Robin Ince on radio – Woman’s Hour, Robert Webb and gender stereotypes

Listening to Peep Show star Robert Webb talk about his new book How Not To Be A Boy on Woman's Hour made Robin Ince think about sexism and gender equality

All the battles have been won. There is no more homophobia, racism or misogyny. Aren’t the real victims nowadays the brow-beaten who starve due to depletion in the number of sexist jokes readily available to them in mainstream media?

Despite evidence to the contrary, it seems an increasing number of people have come to believe this. It is a situation where loss of privilege has been confused with loss of equality.

According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, if men see a crowd scene in which 17 per cent of the crowd are women, they’ll perceive that as being about 50-50 male-female.

Climbing into his diaries, Webb sees the boy he was and the man he was struggling to be.

One third of the nominees for this year’s Edinburgh Comedy Award were women, which led to articles celebrating that women dominated the shortlist despite there being twice as many men.

Virginia Woolf wrote, “It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a man womanly.” This is something actor and writer Robert Webb’s new book deals with.

Webb has been busy on radio discussing his book How Not To Be a Boy on Woman’s Hour, Saturday Live and with a serialisation as Book of the Week.

The book is about the gender stereotypes we are supposed to become, illustrated by the male role models that surrounded Webb growing up; father, stepfather, brothers and schoolyard acquaintances. Climbing back into his diaries, Webb sees the boy he was and the man he was struggling to be.

Episode three deals with the death of his mother from lung cancer. He lashes out at an object of desire with one of those earnest and acidic letters that jumbled-brain teenagers are capable of. “The girl picked up the bill when the boy turned fear and grief into anger.”

On Woman’s Hour, Webb explained that he couldn’t have written this book if either his stepfather or father had still been alive. He didn’t feel the honesty required to face up to both himself and his role models would have been possible if they’d read it. Even in middle age, we’re still working out who we are and why we have become that. Webb sees one of the major masculine problems being the reduction of all emotional reactions to one: anger.

It’s also worth listening out for his six-year-old daughter’s description of the “patricarcky”, the trick that “makes men sad and women get rubbish jobs”.

In the interview, Jane Garvey points out the irony that “you can write a book questioning masculinity… if I was to write this book I would be trolled, the abuse would be unthinkable”.

Hopefully, one day the trolls will be content to vilify people for the contents of their minds rather than their underpants, or they might even spend their time creating rather than destroying. What a hopeless dreamer I must be.