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What The BBC's The Trouble With Women Gets Wrong

Refinery29 logoRefinery29 14/06/2018 Natalie Gil

a group of people posing for a photo: Refinery29 © Photo: BBC/Wild Pictures Refinery29 Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author on behalf of our content partner and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft

A century on from some British women being granted suffrage for the first time, 2018 has become a year of taking stock of the state of gender equality.

Running with the topic, BBC One has made a provocatively titled documentary The Trouble With Women, fronted by Anne Robinson. In the light of #MeToo, Time's Up and the recent revelations that have emerged about the gender pay gap, it sets out to work out why women are still having such a hard time achieving equality.

It begins with Robinson, who self-identifies as a feminist and first covered women's issues as a journalist more than 50 years ago, describing women nowadays as beset with "fragility", "nervousness" and "timidity" compared to the women of her generation who "smashed through the glass ceiling".

Women today, she claims, "are very easily thwarted [and] very quick to suppose that things are happening to them because they are women and not because everyone will try to do you over." It's an unsympathetic, counterproductive stance that makes you wonder whether she has been paying attention to the last year's news – Harvey Weinstein's systematic sexual harassment of women because they were women, for instance.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  An activist participates in the Take Back The Workplace March and #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: An activist participates in the Take Back The Workplace March and #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images) The documentary touches on all manner of feminist issues, from sexual harassment and stay-at-home dads to ageing and the gender pay gap, which means it doesn't delve into any of them in significant depth, and Robinson frequently struggles to empathise with other women's experiences. On ageing and the pressure on older women to look young, for example, she doesn't place any of the blame on our youth-obsessed culture, media or fashion and beauty industries.

"When people say that there is pressure on women to look younger, I believe that's looking at it the wrong way. I believe there is more opportunity for women to spend money, to not feel guilty about it and to take a risk and look how they want to look. Why on earth would other women complain about that? And what is the difference between piercing your ear and having a bit of Botox?" she ponders. Robinson had a face lift 14 years ago, which she insists was only ever for herself; this may well be true, but her unwillingness to criticise society's fixation on youth seems strange given her place in an industry which notoriously casts women aside as soon as they hit 50, and the growing backlash against the phrase "anti-ageing" being used by the media and cosmetics industries.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: People carry signs addressing the issue of sexual harassment at a #MeToo rally outside of Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: People carry signs addressing the issue of sexual harassment at a #MeToo rally outside of Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images) Robinson is similarly close-minded on other issues, describing young women as "making a fuss about nothing" when they complain about wolf whistling, although she becomes more sympathetic after speaking to a group of twenty-somethings about the sexual harassment they've experienced. She's more sympathetic on the pay gap, but again seems to place the onus on women to ask for more money rather than focusing on the need for top-down change at big corporations. This is just before she reveals that 62% of workers earning less than the living wage are women, but she never draws the conclusion that their inability to advocate for themselves in the workplace is often because they're not in a secure enough position to rock the boat and make themselves vulnerable.

Like many second-wave feminists, Robinson says that because life is in some ways easier for women today than it was for her generation – with abortion being legal, the pill being more widely available, greater equality in the workplace, etc – today's women shouldn't be complaining. But this attitude is at odds with the premise of the show, that the younger generation are feeble, fragile and not doing enough to fight for equality.

Gender wage gap © Catalyst Images Gender wage gap As the documentary goes on, Robinson becomes more understanding of the contemporary feminists' plight. "I started this journey with a fair amount of despair and frustration that women were going backwards and doing nothing to establish their position of equality, but actually, what I've realised is the amount of revelations we've had in the last year have caused an enormous wake-up call for men and women," she concludes.

"I've stopped despairing, I'm rather excited about the future. There are women out there determined to make a difference, to change the status quo and that means more equality much quicker for the rest of womenkind." To many of us watching, this will have been obvious from the off, but if The Trouble With Women makes anyone else realise this too, it will have been worthwhile.

The Trouble With Women airs on BBC One at 9pm on Thursday 14th June and will be available on BBC iPlayer.

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