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Radio review: Analysis: The problem with boys, Outlook, and God's Work

18 October 2019


THE problem with boys is that they cannot sit still, they cannot organise themselves, and their brains do not create works as well as girls’. If you ever needed evidence to suggest that it’s tough being a boy, then Analysis: The problem with boys (Radio 4, Monday of last week) was the place to find it. There is, according to the experts presented here, a significant gender gap — and it is to the detriment of boys.

David Grossman recognised in his report the standard nature-nurture paradigm, but abandoned it on the grounds that the arguments very quickly get circular. It is likely that girls have, since equivalence in educational structures has been the norm, always outperformed boys at school; it is just that institutions are only now catching up and realising that gender gap in their admissions.

Thus it was only in 2005 that the number of girls admitted to university surpassed that of boys; now, there are one third more girls in higher education.

There was some material presented here that, even to the lay person, sounded a little iffy: for instance, the suggestion that a girl with a boy twin would show more masculine traits because of exposure to her brother’s testosterone in the womb. And the assertion that school-appropriate habits formed at the age of four have traceable outcomes in the 25-year-old adult makes similarly wild claims for environmental determinism. But, if in trying to redress the balance we encourage more fun and less sitting still, that’s fine by me.

All pre-determined character traits were, for Bruce Miller, brutally disrupted when, as a young man, he suffered a freak electrocution, leaving him with no legs and just one arm. Medicine would not seem the obvious course to take after that, but Miller is now a specialist in palliative care, and — as Outlook (World Service, Monday of last week) demonstrated — a compelling speaker.

In an extended interview, Miller described in squirm-inducing detail the nature of his injuries and the process of rehabilitation. But it was as an advocate of “good dying” that Miller was at his most powerful. Dying, he says, is an “exquisite experience”; one in which every encounter, every gesture, utterance, and touch is significant.

If you prefer your radio a little gentler, then it doesn’t come gentler than God’s Work (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week). This comedy “mockumentary”, in which an investigative reporter, Lucy Cooper, examines the lives of three vicars in north-east England, made The Vicar of Dibley look like The Wire. That all of the three clerics were played by Rowan Atkinson was presumably intended to give the programme some comedic status, but this vehicle delivered neither a great script nor the opportunity for physical comedy.

Nor was there any satirical insight: you would have been hard-pressed to guess from the script and situations alone what professions the three main characters occupied. The only character whose situation was entirely clear was “Wilson”, for whom Atkinson adopted the tones of a caricature homosexual. I thought the BBC had training for that sort of thing nowadays.

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