This article explores the six-part television debate series No Man's Land, which was broadcast on ITV in Britain in 1973. It argues that the program is a historically significant example of the public orientation of the women's liberation movement and its engagement with, rather than straightforward hostility toward, the mass media. The program was produced by women who were active in the women's liberation movement; it was presented by the feminist Juliet Mitchell; and its studio audience was populated by, among others, many women who were aligned with the movement. The format of No Man's Land mixed short documentary films that were explicitly concerned with the structural oppression of women and discussion with a studio audience in response to the themes of these films. The article reflects on how television texts such as No Man's Land tend to be absent from existing popular and academic histories; it suggests that dominant understandings of the relationship between the mass media and the women's liberation movement as mutually antagonistic frequently function to close off the spaces where such texts might be considered. Through close analysis of the program and its reviews in print media, it considers the problems and possibilities of and constraints on early second-wave feminists who appropriated and operated within mass-media—and specifically televised—forms. It also points to the importance of socialist feminism as a discursive context for British television in the early 1970s.
All previous revolutionary movements have had, at their centre, at the crucial times, to be clandestine. It is not just that the media gives Women's Liberation publicity, it is that, in concept and organization, it is the most public revolutionary movement ever to have existed. juliet mitchell, woman's estate (1971), 13
In November 2014, a two-part series was broadcast on Channel 4 in Britain entitled It Was All Right in the 1970s. It was a light-hearted prime-time program that enlisted a range of talking-head celebrities to reflect on the cultural politics of British television in the 1970s. The narrator informed us that 1970s television was made at a time “when sexist, racist, homophobic dinosaurs roamed the earth.”1 The second episode focused on television's retrograde treatment of women. It interspersed television clips from the archive with the shocked, horrified, and tickled reactions of present-day viewers. The gender politics of 1970s television were positioned as outrageously, egregiously, and sometimes hilariously sexist: according to this program, women on 1970s television were presented as strippers or sexy secretaries or as housewives who eschewed feminism and insisted on the pleasures of subservience to their husbands. The contemporary responses to the archive displayed a sense of comedy, shock, and distance that worked to reaffirm a historical narrative of progress: look just how bad it used to be; look how far we've come. This collective “remembering” of television's regressive past is also premised upon a specific kind of forgetting. With 1970s television cast as a hypermasculinist terrain of raucous, offensive antifeminism and sexism, the possibilities of more nuanced gender histories of the medium are marginalized, erased, and hidden from view.
In this essay, I explore one such alternative gender history of British television during the early years of second-wave feminism that complicates any straightforward, linear story of improvement in representations of women. It also problematizes the totalizing narrative that constructs television and popular culture in 1970s Britain as wholly and irredeemably sexist. I analyze in detail a 1973 television debate series entitled No Man's Land, the central objective of which was to discuss the range of problematic aspects that made up the role of women in society. The series was presented by Juliet Mitchell (figure 1), a prominent activist in the women's liberation movement; key members of its predominantly female production team were also associated with the movement. The producers were Brigid Segrave and Lis Kustow;2 the studio director was Dorothy Denham; the film director was Kustow; and the production team was composed of Liz Ferris, Frederica Lord, Pauline Black, and Susan Foreman.
The program was broadcast nationally in the United Kingdom in 1973 on the network of the commercial public service broadcaster Independent Television (ITV). As Johnson and Turnock have pointed out, ITV often has been neglected or dismissed in British television history writing, particularly in comparison with research on the noncommercial public service BBC; they suggest that this can in large part be explained by the ways in which “ITV has not been readily understood as a producer of ‘quality’ programs, [but rather has been] popularly associated with lowbrow quiz and game shows, light entertainment and action adventure series.”3 I argue that No Man's Land helps to complicate the narratives that have taken hold about the low cultural value and political inconsequentiality of ITV programming. I also draw on the arguments of Joanne Hollows and Rachel Moseley,4 who have problematized the idea that popular culture always has functioned in an antagonistic opposition to second-wave feminism; as they argue, contrary to many dominant assumptions, there were indeed “elements of feminist discourse” circulating in popular culture in the 1960s and '70s.5 Their recognition that popular culture, rather than functioning simply to delegitimize feminism, can operate as the basis for “feminist identifications and politics”6 serves as a key frame for my analysis. However, while they point out that popular culture is more open to feminist discourse than is often acknowledged, they also suggest that second-wave feminism “was conceived of as a social movement that was ‘outside’ of, and frequently oppositional to, the dominant culture” and that it “was underpinned by a hostility towards the popular.”7 Through my analysis of No Man's Land, I show that the profoundly public orientation of second-wave feminism necessitated the movement's engagement with—rather than straight forward hostility toward—the mass media and that the false dichotomy between feminism and popular culture thus should be problematized at both ends.
RECOVERING THE PROGRAM
No Man's Land was broadcast late on Saturday evenings in 1973. It was produced by Associated Television (ATV; figure 2), the ITV franchise holder for the Midlands region of England, and was broadcast on the ITV network in all television regions of the United Kingdom. It went out at 10:40 pm, except on London Weekend Television and Southern Television, where it was broadcast at 11:50 pm. To my knowledge, the program is absent from any existing history of either television or feminism. At the time of writing, the British Film Institute (BFI) officially held all six episodes of the program, although the first episode, “Women and Marriage,” had unfortunately been misplaced. As such, my analysis is based on the other five episodes, along with related material such as TV listing guides and reviews of the program in newspapers and magazines.8
No Man's Land episode topics, in addition to “Women and Marriage,” were “Women and Sexuality,” “Women and Work,” “Women and Education,” “Women Alone,” and “The Image of Women.” The format of each was organized around the screening of a specially produced, overtly feminist short documentary film that illustrated the particular topic at hand; this was followed by discussion and debate with a specially invited studio audience, chaired by Mitchell. The discursive arrangements in the studio hybridized forms of talk from women's consciousness-raising groups, the pedagogical practice of university seminars, and established norms of television debate. As such, it was a rather distinctive and unusual program that allows for fascinating insights into the relationship between feminism and television at this particular time.
CONTEXTUALIZING TELEVISION TALK AND FEMINISM IN THE 1970
As Helen Wheatley has pointed out, the women's liberation movement provided a set of discursive contexts for television and popular culture in general in the 1970s; for example, the TV Times was “full of feature articles discussing women's role in society and celebrity interviews that focus on famous women's struggle to achieve a home/work balance.”9 Recent academic work on the relationships between feminism and women's afternoon television programming in Britain in the 1970s has begun to affirm the importance of the women's liberation movement as a discursive context for television talk at this time.10
Discourses of women's rights also appeared on television as subjects of debate during the early period of the second wave; for example, a 1970 program named Your Witness, on BBC One, featured Ludovic Kennedy chairing a debate on the status of women in front of a specially invited studio audience.11 In a 1972 edition of Late Night Line-Up, on BBC Two, viewers were encouraged to “take part directly” via telephone in a debate billed as “Germaine Greer v Esther Vilar” that addressed “women's role in society.”12 A Sunday lunchtime discussion program on ITV in 1971, chaired by Marjorie Proops and entitled Women Are People, was concerned—according to a review in the Observer newspaper—with “isolating the woman's viewpoint on bisexual subjects”;13 topics included “Women and Health,” “Women and Work,” and “Men Look at Women.”
The presenter of No Man's Land, Juliet Mitchell, had herself appeared on television and radio a number of times before, often as a participant in talk programs that discussed religion and atheism. She also had appeared as the discussant on a 1967 Rediffusion program presented by Sally Vincent entitled Women Talking. According to a review in the Times newspaper, Mitchell discussed her marriage, her wedding ceremony, and her role as both a housewife and a lecturer.14 In 1970, she and Lis Kustow (a producer on No Man's Land) made a program for the ITV current affairs program This Week; this program offered an analysis of women's equality, with the recently passed Equal Pay Act as the “hook.”15 Also in 1970, Mitchell made a feature called A Woman's Place—The Future of the Family for BBC One's Tuesday Documentary, which was reviewed by the Times as “alarmingly feminist in content.”16
The politics, discourses, and questions being raised by the feminist movement were clearly finding their way onto television in various contexts. A growing body of feminist media history scholarship has focused on the historical representations of feminism in news,17 which has allowed for a nuanced understanding of the ways in which the women's movement has been reported and made visible within mass media. What remains little explored, particularly in the British context, is how feminism provided an important discursive context for talk programming: it helped to delineate and force new topics for discussion in existing television talk formats; to rework existing modes of reportage and commentary; and, occasionally, to create the space and the possibility for entirely new series, such as No Man's Land.
As such, it is important not to place undue emphasis on the exceptionality of No Man's Land in this regard; it certainly was not the first television program to consider the role and status of women within society at this time. Nonetheless, its particular status and position as an evening program, one presented and produced by feminist women and one with a politicized and pedagogic premise, mark it out as a particularly fascinating program in the history of mediated feminism.
THE EXTRA-TEXTUAL HISTORY OF
NO MAN'S LAND
Lis Kustow, in addition to being a producer on No Man's Land, was a member of the London Women's Liberation Workshop and the action group Women in Media. The latter group organized to counter workplace discrimination in the media industries, as well as to campaign more generally for women's liberation.18 In 1972, the year before No Man's Land was broadcast, Kustow had written a piece in the seminal women's liberation text The Body Politic on the subject of television and women. In it, she had suggested that “whatever views women in the movement might hold about the relevance of television to women's liberation, surely nobody can afford to be indifferent to what millions of women are viewing in their homes every evening? Now that we are growing fast as a movement and have the attention of the media, it's up to us to show that we want to relate to every woman in the country, and that we take the means of doing so seriously.”19
Kustow's incitement of the women's movement to try to reach “every woman in the country” depended upon her recognition that television, as a mass-media form, constituted one of the only possibilities for achieving this. Her attempt to galvanize the movement to take advantage of the potential of television hints at the ambivalent and often suspicious ways that the mainstream media was viewed by many within feminism. It also, however, evidences the fact that many in the movement were attuned to television's potential to reach those who otherwise might not come into contact with women's liberation activism.
While No Man's Land is seemingly absent from contemporary public memory, at the time of its broadcast the program was widely commented upon and reviewed in major national newspapers such as the Times, Guardian, and Daily Mail, as well as the Listener, TV Times, and the Catholic Herald. Here I consider how the format, address, and talk of the program were understood and criticized in these media reviews. Specifically, I argue that the media criticisms of No Man's Land centered around three distinct but overlapping poles: first, that the program was too chaotic, confused, and muddled; second, that it was biased, selective, and partial; and third, that its mode of talk was too feminine and emotional and was akin to “nagging.” In these ways, the critical reception of the forms of talk on No Man's Land can be read as a precursor to the denigration of “women's talk” on late twentieth-century talk shows. Su Holmes, in her historical analysis of a “problem show” broadcast on BBC television in the 1950s, suggests that the discussion that circulated around that program “speaks to the cultural debate which greeted the talk show in the 1990s.”20 While she cautions against the idea that the talk show and the 1950s problem show are “really” the same, she nonetheless suggests that “there are conceptual and textual links here which reward close attention.”21 I follow Holmes in my approach here: while No Man's Land was clearly substantially dissimilar from the confessional, therapeutic, and spectacular talk shows that began to proliferate from the 1990s onward,22 the discussion and critique about and around the show reveals some continuities in the ways that women's televised talk has been pilloried, ridiculed, and demeaned.
Much of the critical reception of No Man's Land mobilized a particular distaste around the program's “failure” to cohere along the rational lines of traditional debate. For example, a review in the Catholic Herald that was, overall, sympathetic to the concept of the program argued that the topics were too numerous, the audience too large, and the “chairmanship” (sic) too “weak,” because “Juliet Mitchell is so anxious that everyone should have a say that the result is a jumble of disconnected voices.”23 Barry Norman, writing in the Times, suggested that the program was “a chaotic state of affairs that was not much helped by a tendency for everyone to speak at once”; thus he could “not imagine that anyone's views were drastically altered by what they saw and heard.”24 As such, this “chaos” was seen to contribute to a problematic lack of resolution, or tangible outcome, at the close of the program's discussions. Virginia Ironside, writing in the Daily Mail, suggested that never have “so many unrelated and un-thought-out comments been hurled at the viewer.”25
The fact that the program neither adhered to the norms of turn-taking nor resolved the problems that it identified was thus implicitly posited as the reason for its failure to achieve status as “good” television debate. In this way, the reviews prefigure later criticisms of the talk show's tendency toward a “cacophony of narratives”26 and of the “problem” of talk that has no rational boundaries or concrete conclusion.
In his review of the first episode, Barry Norman dismissed both the film about marriage and the studio debate that followed as “one-sided,” “wearily predictable,” and “a loaded premise.” He had preceded his criticisms of the program with a kind of ideological disclaimer in which he professed his support in principle for feminism: “Before shrill cries of ‘male chauvinist pig’ are heard in the land, I should emphasize that I am in favour of Women's Lib and that the principle of a series of late-night discussions of women's unenviable lot strikes me as eminently sound and praiseworthy.” Of Mitchell, he wrote that “as a chair person she was attractive but less than ideal since it was quite clear where her sympathies lay.” He emphasized here that the program was “made by those ardent feminists Brigid Segrave and Liz Kustow.” He also described Mitchell as “pretty but earnest and scrupulously naked of make-up”27 (a point on which he was mistaken, if her makeup in the first episode was similar to the remaining five episodes). The focus on Mitchell's body and her sexual attractiveness (which also had been a salient feature of the reviews of her work on This Week)28 suggests that Norman's judgment of her as a less than ideal chairperson was premised on deeply gendered assumptions about the ideal arbiters of neutralistic television talk.
Virginia Ironside wrote in the Daily Mail that Mitchell was “such a biased lady,” and that “never has so much been done to confirm everyone in their own prejudices.”29 The preview listings in the Observer refuted the program's claim that it represented a “typical” marriage in its film, suggesting that it was representative only according to “Women's Lib—so everyone won't find it so typical.”30 The persistent invocation of the term bias and the implication that No Man's Land was conceptually irreconcilable with the norms of “impartial” broadcast talk beleaguered the program in the reviews and manifested within the gendered talk of the studio audience, as we shall see later.
3. Too Feminine
Much of the criticism of the program can be read as prefiguring the denigration of women's talk that was implicit in later criticisms of the talk show.31 Virginia Ironside's review of the second program reveals a contempt for the particular gendering of the talk of No Man's Land: “Any programme that includes vast numbers of emotional people—like […] No Man's Land which shouted about Women and Work—is bound to fail because no chairman [sic] can cope with such vast numbers or prevent hysterics turning the programmes into a yelling match.”32
The cacophonous talk produced by multiple speakers was here gendered as hysterical, and in turn was conceived as a kind of failed talk, defective because of its difference from the rational procedures of turn-taking, deliberative debate. Reviewing the first episode in a previous review, Ironside had written that “the Juliet Mitchell lot seem to wallow in moaning. It doesn't dawn on them that a few simple but positive films of shared marriages that really work would have a far greater influence on husbands who still see the sink as ‘women's work’ than any amount of complaints and what can only be described as typically feminine self-pity and nagging [my emphasis].”33
The program's “failure” to produce a compelling and persuasive analysis of marriage was here located in its gendered mode of talk—specifically, in its “nagging.” Furthermore, the deployment of this “typically feminine” mode of speech was positioned as antithetical to progressive gender change. Helen Wood has shown how much of the criticism of talk shows resonates with broader cultural denigrations of the feminine speech genre of gossip.34 I suggest that the gendered critical reception of No Man's Land parallels a related but distinct denigration of women's talk: that of the speech genre of nagging.
As the program was broadcast on Saturday evenings, the context of its reception was already imagined as structured antagonistically along gender lines. The discourse around its scheduling seemed to imply that wives might “nag” their husbands to watch it; for example, the Observer suggested that “it should prove something [about Women's Lib] in most homes—it clashes with Match of the Day.”35 Unlike women's programs broadcast in the daytime, which typically have been associated with and dismissed as gossip, the potentially provocative scheduling time of No Man's Land seemed to constitute a more direct affront to patriarchal power relations and was thus vilified in a somewhat different way—that is, it was pilloried as a form of nagging.
TV TIMES—“THE GIRLS TAKE OVER”
Of all the media responses to the program that I have surveyed in various archives, the reaction that was the most substantial came from the TV Times. In the edition published in the week that the first episode of No Man's Land was broadcast, the magazine ran a special issue entitled “It's the Week the Girls Take Over!”36 For one issue, the female members of the staff were—apparently—given editorial control; many of the articles throughout the special issue emphasized a “female” perspective.
The decision to run this editorial “experiment” was directly attributed to the inspirational example set by No Man's Land, which was described in one of the edition's feature articles as a “breakthrough.” This particular article covered a large two-page spread and was entitled “So Why Can't We Have a Female David Frost?” Its introductory paragraph read: “In a week when Brigid Segrave and Liz Kustow produce the first of their documentary series, No Man's Land, the womenfolk of TV Times present their own special issue. Such a take-over of a magazine predominantly run by men is unique. But elizabeth cowley wonders why this should be so. And why are there so few women in top TV jobs? Elizabeth (guest Features Editor for this week) is the exception.”37
Clearly, No Man's Land represented a unique example of women in positions of editorial control at this time, which in turn galvanized a response among other women media workers at the TV Times. Elizabeth Cowley quoted No Man's Land producer Brigid Segrave: “It's the first time that there have been six complete programmes devoted entirely to the woman's point of view shown in evening viewing time. And it's about time too!”38 There was clearly something highly specific and very likely unprecedented about a feminist six-part series scheduled on Saturday evenings. As I have argued in relation to the program's critical reception, the fact of its position in the schedules deeply affected the gendered inflections of the criticism to which it was subjected. Now we can turn attention to the fact that the talk of the program was produced in relationship to the gendered power context of its reception: that is to say, the domestic home late on a Saturday night. Explicitly feminist television programming broadcast at this time had a special problem in constructing “sociability” when its fundamental political intention was to disturb the domestic context in which it would be received.
PROGRAM FORMAT AND THE GENDERING OF SOCIABILITY
Each episode began with opening credits in which an electronic synth version of “Wedding March from a Midsummer Night's Dream” soon gave way to an insistent, alarmlike musical piece. At the same time, inoffensive flower-shaped images gave way to flashing exclamation marks, which in turn became the lettering of “no man's land.” These opening credits seemed to signal the ways in which the program was seeking to overthrow stereotypes and myths about women's “appropriate” roles within society.
At the start of each episode, after the opening titles, the camera cut straight to a head and upper-body shot of Juliet Mitchell, directly facing the camera. She sat on a black leather chair against a plain pale-green background, wearing a brown-black dress. She introduced each episode with the same words, spoken earnestly and without a smile: “Good evening. I'd like to welcome you to tonight's program, which is one in our series of six discussions on the position of women in our society.” The greeting was ostensibly universal, ratifying all potential overhearers as “welcome.”39 However, the immediate turn to the topic at hand—“the position of women in our society”—implicated the audience members themselves as subjects of the debate, as actors within “our” society and, as such, as part of the “problem.”
After this introduction, Mitchell would then proceed to set out the premise of each episode. For example, in the third episode, “Women and Work,” she said:
Women make up well over a third of our workforce. Even today, we often hear it said that a woman's place is in the home, looking after her husband and her children. Be that as it may, the fact is that the large majority of Britain's women workers are married women and mothers. We conveniently forget this fact and blithely expect them to do two jobs, at home and at work. And then, because we so complacently believe that really they are at home supported by a man, we pay them less, give them a far narrower range of choice, of training opportunities and possibilities of promotion.
The use of the terms our and we construct a profoundly social conceptualization of the audience; not in the sense of being universally inclusive and sociable toward them, but rather in the sense of implicating each viewer in social problems: “we so complacently believe,” “we pay them less,” etcetera. This example of television talk, spoken in Mitchell's serious tone and with no gesture toward “entertainment,” does not fit easily with Paddy Scannell's argument that broadcast talk is, or ought to be, “relaxed and sociable, shareable and accessible, non-exclusive, equally talkable about in principle and practice by everyone.”40 Similarly, when Ian Hutchby states that broadcasters have developed a communicative ethos that recognizes that broadcast talk is “heard in the ordinary spaces of domestic life, and [is] received in the interstices of domestic routines,”41 this assumes that the talk seeks to reflect, accommodate, and even embrace the particular arrangements of these domestic contexts. In the case of No Man's Land, however, the talk constituted not an affinity with but rather a challenge to the gendered structure of domestic life within which it was received.
CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING AND TELEVISION TALK
Much of the feminist literature on television talk shows posits a discursive connection between “therapeutic” forms of daytime TV talk and the women's consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s.42 Sujata Moorti elaborates how the particular form of consciousness raising has productively lent itself to being replicated within television talk shows: “Typically, in consciousness-raising sessions, speakers make public that which has been kept private, displaying the traditional oppositions between public and private. For the most part, participants confront the effects of sexism in personal terms; collectively, the voices of individual women permit a political analysis of gender-based oppression, which in turn leads to the formulation of a response.”43
Moorti suggests that television talk shows share important characteristics with consciousness-raising groups: they “privilege subjective experience over subjective knowledge, blur the lines between public and private, and above all are directed primarily at a female audience.”44 Patricia Mellencamp argues that it is “not too far fetched to imagine daytime talk as the electronic syndicated version of consciousness raising groups of the women's movement.”45 While the gendered connections between the two forms of talk—consciousness raising and the television talk show—are largely accepted, Jane M. Shattuc nonetheless points to the limitations of daytime talk shows in this regard; for her, ultimately, they are “not feminist” because they “do not espouse a clearly laid out political position for the empowerment of women.”46
In the light of these later debates, No Man's Land is a particularly compelling set of texts to consider because the program did have many clear and direct connections with the women's liberation movement, as well as an explicitly political premise. It also can be read as being significantly informed by the practice of consciousness raising. Juliet Mitchell, in her 1971 book Woman's Estate, had sought to elaborate and define the concept of consciousness raising and pointed to its critical importance to the women's movement: “Women come into the movement from the unspecified frustration of their own private lives, find what they thought was an individual dilemma is a social predicament and hence a political problem. The process of transforming the hidden, individual fears of women into a shared awareness of the meaning of them as social problems, the release of anger, anxiety, the struggle of proclaiming the painful and transforming it into the political—this process is consciousness-raising.”47
The televising of women's problems can be understood as an important part of transforming issues from the level of the individual to that of the social. However, television also transformed the context of this politicized form of talk, and so simultaneously constrained the political potential of consciousness raising, precisely because of its address to a mass, mixed-sex audience. Within the women's liberation movement, it was small groups that formed the basic unit of organization of consciousness raising;48 these groups were almost exclusively women-only.49 If these groups provided a safe space made up of small numbers of women, where the personal could become political, then an evening television debate program did not merely provide a platform to represent and amplify this form of talk: it fundamentally changed the terrain upon which women's talk operated.
“LAY” AND EXPERT DISCOURSE
In the women's liberation movement, there were concerted and conscious efforts to operate nonhierarchically,50 and these extended to the policy of many women's groups to “rotate organizational positions, interviews with the press, radio and television, speaking engagements, etc, so that no one develops a too powerful expertise and no one confirms her own inhibitions.”51 The particular spatial arrangements of the No Man's Land studio, and the power relations that these implied, did not correspond easily with the politics of nonhierarchic collectivity that was so prevalent in the movement. Mitchell sat alone on a raised platform, facing the studio audience, who sat in tiered seating. The stage and the seating were lit equally, but the hierarchical distinction between chair and audience was clear.
The audience members, it seemed, had been invited for their various forms of (feminist and nonfeminist) expertise and, in some limited cases, their “experience” as ordinary women, as we shall see later. While the production team was all-female, the studio audience was not, although the proportion of women was far higher than that of men. While it varied from program to program, my estimate is that the ratio of women to men in the audience was approximately 10:1.
A very large number of the studio audience were well known in the women's movement, as well as in politics, entertainment, and other spheres. Some of the many recognizable audience members across the episodes included, among many others, Germaine Greer; Ann Oakley; Sheila Rowbotham; Elaine Morgan; Labour MPs Frank Field, Edward Bishop, and Renee Short; actresses Prunella Scales, Adrienne Corri, and Patricia Cutts; journalists Mary Kenny and Peregrine Worsthorne; the Liberal Life Peer and Fawcett Society president Baroness Seear; Pebble Mill at One and Sun agony aunt Claire Rayner; the writers John Braine and Fay Weldon; Eva Figes, author of Patriarchal Attitudes;52 and the “natural” childbirth activist Sheila Kitzinger.
Livingstone and Lunt have argued that, whereas in traditional factual broadcasting laypeople are constructed as subjective, ungrounded, and emotional, on talk shows they are constructed as authentic, relevant, and “hot.”53 Meanwhile, whereas experts traditionally have been constructed on television as objective and rational, on talk shows their role is transformed so that they are figured as alienated, irrelevant, and “cold.”
The particular make-up of No Man's Land's studio audience, in terms of its “lay” and “expert” guests, was difficult to ascertain, because audience members were very rarely explicitly positioned as either. However, lay and expert discourses did periodically emerge in the course of the debate. Patriarchal forms of expertise were sometimes set up and then strategically undermined by the sequencing of women's lay discourse immediately after them. More often, however, the talk was not orchestrated by the host in this way; many speakers were never formally introduced, and so it was difficult to ascertain the particular position they were speaking from. This also made researching the program difficult, and doubtlessly there are many prominent and well-known women and men in the audience whom I did not recognize.
At one point, in the episode “Women and Education,” a woman audience member argued that gender difference was biologically determined and that “it shows even with the baby in the pram.” The feminist Ann Oakley challenged her in the following way: “But … the crucial things happen before the age of three, before the age of two, even.” Oakley had not been introduced as a sociologist who had written a book entitled Sex, Gender and Society;54 her contribution appeared as one voice among many in a cacophony of feminist dissent and articulation. This particular refusal to validate some voices as “authorities” on feminism reflected a more general tendency in women's consciousness-raising groups to avoid positioning feminist academics, intellectuals, and authors as experts in women's oppression or liberation, and thus to avoid producing hierarchies in which other forms of knowledge and experience were less valued.
CLASS AND VOICE
In the episode “Women and Work,” Mitchell introduced two original short documentary films on this topic, filmed in what can be described broadly as a social realist style. The first film was about a young, female, middle-class university graduate struggling to establish a career because of a lack of promotion opportunities beyond secretarial work, and the second was introduced by Mitchell as showing “the sort of work that is available to the majority of women, who are working class and who are wives and mothers”:55 the example given here was a woman who worked as a night cleaner. Immediately drawn attention to, then, were the different sorts of problems faced by women according to their class backgrounds and economic positions. Class was emphasized throughout the series as a structural system that exacerbated women's oppression, and the specific character of that oppression was differentiated along class lines, as was made clear in the two films on women and work. This is not surprising, given how constitutive the context of socialist politics was for second-wave feminism,56 and yet in many accounts of second-wave feminism, the movement is accused of being narrowly focused on middle-class women.
Nancy Fraser's summary of the socialist-feminist analysis of class and gender in the early 1970s resonates strongly with the topics under discussion in No Man's Land and therefore merits being quoted at length here:
[Socialist-feminists] uncovered the deep-structural connections between women's responsibility for the lion's share of unpaid caregiving, their subordination in marriage and personal life, the gender segmentation of labour markets, men's domination of the political system, and the androcentrism of welfare provision, industrial policy, and development schemes. In effect, they exposed the family wage as the point where gender maldistribution, misrecognition, and misrepresentation occurred. The result was a critique that integrated economy, culture, and politics in a systematic account of women's subordination in state-organized capitalism.57
Shattuc has pointed out that many talk shows that appear to be broadly “feminist” in fact lack any substantial or sustained analysis of male power. No Man's Land points to an example where patriarchal power and capitalist power were laid out to scrutiny. It is perhaps the articulation of talk constituted by a socialist feminism that marks the program as substantively different from later forms of television talk.
After showing the films on work, Mitchell pointed to the “large studio audience” and the fact that “the people whose lives are shown in this film are part of that audience.” The films were followed by a studio discussion that centrally involved the graduate in the first film, who confidently held the floor to make a highly articulate argument about the structural disadvantages that women face upon leaving university. However, the night cleaner who appeared in the second program participated in the discussion only very briefly and hesitantly, answering a question put directly to her by Mitchell. The disparity in the respective contributions of the subjects of the films to the studio discussion can be read as symptomatic of the wider problems that the feminist movement had in including the voices of working-class women; each of the episodes was dominated by women (and men) who were clearly highly educated, experienced in public speaking, very articulate, and very largely white. This problem also had been identified in consciousness-raising groups. For example, in a 1969 pamphlet, “The Small Group Process,” produced by a member of a San Francisco women's liberation group, it was suggested that “women in the group … felt that consciousness-raising was particularly suited to the highly articulate women of the middle and upper classes and that these women were able to gain ascendancy over the group through their proficiency in this central activity of the Group.”58
However, this problem should not be read as one belonging simply to feminism, but also to television culture at that time. As Rosalind Gill points out, before the 1980s, there were very few “ordinary” people on television;59 the mode of speaking “personally” was neither mobilized nor endorsed in No Man's Land, and this mode was not readily available to be drawn from the wider television culture. It is possible to argue that ordinary voices were unable to stake out a space precisely because of the program's emphasis on structural oppression over individual experience. However, such a reading of No Man's Land would be too simplistic; the program did not seek to elevate expert discourse over lay discourse per se, but rather to challenge the unequal structural conditions that designated these categories based on class and gender.
THE ROLE OF THE HOST
In traditional forms of political broadcast talk, interviewers must maintain a “neutralistic” posture or “footing,” which entails avoiding personal argument or disagreement with an interviewee.60 However, as Hutchby points out, there has always been a sanctioned practice of broadcasters who “move outside the bounds of formal neutrality.”61 What is far less acknowledged—and which Hutchby also fails to note—is that the broadcasters who adopt an adversarial style (and are lionized for doing so) are almost without exception male. This points to enduring gendered assumptions about precisely what constitutes—and who is capable of achieving—impartiality in cultures of broadcast talk.
In contrast to the role of chairperson in traditional forms of television talk, Livingstone and Lunt point to the generic instability and ambiguity in the roles of the talk show host, which usually are much less easily defined: “Is he or she the chair of a debate, the adored hero of a talk show, a referee, a conciliator, a judge, the compere of a game show, a therapist, the host of a dinner-party conversation, a manager or a spokesperson?”62
Mitchell's role as the host of No Man's Land is particularly interesting in this regard and arguably cannot be defined as any of the various roles that Livingstone and Lunt suggest. An indication of the unusual role of the host in No Man's Land can be read in the TV Times listings: “This new series provides a platform for women to discuss their viewpoint. Key positions in the series are filled by women, and the presenter is Juliet Mitchell, who shares many of the strong views held [by] producers Brigid Segrave and Liz Kustow about women in today's society. But in tonight's programme, there are many members of the studio audience who will noisily—and articulately—challenge the view of marriage which is presented to them.”63
Rather than the program providing a space that hosted competing radical voices, the key antagonism here was constructed between the guests and the program itself. This listing suggests that the series not only “provides a platform,” but also served as a vehicle for its own “strong views,” embodied by the female production team and represented by Mitchell's chairpersonship. Again, this reaffirms the extent to which No Man's Land was figured as a program that was inherently oppositional by virtue of its feminist premise and its audacious position in the television schedule. This goes some way toward explaining how Mitchell, despite her designation as host and her clear spatial positioning as such, was nonetheless left open to hostility from some in the audience who did not merely disagree with her views but rejected the entire premise of the program. This was most starkly apparent in the final episode, “The Image of Women.”
“IT'S A LOAD OF RUBBISH, DARLING!”
The final episode discussed the representation of women in the media. Mitchell introduced the topic as such:
If you add up the number of columns in the press, or items on the television or radio, that are devoted to discussing seriously the position of women, you will find they are few and far between. But you probably won't notice this, because you will be swamped day in and day out with images of women. Count how many advertisements use a woman to sell a product, or see how women are bombarded into wanting to look the way that is appropriate to the feminine image. The right fashion, the right makeup, the right way to be. Women have to learn to be perfect wives, perfect mothers, perfect mistresses. Tonight we will look at a short film that illustrates the commercial use made of all these images of women. Then we will turn to a studio audience to discuss the issues raised.
The film looked at the selection process for female models in the advertising industry. It followed a model called Greta as she went about her working day, as well as going behind the scenes at a male-run British advertising agency, where female models had their bodies ruthlessly scrutinized as they tried to secure work. As well as Greta's own voice describing her feelings about her career, the film was overlaid with editorial commentary about the objectification of women and the role that advertising played in normalizing it. It ended by showing the filming of an advertisement for shaving lotion, with Greta (who had won the job) in a bikini with a male model on a beach.
The film provoked strong reactions in the audience. Many accepted its basic arguments and directed their anger toward the men who worked in the advertising agency (Mary Kenny railed, “How dare they? Who do they think they are, Steve McQueen?”). However, others rejected it outright, dismissing it as irrelevant (for example, Peregrine Worsthorne said, “It's nothing to do with women's lib, nothing to do with the position of women in our society”). Another response was to accuse the program of bias and selectivity (one woman said, rather mockingly, “What I would like to know is do any of us know how the gentleman in the advertisement was selected for his role? … All I saw was his bottom coming in at the last minute!”). The mixture of politicized documentary film with studio discussion was particularly interesting; many audience members who clearly did not align themselves with the women's movement—and even some who did—rejected the “biased” film as a legitimate premise for debate (“Not discussable!” an out-of-shot male voice shouted). The invocation of these journalistic norms as grounds to dismiss the arguments of the program makers (and, moreover, their right to have an argument at all) illuminates the tensions between feminist consciousness raising and pedagogy and the established models of “impartial” televised debate in a public-service context.
A fourth audience response was to shift attention away from advertising as the key site where harmful “images of women” were produced to the broader, problematic gender politics of television. Eva Figes said, “Not only models are judged on their appearance. The very fact that women who work in television also have to be twenty-five and pretty, and it doesn't matter what they know about Vietnam—they've got to know about Vietnam, but they've got to be pretty as well, and this does not apply to men.”
Other audience members then moved to implicate No Man's Land itself in the objectification of women. One charge of “hypocrisy” came from Claire Rayner, who interjected that “you are doing the same thing [as the advertising industry]. Your cameraman was not averse to zooming in on her boobs and her bum at the beginning. You're using exactly the same film to sell this program as you are complaining about the advertisers. You're cheating!” A feminist female audience member asked, “And why is it, Juliet, that you look so very, very different today on television from, er, than when you're appearing on radio [cut to Mitchell smiling in response] and you don't care how you look at all?”
Because I go to makeup before television, because you are made up.
So you're just as much playing along with what the television image should be of a presenter [cut to Mitchell no longer smiling].
A particularly uncomfortable sequence of talk occurred when the actress Adrienne Corri, sitting back in her seat with her arms crossed, interjected, at first rather nonchalantly, “May I just—I am going to say one thing. Women buy these magazines more than men do, and women are selling this idea to themselves, not to men. [Some applause. Corri shakes her head dramatically for emphasis.] So, for god's sake, admit it.”
Mitchell appeared shaken by the dismissive attitude of the charismatic Corri, and she faltered as she said:
Let's break here and come back, 'cause I'm not stopping this discussion, we'll take it up in, in a minute or two when we'll go to a short film which generalizes the theme, that shows the images that men, and women if you like, are putting across to girls and to women, to, er, as to, um, er, to which they should, could conform. So if we could take a break now and we, we'll look at this film and then we'll come back to these points here.
Watching the exchange, it is difficult not to feel sympathy for Mitchell, whose authority as a chairperson was being actively undermined by dissident audience talk as well as by some laughter that undercut her speech. At various points, there seemed to be a loss of control of the audience as several people talked over Mitchell's interjections as well as among themselves. Corri provided the most dramatic example of this disruption; as Mitchell was discussing the extent to which young women feel coerced into objectifying themselves, she and others began vociferously objecting to this argument. Corri's voice came through the loudest, and the camera found her, her elbows protruding as she leaned back confidently in her seat:
It's a load of rubbish, darling! A load of put-up rubbish and none of us are [inaudible].
Apart from rather rubbishy anger, could you like, would you like to explain that statement?
It's absolutely shaming to be here and listen to a lot of potentially very interesting people brought down to the level of this television studio and this program; it is a lot of crap, and we are made to take part in it, and I for one am now leaving. Arrivederci! [One person applauds. She stands up, tosses hair.]
[Stands with one hand on hip] 'Cause you're very tiresome. And boring, it's not talking about life or women.
Apart from showing off—
You've been hostile since the moment you opened your mouth [inaudible].
No, I'm dead bored, honey. [She walks off with her handbag and then turns around.] I'm going to have a drink now! Goodbye, see you later!
RETHINKING NAGGING: “SPEAKING BITTERNESS”
Meaghan Morris suggests that the classic scenario of nagging goes something along these lines: “She nags, he stops listening, nothing changes, she nags.” As such, it can be considered a “powerless text,” doomed to failure and abjection. However, Morris argues that there is, in fact, “always a change of sorts implied by repetition: in this case, her ‘place’ in speech becomes, if not strictly non-existent, then insufferable—leaving frenzy or silence as the only places left to go.”65
There was a practice within second-wave feminism of “reclaiming” pejorative gendered terms with the intention of subverting their meanings; for example, see the names of Shrew magazine, Virago publishers, and the independent music label Stroppy Cow Records. Similarly, rather than accepting idealized modes of women's speech—which would have entailed silence—feminists also repurposed denigrated “feminine” speech genres such as gossip, ranting, and scolding.66 For example, gossip has been reconceived by some feminists as a productive speech genre that enacts “women's relational connectedness” and “group solidarity.”67
Mitchell wrote in Woman's Estate that the concept of consciousness raising was in fact a reworking of a Chinese peasant revolutionary practice of “speaking bitterness.” This practice, based on the recognition that the first step out of abjection is to speak of it, “is the bringing to consciousness of the virtually unconscious oppression; one person's realization of an injustice brings to mind other injustices for the whole group.”68 By speaking bitterness in the context of mass-mediated, mixed-sex debate, the program was construed in many media reviews as a form of nagging that was inherently unsuited to television. In spite of the dangers and problems of speaking bitterness in a public forum, television also provided unique opportunities to reach large numbers of women and potentially bring them “to consciousness.”
However, television's aesthetic nature meant that women's bodies were inevitably rendered visible within a wider economy of sexist representational practices. Within evening, factual television, the established modes of talking, the patriarchal designation of certain topics as unworthy of public discussion, and the privileging of male voices as the markers of legitimate speech meant that feminists entered a sphere that had been structured in deeply masculinist ways. Nonetheless, they did enter this sphere, with all the problems, tensions, and multiple antagonisms that this entry produced.
No Man's Land was predicated on the second-wave feminist maxim “the personal is political”; it called attention to those issues not seen as worthy of—or even appropriate for—debate in normatively political programming. While it is difficult to theorize the legacy or impact of No Man's Land—in large part because of its absence from popular and academic histories—I argue for its importance as an historical text for two reasons. First, it is an important documentary record of discussion involving some key participants in the women's movement, broadly defined. That is to say, it was a space in which those who might be identified as women's liberationists (core members whose activism was primarily focused on women's rights/liberation) were brought into discussion with those who were sympathetic to and/or had specific alliances with the women's movement (for example, leftist MPs, educationalists, and actors). It also, of course, involved those who were hostile to the goals of the women's movement and provides historical evidence of the struggle to make women's issues a legitimate subject for public, political debate. As such, the program texts constitute an important historical document in the history of second-wave feminism. The narrative that has taken hold in some contexts—that second-wave feminism was fundamentally hostile to the mass media and the popular, which it viewed as antithetical to women's liberation—is somewhat overstated. Rather—as the example of No Man's Land shows—many feminists sought to understand, appropriate, and repurpose the capacities of television as a way to reach a mass audience.
I also suggest that No Man's Land constitutes an important set of texts with critical value for television history. Our knowledge of feminist activists' engagement with factual television genres remains extremely sketchy, and this gap in broadcasting history is left open, and thus vulnerable, to being filled with assumptions about feminism's retreat from, and hostility toward, the mass media. The recovery of such programs provides particularly rich and productive grounds for feminist television research. In particular, it points to the importance and specificity of socialist feminism as a discursive context in the early 1970s. If later talk shows would valorize the discussion of “life politics,” which superseded the primacy of “emancipatory politics”69 in the public sphere, then No Man's Land is an example in which both redistributive politics and the politics of recognition were articulated together.
The program's public address to its home audiences does not sit easily with some of the established ideas about television's imperative to be friendly and sociable. Specifically, it points to a particularly gendered problem in the way that Scannell historicizes the development of broadcast talk as “a public good that has unobtrusively contributed to the democratisation of everyday life most notably through its promotion of a ‘communicative ethos’ of more inclusive and extensive forms of sociability among its audiences.”70 No Man's Land, underpinned by a feminist politics that sought to radicalize its audience, is conceptually antithetical to this particular notion of a communicative ethos. No Man's Land points to the restrictive gendered bounds of television sociability—women who have transgressed the limits of “acceptable” speech on television, as did Mitchell, have been castigated as nags, gossips, and hysterics. Scannell's definition would necessarily position the “unfriendly,” “serious” and “didactic” talk of No Man's Land as undemocratic. Rather, I suggest, we should reconceive of women's television talk that is complaining, nagging, angry, and riotous as being part of that precisely democratic struggle to give women voice in the public sphere.