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The TV guide: Couchsurfer...What women want


Maia Dunphy...establishing what women want.

Maia Dunphy...establishing what women want.

Maia Dunphy...establishing what women want.

Freud reckoned it was one of the great unanswerables: what do women want? It could be, and has been, argued that Freud's attitude to women lacked a willingness to understand us. Instead of embracing our complexity and contradictions, he wanted to make us, to paraphrase 'Enry 'Iggins, more like a man.

It could also be argued that women don't know what we want ourselves, so how could anyone else? And that, we'll conclude, is what's great about us and, perhaps, what Maia Dunphy shows up in What Women Want, the second series of which starts on Thursday. There are no answers, only more questions, and anyway, where's the fun in dead-end definitions?

Having talked about drink and babies and men in the first series, now Dunphy tackles that great, great mystery, the modern woman's relationship with her body. She's not so much searching for answers, however, as endeavouring to unearth what the questions are. In this series - for which, back in February, Dunphy suggested she'd bulk up her body by two dress sizes - she is focused on food and exercise and shopping. Why do these things make women feel good and bad, and why do we let them take such huge significance in our lives?

What women want from a series like this is not just more of the usual, cliched questions. We're way past analysis of the simple, "Does my bum look big in this?" even if the question still runs through our heads. We want more from pop psychology/sociology as entertainment and Dunphy is a likeable face of that, with her easy self-deprecation and honesty about her own quirks, foibles and follies. She confessed to drinking a bit too much in series one, she's honest about her long-distance marriage to comedian Johnny Vegas, and even though she's pretty and petite, she's beset with what we now accept as standard women's self-doubt.

For the most part, Dunphy comes at her subject at a more quirky angle than most. She is, perhaps, RTE2's more palatable, fewer-knob-jokes answer to Jennifer Maguire. Dunphy has a contemporary frankness and boldness, but she has a gentler, friendlier approach than Maguire. She's not laughing at modern women and how they flit from one foodie fad to the next, or how they obsess over their diets or buy 10 pairs of almost identical shoes online in search of the perfect pair. Instead, she's enquiring about their activities, identifying with them, staking solidarity in the most peculiar of circumstances.

What Women Want isn't, and shouldn't be, about answers. Answers, let's face it, tend to be boring dead ends. Instead, it's about women's stories, women's lives. It's about the quest, the one that we know, ultimately, is going nowhere, the one we know never ends in perfection, but we keep at it anyway.

In this week's instalment, Maia Dunphy takes a look at the way in which the modern woman eats, and what she eats. Expect the word "superfood" to surface a lot, as the contributors confess to bulk-buying of kale, to bulletproofing of their coffee and to being tempted to take the controversial 5:2 diet to the extreme 4:3 level. OK, maybe not the last one, but anything's possible.

It's a programme about what women eat, yes, but more about why women eat what they eat, and how that eating alters or affects the way they feel about themselves. It grasps the truth, perhaps of both genders, that we really don't know why we do half the things we do, or what we really want or what on earth we're doing most of the time. And, perhaps, through Dunphy's good humour, we get one message about women and life in general: that what we really want is to enjoy doing whatever it is.

The meaning rarely matters as much as the search for it.

What Women Want, RTE2, Thursday, 10pm

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