tue 25/06/2024

Women, BBC Four / Dispatches - Cameron Uncovered, C4 | reviews, news & interviews

Women, BBC Four / Dispatches - Cameron Uncovered, C4

Women, BBC Four / Dispatches - Cameron Uncovered, C4

A revealing probe into feminism, a less-exposing undressing for Dave

Marilyn French, feminist veteran and author of The Women's Room

You don't have to be female to wonder where the feminist revolution went.  You only have to look at the not-very-private lives of footballers and the gaggles of wannabe WAGs flinging themselves in their path, or the way female pop stars seem to relish the requirement to dress up (or down) like porno queens, to wonder if it isn't high time somebody wrote an update of Kate Millett's Sexual Politics.

But they'd all be too busy Tweeting to read it.Millett was one of the pioneering feminist icons tracked down by Vanessa Engle in Libbers, the first of her three-part series, Women. Like many of them, Millett, who now lives in upstate New York and farms Christmas trees for a living, looked exhausted by the years of struggle. "Don't get too famous," she cautioned. "Then you're just a mark and everybody shoots at you."

Film of married-with-two-kids conformity and Sixties TV commercials for washing machines and Hoovers sketched in the background against which the feminists went to war. Their rhetoric of "oppression" and "consciousness-raising" had distinctly Maoist overtones, which was appropriate for the confrontational extremes of the Vietnam era, but it's easy to forget how wide the gulf between the sexes used to be.

Marilyn French, in her last major interview before she died last May, recalled how despite her exceptional academic qualifications the only jobs she was offered were clerical or secretarial. She married at 20, but divorced after 17 years and embarked on a literary career which encompassed (among other things) the 20million-selling The Women's Room. "I don't think men should have privilege of any kind over women," she declared, unbending in her belief that male destructiveness is the root of all evil.

Robin Morgan came to the feminist movement after dabbling in a spot of armed struggle with the New Left, and soared to notoriety by demonstrating against the Miss America pageant. Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will, and discovered that "men are not attracted to women who write books about rape." Engle followed her subjects off on digressions into the wildest hinterlands of anarcho-feminism, where women's desire to control their own bodies involved them in DIY abortions and unspeakable-sounding techniques of "menstrual extraction".

Often it was like listening to old soldiers describing long-ago campaigns, and their weariness and sadness was palpable. But surely many significant battles had been won? After all, these days a woman can even win the Oscar for Best Director. Yes, "but we haven't had a revolution," as Germaine Greer put it.

DaveFollowing the revelations about the Beast of 10 Downing Street in Andrew Rawnsley's book The End of the Party, David Cameron (pictured right) and the Tories must have been dreading what Rawnsley had been up to in the Dispatches editing suite. As it happened, the worst bit in Cameron Uncovered had already been leaked. It was the part where Ed Vaizey, shadow minister for culture, surmised that Dave's wife Samantha might have voted for Tony Blair. All political lives end in failure, but Ed must have set a new speed record here.

It has been an appalling few weeks for Dave's bunch, who seem to have become hypnotised by the spider's web of hypocrisy and distortion orchestrated by the fertile brain of Lord Mandelson. The Ashcroft affair has been the latest own goal in a run of form dismal enough to recall England's footballers under Graham "Turnip" Taylor. One of Rawnsley's finest moments in this film came during his interview with Cameron. "When you first met him, what was it that attracted you to the billionaire Michael Ashcroft?" he inquired smoothly.

A mauling by the jowly, Muttley-like Rawnsley might have looked ominously like the nailing down of the electoral coffin-lid, but this time he had come up short of lethal revelations, and spent much of his time kicking around a list of familiar topics. Should spending cuts come sooner or later? Is everybody sick of Old Etonians? Are the Tories too Eurosceptic? Will they have to raise taxes? Various eminences waffled obligingly, but we don't trust "experts" any more.

The decision by Cameron and many of his inner circle - Osborne, Hague, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove - to cooperate with the film-makers had the effect of spraying some humanising solvent over the "Evil Toffs" mythology the Conservatives are finding it so difficult to shake off. Osborne even sounded reasonably convincing on the economy, while Dave himself has the inestimable advantage over Gordon Brown of not looking like Jane Eyre's Mr Rochester after the burning building fell on his head. But some magnificently satanic interjections by Lord Mandelson, metaphorically stroking a white Persian cat, were chilling reminders of the supernatural challenges to come.


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