Wednesday

No More Boys And

Girls: Can Our Kids

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Go Gender Free?

9pm, BBC Two

Men are better, because they’re stronger, and they’ve got more jobs.” “I think men are more successful, because they could have more harder jobs, and they could earn more.” “I think men are better at being, like, in charge.” “I think boys are cleverer than girls because … they get into President easily. Don’t they?”

Not my words, nor even the words of the shadowlords who control pay packets at the BBC, but the words of Ryan, Bradley, Tiffany and Louis, some of the seven-year-old kids in Year 3 at Lanesend Primary School on the Isle Of Wight boldly taking part in No More Boys And Girls, a two-part series that follows the progress of a surprisingly eye-opening experiment in gender equality.

Led by Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, at the heart of the series lies a fundamental question, one you might have thought we’d already answered long ago. As a society, as we raise our kids, are we actually programming them, conditioning them to conform to notions about basic differences between boys and girls, and what each gender can and cannot do?

Among the contributors is Professor Gina Rippon, a leading expert in neuroscience, who, for anyone still clinging to ideas about just how far the biological differences between the sexes go, gently breaks the news that there is no such thing as a male or female brain. Rather, the brain is “plastic” – it gets moulded by experience, especially in the early years. And, as the statements quoted demonstrate, still today, by seven, children’s brains in the UK have already sucked up a lot of sexist ideas about the division between genders, seemingly by osmosis. “Plunged,” as Rippon puts it, “into a tsunami of pink and blue.”

As Abdelmoneim points out, though, the programming we do as a society goes far beyond obvious things like buying a football for Little Jack and a Barbie for Wee Jill. (Although, such basic conditioning continues, as becomes clear in a hilarious segment when a group of adults unknowingly play with babies who have had their clothes swapped with the opposite gender.)

But not only is the reinforcement of gender roles that surrounds us more insidious, its wider effects, Abdelmoneim argues, are larger and more dangerously subtle than we might first appreciate. Already, in the Year 3 class, there are signs of girls getting caught up in angst over body image and low self-esteem. Meanwhile, the boys have difficulty acknowledging emotion beyond anger. Simultaneously, there are differences emerging in development in areas like spatial awareness, dictating the kind of educational and career paths the children might follow into adulthood.

To illustrate what is happening, and to challenge it, Abdelmoneim takes over the class for a term, stripping out all “pink and blue” thinking, to see whether it is possible to create a gender-neutral space, and what effect it could have. The experiment is not limited to the children: his first task involves trying to get their teacher to stop calling the girls “love.”

Sometimes inspiring, sometimes depressing, it’s an always fascinating programme. Along the way, there are tears, particularly when some of the budding “boys don’t cry” alpha males in class learn that, at the age of seven, there is as yet no difference in physical strength between them and the girls. Later, in episode two, the project seeks to spill out beyond the classroom, with a visit to the homes of some of the kids, where the problems take on a different dimension. And there’s a suggestion that the school toilets might go gender free … “Nooooooo!”

Sunday

Valkyrien

Channel 4

The Spanish mystery I Know Who You Are has just finished on BBC Four, but fans of subtitles from Europe don’t have to look far for their next fix, as this eight-part Norwegian thriller lands tonight. (Although, it’s worth noting this is one of those annoying cases where proper Channel 4 makes a big deal of showing the first episode, but then the rest of the series is only available via All4, which is fine if your TV is smart enough, but a right pain in the rumpeballe otherwise.) In an intriguing opener, we meet Ravn (Sven Nordin), a ravaged-looking individual who, it becomes clear, is a doctor, running a secret, illegal medical lab in a dank, disused part of an underground station. Down here, he treats underworld patients who, for one reason or another, can’t go to regular hospitals. Meanwhile, he’s scrabbling for resources to pour into his real project, the nature of which gradually becomes clear in flashback. A British remake starring Mark Strong is already in the works.

Monday

North Korea: Murder In The Family

11.15pm, BBC Two

North Korea has never been far from the headlines this year. But this documentary looks beyond recent nuclear tensions, and back to the events of February, and the extraordinary assassination of the North Korean dictator’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam – an episode that helps throw light on the troubling dynamics at the heart of the Pyongyang regime. On February 13, Kim Jong-nam, a man with a reputation as a playboy, arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport to catch a flight to Macau. Two hours later he was dead, murdered using the deadly nerve agent VX. Within days, evidence had been gathered suggestive of the plot of a 007 rip-off: two women from Vietnam and Indonesia were arrested, but CCTV footage appeared to show North Korean agents directing the operation in the airport. Featuring interviews with associates of Kim Jong-nam, the film explores the bitter family feud between the brothers, highlighting links to international arms dealing, and the international business network that has allowed the brutal Kim family dictatorship to remain in power for nearly 70 years.

Tuesday

Quacks

10pm, BBC Two

Writer James Wood has been behind some terrific comedies, notably the genuinely wonderful Rev (although star and co-creator Tom Hollander took a hand in the writing there). But they can’t all be winners, as this misfiring historical sitcom set in 1840s London ably proves. In a fruitkess stab at Blackadder territory, Rory Kinnear (with hair!) stars as vainglorious super surgeon Robert, who performs his grimy, grotty, groundbreaking operations (mostly, hacking things off with a saw) in front of adoring and astonished audiences. Meanwhile, his mild-mannered pal William (Mathew Baynton) is an “alienist,” toiling in the field that would eventually become psychiatry. As the brilliant US period drama The Knick demonstrated, it’s possible to make a great TV series about early days of medical pioneering and make it strange, grotesque, gory and wild. But, as a comedy, Quacks founders for the simple reason Wood hasn’t written any decent gags, leaving a talented cast stranded. Rupert Everett fails to remedy the situation in his guest-star slot as the distant boss of the asylum where William works.

Thursday

Who Do You Think You Are?

8pm, BBC One

The BBC’s celebrity genealogy series could conceivably go on forever and always stay pretty interesting. All the same, it’s reached the stage now where you sometimes have to check twice to work out whether or not it’s a repeat. I was sure I’d already seen Lulu on here years ago, finding out about her ancestors’ lives in Glasgow, but it turns out that she’s only just doing it now. Returning to her old town, the singer is particularly keen to discover more about a family mystery. She has always known that her mum, Elizabeth, the middle child of seven, was the only one to be given up by her parents and taken in by another family. But she has no idea why, among all the kids, it was decided someone else should raise Elizabeth. Investigating her mother’s family, she learns more about the tensions around the relationship between her Catholic grandfather and Protestant grandmother at a time when Glasgow’s sectarian divisions were very real, and strictly guarded. Digging deeper, she uncovers some shady facts about her grandfather’s life.

Friday

Marvel’s The Defenders

Netflix

Unfolding over the past two-and-a-half years, Netflix’s venture into building a street-level extension of the Marvel universe has been one of its most ambitious projects. While not without flaws (although Iron Fist wasn’t as terrible as most of the reviews made out), it’s worked well, and now moves to the next level, as the screwed up superheroes of the four individual series – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist – come together for this eight-part hook-up that sees them take on the biggest villain in New York this week: the mysterious Alexandra, aka, the magnificent Sigourney Weaver. It’s a slow burn to start. Taking time to reacquaint us with where they’re at, our heroes don’t all share a scene until the end of episode three, and in places the pace drags enough to let you fully appreciate how bad the dialogue is. But fans will find plenty to keep their interest, and it gradually begins to crank as the heroes butt heads and face Alexandra, who wields the power of the mystic ninjas known as The Hand.

Saturday

Len Goodman’s Partners In Rhyme

6.45pm, BBC One

Sadly, it was impossible to see a preview of this fun new Saturday night gameshow for all the family, but that won’t prevent me from saying it’s all wrong. For one thing, if you’re going to have Len presenting a Saturday night BBC show, why the hell did he have to leave Strictly? For another, why emphasise that by putting it on just when we’re all gearing up for the new series of Strictly? And, for a third, here’s the official description of what’s about to happen: “Len hosts a lyrical game show, in which two would-be poets battle it out through three rhyme-based challenges in a bid to claim a place in the final round, where they could win a holiday. Each competitor receives help from a team of four celebrity assistants.” On tonight’s disastrous first episode, the celebrities are Strictly’s Anton du Beke, DJ Dotty, EastEnders’ Laila Morse and comedian Matt Richardson. Still, at least it’s not more choirs.

LAST WEEK…

In the interests of perspective, I persuaded one of the cats to join me on the sofa for Teach My Pet To Do That (STV). It took some doing. “It’s not Game Of Thrones again, is it?” she asked. “Because there are parts of me I’ve been putting off licking for a long, long time that I’d rather lick than sit through that.”

No, I assured her. This was a fun new Friday night entertainment series, in which Alexander Armstrong watches people train other people’s pets to do tricks. “Yeah, alright, whatever. Throw in some Dentabites, big guy, it’s a date. Those things are like crack.”

As the show began, Armstrong appeared outside his pet school, a little grey in a padded gilet. “Jesus Christ,” said my cat. “Look at the state of him. Is he hungover? What’s the deal with Armstrong, anyway? Just when you’ve got him pinned as part of a comedy act, he’s the glazed-over quiz show presenter with the overactive sincerity gland. Then all of sudden he’s putting out albums of godawful light operatic singing. Now he’s Dexter Doolittle. He’s the poor man’s Bradley Walsh: a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in cheese.”

Armstrong was introducing the animal trainers. One was called Nando. “Nando! Bit of a Brooklyn Beckham thing going on, heh? Named after the place he was conceived?” Nando was going to teach a dog called Eric to open a door by pulling a ribbon tied to the handle. The cat turned to me and blinked. “Seriously? This is what you’ve asked me to watch?”

As Eric’s journey unfolded, I braced myself for what was coming. Before long, another pet trainer called Jo-Rosie appeared. She was driving to Suffolk, to meet a woman called Heather, who wanted to train her cat, River, to ride on the back of her dog, a Labrador called Moss.

“I mean, I just…” my cat said, after staring at the TV in complete silence while Jo-Rosie introduced River to the saddle he was expected to sit on. “I don’t even know what to say about that. What’s this show called again? Bonfire Of The Losers?”

Onscreen, Heather was explaining she’d got the idea while watching a YouTube video of a dog riding a pony. “Yeah,” my cat muttered. “Imagine what would’ve happened if she’d accidentally watched a clip about doing something meaningful with your life instead.”

The show cut back to Eric, failing to open a door, until finally he did. Alexander Armstrong looked ecstatic. Then we were back to River and Moss, wearing his melancholy saddle. The day had arrived. An excited audience gathered. Would River sit on Moss’s back while he walked a few feet? Yes!

“River,” said my cat sadly, “needs an intervention.” As the show ended, she crunched philosophically. “Well, thanks for sharing. That’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. Can you put Planet Of The Apes on? The Heston version. I need cheering up.”