Monday 8 February 2016

In praise of "Woman's Hour"

My father-in-law is a fan.

Prime ministers are held in its thrall.

It provides companionship to thousands.

And as for me? It has schooled me on everything from sex and relationships, to child refugees, to work-life balancing, to the lives of tribal women around the world, to forgotten female scientists, to best lemon drizzle cake recipes.

The forty-five minute 10am slot on BBC Radio 4 is a fixture in my podcast library.  Having recently taken up (slow!) jogging, I am an avid listener.  Even while puffing away around the local park I am at once calmed and intrigued by Jenni Murray, Jane Garvey and their guests. 

It's hard to pin-point the attraction of the programme.  I like to think I'm a modern sort of woman, who's had a busy career and identifies as a feminist.  But I also love to bake, worry constantly about my parenting skills or the state of my marriage, and love to hear interviews with women leading interesting and unusual lives.

I would be beating down the door of BBC Broadcasting House, if ever they cancelled it.  But that does not look likely.  In fact, the Powers That Be have recently commissioned the superlative Lauren Laverne to host a "Late Night Woman's Hour" - like Jenni Murray with added sex chat and swearing.

Recent discussions have included "taboo subjects" like the menopause, and whether the idea of women "Having It All" is a myth dreamed up by advertising executives.  

It is quietly, politely, subversive.

Politicians understand its reach and importance (especially within the key pensioner cohort).   It does not present any party political bias (many assume it is "small c" conservative, but I see little evidence of this).  It simply holds its interviewees to proper account. Be they researchers presenting a new thesis on the cause of cervical cancer, a cabinet minister answering questions on departmental spending priorities, or a novelist explaining their inspiration for their new controversial book. 

This morning the Woman's Hour team tackled the issue of breastfeeding: why is it so hard for some mothers, and so easy for others?  What advice and support can help?  How long should babies be breast fed for, and in what situations might bottle feeding be a better option?  Among my "mum friends" (both in real life, and on social media) this is a hugely divisive issue.   For example, I strongly believe that the "Breast Is Best" message pushed onto me by the NCT and others throughout pregnancy was a contributory factor in my postpartum psychosis.  I sacrificed everything - my sleep, my well being, my peace of mind and finally my sanity - on the breastfeeding sacrificial altar.

It felt good to write in to Woman's Hour with a short synopsis of my experience.  I had hoped they might read it out on air, and that my words could help other mums listening in.  I know my story would be in safe hands with the Woman's Hour team.  They always take care to present all sides of any debate.  They give practical, sign-posting, advice and information.  This morning was no different.

So, if you have never tuned in or downloaded their podcast, please give them a go.  I promise at the least you will be mildly diverted. And at best it could be a real eye-opener.

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