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Radio review: About the Boys, The Boys are Not Alright, and Woman’s Hour

10 May 2024

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Radio 4 has been examining the challenges facing boys and young men today

Radio 4 has been examining the challenges facing boys and young men today

THERE is an episode in the TV series Friends in which Monica convinces her tough alpha-male boyfriend — played by Bruce Willis — to connect with his inner feelings. The result is an unstoppable torrent of tears and narcissistic introspection. The challenge from the patriarchy to feminism is clear: be careful what you wish for. Turn all those high-achieving men into cry-babies, and who is going to run the FTSE 100?

Radio 4 spent much of last week exploring what it is to be a boy in a world that aspires to equality. In About the Boys (Radio 4, weekdays), Catherine Carr talked to cohorts from around the country about friendship, sex, what they do in their rooms all day, sex, and . . . well, sex, mainly. It’s not that they don’t have other things on their mind, but, for an adolescent boy, most neural pathways lead to sex.

Carr is a fine interviewer — she excelled also in the recently reviewed podcast Where Are You Going? (Radio, 5 April) — and evinced from her subjects an impressive range of tones and experiences. She should also be congratulated for never once uttering the phrase “toxic masculinity”. But one couldn’t help but sense a lack of authenticity in some of her articulate and studiedly sensitive interlocutors.

The problem was best exemplified by an encounter in another programme in this mini-season. The Boys are Not Alright (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) started with the story of Daniel Harris, a boy from Derbyshire whose violent social-media posts are said to have inspired another adolescent in Buffalo, New York State, to commit a mass shooting. The investigation, by the reporter Jo Meek, went on to explore the world of online gaming, and the ways by which impressionable young men might be encouraged to translate their fantasies into reality.

When you get the actual numbers here, they are tiny. The number of arrests on suspicion for terrorist activities are small; those that convert into charges are even smaller; and those who, like Daniel, might be dubbed “far-Right”, are yet another sub-section.

Early on in the programme, Ms Meek asks her son whether he is scared to hear of all this online violence. The son obediently replies that he does, indeed, get anxious. The interaction is touching, a moment of mutual indulgence; but it tells us little. Would a father-son interaction have been more revealing? Who knows? But it makes one wonder also where the male producers and presenters were when the BBC was commissioning these programmes.

The subject of boys featured in two of last week’s editions of Woman’s Hour (Monday and Friday). The latter was a phone-in show that, until at least 30 minutes in, comprised mothers exclusively. A chap from the American Institute for Boys and Men was the sole representative of the Y chromosome, but fatherhood and family were never mentioned. The analysts are going to have to work harder if boys are to escape their genetic constitution of slugs, snails, and puppy-dogs’ tails.

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