Laughing is not normally what I do at 5.30am. But I did yesterday – at BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today – a programme I usually respect. If we had not been launching The Conservative Woman later that day I would have despaired, not laughed.
For even this much loved ‘hardy perennial’ had fallen victim to the BBC’s gender equality imperative to show respect for, yes you have guessed it, International Woman’s Day. I could not have been given a better sign of how much our new website was needed.
Saturday’s programme, it turned out, was the culmination of a week-long campaign by the Beeb’s gender warriors to track down the oppressed of the farming industry. No, they were not seeking out migrant labourers at the mercy of gangmasters or poor peasants drowning on the Somerset levels, but women farmers. A barrage of emails during the week complaining that the BBC was making a fuss about nothing had not stopped them.
Britain’s women farmers, Farming Today was confident, would be found to be still in the grip of patriarchal oppression and prejudice. All it needed was to track them down. The only trouble was, having been lined up for interview, that Britain’s female farmers, from the Welsh uplands to the Scottish Highlands, refused to play ball. They were either bemused or having none of it.
Their resolute common sense was as heartwarming as it was reassuring that common sense still prevails – even if only at the extremities of our still United Kingdom.
The harder Charlotte Smith, the programme’s presenter and intrepid reporter, tried to make these women’s gender an issue, the more they refused to concede anything.
Charlotte valiantly began with Minette Batters, who she described as ‘having made history as the first female deputy leader of the National Farmer’s Union’.
“Do you feel like a woman who has changed history?” she asked her. It was a mistake. “No I don’t”, Minette emphatically replied.
Despite the rebuff Charlotte persisted, “how much has your gender got to do with anything?” Minette again did not mince her words. “Personally I don’t think it has anything to do with it at all.”
But still Charlotte was not to be put off. “But outside farming it seems a big deal”. Well it might have seemed so to metropolitan New Broadcasting House but not so to Minette. “For us women involved in agriculture there have always been women involved – mothers, daughters and wives – and they are key to the operation.”
That should have been that. It wasn’t.
You’d have thought at that Charlotte might have retired hurt. But no, she carried on backing a busted flush. “Was it not”, she insisted to her second interviewee, “still very much an industry dominated by men. Surely it must be tough to be a woman farmer in this male bastion?”
Not really, no, came the instant rejoinder – then a pause – only when you are not strong enough to do the job – like pulling out a breach birth calf on your own, then of course you do need the superior physical strength of a male farmer.
It was not, one suspected, quite the answer that Charlotte had been looking for.
But give up? Never. With interviewee number three, a younger woman farmer, she started all over again. This time she tried with, “You are one of those rare things – a woman who is calling the shots”. It was another assertion not to go down too well.
“I don’t consider myself to be a rarity at all. My mother runs a sizeable sheep flock also my aunt, another aunt and a great aunt …”, her answer came fast and furious. Most of the positions in Scotland’s Young Farmers were held by woman farmers too, she went on to inform Charlotte.
Pressed further she explained, a tad wearily, “I don’t think it is (about) my gender; it is who I am. At the end of the day I am doing the job I love and whether I am male or female makes absolutely no difference”.
Well there you have it. She could not have made it clearer. Unfortunately Charlotte was not listening. But then the BBC never does when it gets aboard its gender equality bandwagon.