction, we just end up making ourselves look like some vulnerable minority group”.
Gordon dismisses Clare Balding’s Twitter defence of Mary Beard as rather frivolous: “Are there not more important feminist fishies to fry? Equal pay? Benefits for single mothers? Why didn’t Clare Balding tweet about the revelation also this weekend that 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilation?”
I would like to know when is the right time to complain? About any form of misogyny, which FGM is an extreme form of. Surely the trick is to complain before it reaches such alarming heights? We all know from playground taunts that our mother’s advice of ignoring them doesn’t work. Informing Gordon that nits have a preference for clean hair might have better helped the childhood situation Gordon alluded to. The child Gordon should have ridiculed this little boy bully’s ignorance.
Again and again I find myself returning to this Margaret Atwood quote: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Much better to make them face their fear. Laugh at them, as Beard has done.
*give him his due, the guy’s a poet and he knows it.