Mary Beard takes AA Gill to task over 'carping sexism'

Apr 24, 2012

Historian exacts revenge in the Daily Mail after Sunday Times critic says she should not be allowed on TV


CAMBRIDGE historian and Meet the Romans presenter Mary Beard has exacted revenge on Sunday Times TV critic AA Gill, skewering him for his "poorly argued, carping sexism" in the pages of the Daily Mail after he insulted her appearance over the weekend.

The distinctly unglamorous Beard has been a hit on the BBC, where she has bucked the trend for young female presenters. The 57-year-old does not wear make-up or dye her hair but her skill and energy in front of the camera have won her a large following.

Yet she came under fire in Gill's TV column in the Sunday Times this weekend, telling his readers: "Mary Beard really should be kept away from cameras altogether." He went on to compare Beard to the subjects of Channel 4 documentary The Undateables, a show about disfigured and disabled people.

He took slight issue with her interpretation of Rome, but soon returned to the issue of her looks, comparing her to a character from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

In her response in the Daily Mail, Beard pointed out that it was not the first time Gill had criticised her looks. She recalled that in 2010 he wrote about her "tombstone teeth" and had said: "For someone who looks this closely at the past, it is strange she hasn't had a closer look at herself before stepping in front of a camera."

Beard then went on the attack and accused Gill 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".

She added: "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."

Beard then suggested a four-point plan of revenge against Gill, who is also a restaurant critic, which included forcing him to watch her TV shows and being force fed his least favourite foods.

"The real point is not what I look like, but what I do," she explained. "And the response from most viewers to my programmes is that I present interesting, absorbing and enjoyable ones."

The BBC, who have been accused of ageism and sexism in the past, would also have been pleased by Beard's response. She said: "I am gratified, too, that the BBC has always been 100 per cent supportive and not asked me to change my appearance. I'm delighted to be a woman in late middle age presenting programmes on television. I hope, soon, more will join me."

The only irony came in the juxtaposition of Beard's piece alongside the rest of the content on the Mail's website. Beard's attack on Gill was forced to jostle for attention with stories about "heavenly" Victoria's Secret models wearing push-up bras, pop singer Rihanna in a lycra dress, actress Mischa Barton parading through LA in leopard-print underwear and singer Miley Cyrus showing off her 'hot legs'.

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