ITVBe: Is it really a spanner in the works for feminism?

Pippa Bailey

Pippa Bailey

The clever people at ITV reckon they’ve cracked the age-old mystery of what women want, and are starting a television channel designed solely for a female audience. ITVBe, due to launch later this year, will be targeted at 16-34-year-old women and will feature shows including US Real Housewives and The Only Way is Essex. Phew. Now I can get my daily dose of fake tan and vajazzles all in one go without even having to change the channel, which – let’s be honest – confuses my oestrogen-befuddled brain.

Sarcasm aside, outraged feminists up and down the country are taking to the blogosphere to share their anger: Why do we have to define everything by gender? How dare anyone presume to tell us what we should be watching? And what even is a ‘female’ television show? All valid questions, and, certainly, the branding does operate on a rather simplistic view of what is ‘female’. After all, I’m a woman in the 16-34 age bracket who likes Sex and the City and Breaking Bad – what kind of television-gender does that make me?

But I highly doubt that the bosses over at ITV were intending to start a debate over media patriarchy when they decided to launch ITVBe. In practical terms, targeted audience television is just a very clever way of making money. By concentrating all of the programmes that are, statistically, most watched by a specific audience on one channel, broadcasters can charge more for advertising slots by providing a ready-made niche market. In the age of Google AdSense and thriving B-B magazines, ITV isn’t alone in this strategy. It is just good financial sense.

Really, the issue isn’t even about gender. After all, would I object if a someone wanted to start a channel – let’s call it Kate (as in Dave) – that primarily showed Miranda, Girls, Parks and Recreation and the Good Wife? Unlikely. In fact I’d probably think it was brilliant.

No, this is about television snobbery. The main reason that women have objected to the principle of ITVBe is that the ‘low-brow’ type of television that it suggests that they should be watching just isn’t their cup of tea. But by dismissing such programmes as trivial, shallow or just plain ridiculous, we are show-shaming the women who do watch them, and suggesting that they are somehow less ‘female’ because of it. We take outrage at ITV trying to tell us what women should be watching, only to do the same thing ourselves.

Now I’d like to think of myself as the kind of person who cycles home from work, rustles up something organic for dinner and pops on a Danish drama with subtitles, but sometimes after a long day and a hard commute, all I want to do is watch something that isn’t going to make my brain hurt. Let’s be honest, girls, everyone has their guilty pleasures – and why not?

At the end of the day, you can choose to watch ITVBe, or you can choose not to. It really is that simple. Can’t a girl just binge-watch Gossip Girl in peace?

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