Too Ugly for TV? No, I'm Too Brainy for Men Who Fear Clever Women; History Presenter MARY BEARD Blasts Back at the Critic Who Savaged Her Looks
AS A classicist, I know a lot about revenge: the Ancient Greeks and Romans were horribly good at it. But not the crude, getting-your-own-back sort; they always ensured their retribution was absolutely appropriate to the crime.
So, ever since the acid-tongued TV critic AA Gill sent some of his nasty jibes in my direction in his newspaper column on Sunday (and it wasn't the first time I'd been at the sharp end of his, frankly, misogynist pen) people have been asking me, what is my vengeance going to be? What would be the most apposite way to get even? First of all, I'll tell you what he wrote -- or, perhaps more to the point, what he didn't write.
He is supposed to be a television reviewer, but he said hardly anything at all about Meet The Romans, the documentary about the Roman world that I've written and presented on BBC2. What he was interested in was my appearance.
To be honest, at first reading, his remarks were pretty hurtful. He suggested that I should be kept away from the cameras altogether and, in a topical reference, went on to imply that I belonged on The Undateables, a recent Channel 4 programme charting the dating difficulties of the disabled and facially disfigured.
It's easy to explode when you first read something like that, especially if you are its victim.
It seems a straight case of pandering to the blokeish culture that loves to decry clever women, especially ones who don't succumb to the masochism of Botox and have no interest in dyeing their hair. It's a case of mistaking prejudice for being witty and provocative. And it's very easy to find yourself thinking: 'What an odious little twit!' But the Romans didn't get even by trading insults or reducing themselves to the unsophisticated level of their opponents.
Throughout Western history there have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds, and I guess, as a professor of Classics at Cambridge University, I'm one of them.
In a sense, I suppose, I should be used to such crass remarks as his. After all, they dog most intelligent women, even today -- particularly if they dare to put their head above the parapet by appearing on television. For years, sexism was institutionalised in academic establishments.
It is only since World War II that women were permitted to graduate from Cambridge University; before that, they could have the pleasure of studying, but only men would be honoured with degrees.
Even in the mid-1970s, when I was an undergraduate at Newnham, then as now an all-women's college, only 10 per cent of the university's students were female. There were a few guys around the place who would treat us as just that bit intellectually inferior to them.
There was stereotyping, too. We were the swots and frumps; the generic term for a bright young woman was still a 'bluestocking'.
I used to enjoy mocking this flagrant typecasting: every time I went to a job interview I reclaimed the stereotype by arriving in a pair of blue woollen tights.
Another intelligent woman who might agree with me is the BBC broadcaster and sports commentator Clare Balding, to whom I'm very grateful for weighing in and supporting me over this latest Gill outburst.
Having also been grievously insulted by Gill in the past, she wrote on Twitter: 'I like to think he's intimidated by us. Sad, really, that he's incapable of assessing women in an intelligent manner.' Last summer Gill referred to Clare as a 'dyke on a bike' when reviewing her travel programme Britain By Bike. Clare, who is openly gay, complained to the Press Complaints Commission and it upheld her complaint. And this isn't the first time Gill has had a go at me, either. He also took issue with my appearance in his review of my documentary Pompeii: Life And Death In A Roman Town in 2010.
'For someone who looks this closely at the past,' he wrote, 'it is strange she hasn't had a closer look at herself before stepping in front of a camera. …