The casual ageism and sexism directed at women was perfectly deomonstrated by AA Gill in his attack on Professor Mary Beard in the Sunday Times. As I said in my Guardian comment piece, just because a women is appearing on TV doesn't make it okay to single her out for personal jibes about her appearance, particularly when men are very rarely assessed in the same way.
This isn't the first time Gill has found himself in hot water. Last year he criticised a cycling programme presented by Clare Balding, calling her a 'dyke on a bike'. Since I wrote The Guardian piece, I've seen a couple of comments from people who think I should 'lighten up', that Gill is a critic, and this sort of 'ribbing' is a part of the job. I don't agree. To a large extent I think we've become immune as a society to belittling women in this way, whether they are TV presenters or not. It's become so accepted, that a person taking issue with ageist, sexist jibes, is accused of not having a sense of humour.
Professor Beard has admitted being hurt by the attacks. She was also surprised that her grey hair and lack of make-up should be more of a talking point than the content of the programme she was presenting. I have no doubt the criticism will leave a mark. When Gill said in his column that 'someone should take her to one side before she starts directing the traffic' he was trying to reduce the eminent professor to a figure of fun and ridicule. To her credit Mary Beard hit back but, while the majority of people supported her, it did provoke a further wave of insults.
Speaking out about prejudice and daring to challenge it is never easy. Sometimes the idea of keeping one's head below the parapet is very tempting, but if we did this then nothing would change, and men like AA Gill could continue to rate women on the basis of their appearance rather than their contribution.
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