I very rarely watch Loose Women, as I’m at work during the day. Actually, that’s not true. Even if I were at home all day, I can’t see myself watching Loose Women. Anyhow, I could probably pick it up on ITV Player later if I really wanted to. Truth is, I very rarely watch Loose Women because I’ve a strong suspicion, based what little I have seen, that watching the entire programme would make me want to slit my wrists.
Not having much direct experience of a cultural phenomenon has never stopped me having an opinion on it. My partner and I frequently refer to things being “like the Matrix”, even though it’s a film neither of us have seen (and we’re now determined never to see it, lest this spoils what’s become a useful shorthand for anything vague/overblown/mildly pretentious). I’ve also only ever seen the first Harry Potter film and haven’t read any of the books (but given that the film was EXACTLY how I pictured it would be, I reckon I’ve absorbed the whole thing by osmosis* anyhow).
I tend to witness the impact of Loose Women on our cultural consciousness at lunchtimes (probably at around the time it’s on the telly). This is because I am usually in WH Smiths fretting about what to buy for lunch, so I end up gazing gormlessly at the rows and rows of magazines informing me of Denise’s Meltdown, Carol’s Crisis, Coleen’s Big Decision, the Loose Women Weight Wars etc etc. Best and Bella are particularly obsessed with the whole Loose Women phenomenon. They didn’t used to be. Mind you, I can remember when they were obsessed with Di and Fergie, so least said about that the better.
The impression you get from the magazines is that everyone in Loose Women is drinking too much / having an affair / on the verge of a mental breakdown / hates each other etc etc. This week, for instance, Denise Welch is on the cover of Bella telling “the truth about my engagement” while looking totally frazzled (let’s assume that “the truth” ain’t that great). Meanwhile Andrea McLean is on Best having apparent issues with “binge eating” (fingers crossed that Ruth Langsford can rush to the rescue again). It’s odd, because when you see them on TV they’re all pretending to be sassy, old-enough-to-take-no-shit women of a certain age who tell it like it is and don’t give a damn about decorum. But no, beneath the cackling lies a true vulnerability, and a desperation. It all feels like some kind of carefully engineered morality tale. The uppity women having their moment in the limelight, before scurrying off home to contemplate suicide while the men get on with the serious programmes. It’s even there in the title: Loose Women. Those women who briefly take over the set with their bitchin’ and gabbin’. The women of whom we disapprove. But don’t worry – deep down, they’re not happy, y’see.
A few years ago Bridget Orr wrote an interesting piece in the Guardian on the many levels upon which Loose Women is shit. I don’t agree with all of it. For instance, Orr rehashes the old chestnut (can you hash a chestnut??) about how “Male viewers embarrassed at the lechery on Loose Women could well complain that this is a case of feminism “going too far””:
There could never be an all-male equivalent to the show called Talking Balls, where a crew of laddish reality-TV rejects and failed boybanders leered at the female soap stars brought on to sate them.
That’s probably true (as Orr points out, programme schedules “would naturally expect the core demographic for such a non-politically correct, hyper-masculine show to be at work by then”). But then again, since you can get to see topless women just by purchasing a national newspaper, a Loose Women equivalent for men would just feel rather tame. And there is no USP in having an all-male discussion panel on any subject whatsoever.
If it’s to be believed that misogyny can be combated only by misandry, Loose Women strikes me as a drop in the ocean. At the same time, given that a core tenet of misogyny is the belief in the fundamental inferiority of women – silly, cackling, frivolous, messed-up women – then the whole Loose Women phenomenon is the misogynist’s dream. Hell, it almost makes me ashamed to be female.
But then I remember that I’m not the one sitting in front of a studio audience, leching over Enrique Iglesias before going home to drink myself comatose. I’m not sassy or “loose” enough for that. I’ll have to find another way to get onto the cover of Bella.
* “Osmosis” is a word I’ve never looked up but I’m not doing it now, in case, as with the Matrix, I find out I’ve been doing it all wrong.