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TV UK, 15 March

Ally McBeal is one of those women that PC men disparage in the hope of improving their chances with fat girls.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

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Ally McBeal takes a lot of abuse for being skinny. She is one of those women that PC men like to disparage in the hope of improving their chances with fat girls.

Well, call me an old-fashioned feminist if you will, but within certain parameters dictated by good taste, I think most women are all right. The only thing wrong with Ally is that she’s getting on a bit. Happily, the producers have recognised this and brought in a younger understudy to keep us interested in the new series, currently running on E4 (Tuesdays at 9pm).

Jenny is just as ditzy and neurotic as Ally, and even shares her ex-boyfriend obsession. This puts Ally in the unlikely role of mentor, a development that keeps the programme kind of interesting. Ally is now in therapy with an ex-lawyer, but shows no signs of resolving the ‘issues’ that have animated the programme since the beginning. Ally is single and miserable about it, but also fickle. Her life is like Sex and the City without the sex. She is a liberated professional woman who just can’t seem to get a grip.

The BBC is addressing the same phenomenon with rather less wit in Rescue Me (BBC1, Sundays at 9pm), a romantic comedy drama starring Sally Phillips, who is also no spring chicken but has huge brown eyes. She plays Katie, a magazine journalist whose husband has left her because she slept with his best friend (ditzy), and who now has to cope with single life. This week she falls for the vicar who married her. You don’t have to be a therapist to see what’s going on there. People find security in the strangest places.

In Mum, I’m a Muslim, part of Channel 4’s British and Muslim season (last Sunday), we were introduced to white English women who had converted to Islam. Why would a liberated Western woman choose to be oppressed? The star of the show was Ameena, a hugely likeable Sheffield bus driver who had converted as a teenager in order to marry a Muslim man from Yemen. Ameena could be a poster girl for Islam: not downtrodden and oppressed, but intelligent, feisty and committed to the faith. Are Muslim women supposed to address their husbands as ‘you great big turd’? This one does.

If Islam seems like a good option to a working-class girl unimpressed by the boorish lifestyle of Yorkshire Man, it is less clear why it should appeal to a middle-class student with the world at her feet. Amy is a 19-year-old who converted at university because Islam ‘seemed like common sense’. One wonders went wrong at the Freshers’ Fair. Heads will surely roll at the Socialist Worker Student Society.

Still, the modern woman faces a dazzling array of choices. Marriage, career, lesbianism, Islam, vampire-slaying. But it seems that she is never satisfied. Just as the changing position of women dominates the great novels of the nineteenth century, their uncertain future is the stuff of contemporary TV. I think it’s great.

And you know there are actually people who say I’m a misogynist?!

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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