Radio: The claws are out for a week of bitchy chat and baby talk
It was weird hearing Ryan Tubridy using the B-word in a discussion about women, but at least he showed a little bite. Elsewhere on RTÉ, ‘Pregnant on My Lunchbreak’ was an enlightening documentary about artificial insemination
Ryan Tubridy attempted a radical change in image this week, ditching his long-time young-fogey tag by coming over all gangsta. At least that’s how it sounded on Wednesday morning’s Tubridy (2FM, weekdays), when every second word seemed to be “bitch” this or “bitch” that.
On closer inspection, Tubridy’s frequent use of the term did not herald an abrupt turn into the rap netherworld of guns and hos but was instead part of a discussion of whether women are more predisposed to backbiting than men. It was prompted by an email from a young Wicklow woman living in Wexford, who complained that her neighbours were making her feel like a blow-in.
As Tubridy read the woman’s email, in which she spoke of her abstinence from drinking and smoking, her spotless house and her well-behaved children, he archly noted that she sounded like “perfection itself”, while suggesting that others might think she was “above herself”. It was “mostly women being bitchy”, said the email, so Tubridy asked listeners if they felt this was a general state of affairs.
His first caller, Alan, assented to the proposition with worrying alacrity. He felt there was particular resentment towards successful women from other females, asserting that “a woman is seen as a bitch for breaking the glass ceiling”. Tubridy agreed, saying high-achieving women got more support from men.
Tubridy was aware that the spectacle of two men critically dissecting the behaviour of women might prove problematic – “The texts are going to explode,” he predicted – but carried on nonetheless. When Alan said that women are better at talking about fashion than men, the presenter gleefully seized on the remark, saying that it would be seen as sexist in “the pointy-headed, chin-rubbing media world”. Coming from a man who has spent most of his adult life working in said media world, this was a bit rich: amid the talk of glass ceilings, he might have remembered the proverb about people living in glass houses.
Not that Tubridy was about to alienate his female listenership: when a Limerick woman named Vanessa phoned to say that she and her friends never bitched about each other, the presenter was at his cuddly best, even agreeing to meet the caller and her pals next time he was by the Shannon. Overall, it was refreshing to hear Tubridy proffer vaguely off-message personal opinions rather than indulge in bland patter. If he didn’t exactly bare his teeth, he at least showed he has claws. Miaow.
Documentary on One: Pregnant on My Lunchbreak (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) proved salutary listening for those with a traditionally patriarchal world view. Produced and narrated by Deirdre Mullins, the revealing documentary chronicled the pregnancy of Angela, a 38-year-old solicitor whose child was conceived by artificial insemination.
Single and conscious of “the age thing”, Angela wanted a child, and opted for the sperm-donor route over the “hard road” of adoption. After speaking to a consultant at a fertility clinic, Angela felt that “anyone can do this – this is nothing”, adding that it sounded “like going into the local shop”. The insemination process was described in similarly casual terms, but the jaunty tone belied the huge significance of such procedures.
The ability to conceive clinically meant much to Angela, who had been adopted as a child: “That always left me wanting to have my own flesh and blood.” The relaxed circumstances of her son’s birth could not have been more different from her own. Angela’s birth mother had been a 26-year-old married woman who became pregnant after an affair with a local farmer; she gave up her baby for adoption, got back with her husband and never had contact with her daughter again.
For all that, the documentary avoided preachiness. Although it contained many eyebrow-raising facts – that artificial insemination is largely unregulated in Ireland, for instance, or that most sperm donors are Danish – Angela’s story was mostly recounted from a human-interest angle, using a pleasingly light touch. Still, it was hard to disagree with Angela’s verdict on her experience: “It’s a sign just how much Ireland has changed.”
It’s not only Ireland that has changed in such matters. On Monday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Joe Duffy spoke to Suzanna, whose tale bucked the usual trend of transatlantic adoptions. She had been born in the early 1960s to a teenage American mother, who in turn had been brought to Ireland by her wealthy family to give birth, purely so the baby could be given up for adoption here.
The intervening years brought little closure. Speaking calmly, Suzanna recounted how as an adult she had established a tentative bond with her biological mother only for the latter to call time again on their relationship. The revelation triggered Duffy’s predilection for prurient probing: “How would you describe that? Was it cruel?”
Later, when her birth mother died, Suzanna signed an online book of condolences only to be told by her long-lost American relations that she had destroyed the reputation of the family. On hearing this, Duffy sounded a heightened note of distress: “Oh my God, Suzanna, this is crazy.” But there was no need for such dramatics. The sad truth was obvious. Sometimes people are just beastly. Though Tubridy, for one, might use a different word.