Article| Why Is British Public Life Dominated By Men?

A timely article from Kira Cochrane at the Guardian who writes about the lack of women visible in the media. (Excerpts taken from the Guardian online. For the full article, click here.) It was just this weekend I thought about the lack of prime-time female entertainment presenters in the UK. Take a read below and let us know your thoughts.

I don't know when the breaking point came. Was it the 2010 election, in which the most prominent women on the national stage seemed to be the leaders' wives? Was it a drip, drip, drip of Question Time panels featuring one woman alongside four men and a male presenter? Could it have been the low growl of voices waking me each morning on the Today programme, or a growing feeling that I hadn't seen a female byline on the cover of some newspaper sections for weeks? Was it images of the Commons? Images of the Lords? Was it the prime-time television comedy shows with their all-male panels? Or the current affairs shows, also apparently aimed at a mixed audience, that barely featured women?

It was all those factors, in truth, and so in mid-June I began a count. I started with bylines (the name of the journalist who has written the article). For four weeks I counted every byline in the Monday-to-Friday editions of seven newspapers, looking at the number of male and female writers. I knew there were only two female editors of national newspapers: Tina Weaver at the Sunday Mirror, and Dawn Neesom at the Daily Star. But I wanted a clearer picture overall.

I did the count for the first two weeks, a colleague did the third, and two researchers the fourth. We doggedly counted each byline, in every part of each paper, and while this wasn't a scientific study, each individual week brought forth broadly similar figures (the count was timed to end before the start of the school summer holidays, to avoid any skewing of the statistics). There wasn't a single day, on a single newspaper, when the number of female bylines outstripped or equalled the number of male bylines. The Daily Mail came the closest of any newspaper to parity on Monday 27 June, when its contributors were 53% male and 47% female – reflecting the fact that, whatever the Daily Mail's style and tone, it clearly recognises the commercial importance of its women readers, targets a mass of material at them, and is rewarded as the only daily national, besides the Daily Express, whose female readers currently outnumber male readers.

At the end of the month we averaged all the daily percentages and the results were: the Mail, 68% male bylines, 32% female; the Guardian, 72% male, 28% female; the Times, 74% male, 26% female; the Daily Telegraph, 78% male, 22% female; the Daily Mirror, 79% male, 21% female; the Sun, 80% male, 20% female; and the Independent, 84% male, 16% female. (A new editor was appointed at the Independent during the count, so we had another look at the paper's bylines on the week beginning Monday 14 November, to see if there was any change. Although the paper has some excellent female columnists and writers, the figures were exactly the same.)

During that four-week period, I also logged the gender of reporters and guests on the Today programme. (All the shows I looked at, including Today, were on the BBC, which reflects the agenda-setting nature of the corporation.) It is well-recognised that the main roster of Today programme presenters is male-dominated – John Humphrys, James Naughtie, Evan Davis and Justin Webb, with Sarah Montague the only woman. But I wondered whether this 80/20 split spilled over to its other contributors.


Using the breakdown of each morning's programme, published on the BBC website, and discounting the lead presenters, I added up the number of reporters and guests who appeared on each episode – counting each reporter only once if they were, for instance, appearing repeatedly on a single show to relay the business or sports news. On Tuesday 5 July you had to wait from 6.15am until 8.20am to hear the one female contributor who appeared alongside the 27 male contributors on the programme: arts correspondent Rebecca Jones talking about the Hampton Court Palace flower show. Overall, across the month, discounting the main presenters, Today had 83.5% male contributors and 16.5% female ones.

I spoke to the editor of the Today programme, Ceri Thomas, on Friday 11 November – a day when only two female contributors appeared on the programme. The day before there had been just one. I asked if there was a strong enough female presence on the show at the moment. "I think nearly every day there is not," he said. "And within the programme it's a very active discussion. And not just a discussion – it's pursued actively, too. Every producer on the programme is aware we're trying to increase the representation of women on air. People such as the planning editor, who is in a position to do a bit more about it, have it as a specific objective." He adds that the show's listenership is about 50/50 men and women, "and I'm bound to say to you, it almost never comes up as an issue from the audience … I suppose it might be two letters a year, or something of that nature." He makes this last point, in different words, three times in our 10-minute conversation.

If most Today programme listeners aren't bothered by the male dominance of the media, other people certainly are. Earlier this year Chitra Nagarajan, a member of the activist group Black Feminists, started the "diversity audit" hashtag on Twitter, where people can note the comparative male or female presence on any show, or at any event – as well as collating information, according to their interests and concerns, about race, class, sexuality, disability or other factors.

Nagarajan says that, from an early age, she became used to entering a room, looking around and seeing "who else was there that wasn't white. And then, since I started going along to events, you look at the panel and notice they're all male – even at events where the issue actually affects women disproportionately." Earlier this year, Nagarajan did an analysis of Question Time, looking at the comparative number of men and women on the show, and also black men and women. Of the 12 shows that started on 27 January, seven featured all white guests. Only three non-white women appeared on the panels in that period – numbers of non-white men were even lower: just two appeared.

As Nagarajan says, the absence of women, and particularly black and ethnic-minority women, on current affairs programmes is deeply problematic. "When I was doing my count," she says, "it was the early months of the year, when revolutions were happening in the Middle East and north Africa, but very rarely did you actually see a woman from any of those countries speak. You occasionally saw the men speak, but never the women, which I think ties into the whole idea of black women's vulnerability and invisibility. So black women never speak for themselves – other people speak for them, and over their heads – when it comes to their rights. And the image you see of them is as weak, vulnerable and not being really important agents for change."

The marginalisation of women, as with the marginalisation of any other group, means those who do put their head above the parapet are highly visible, and much more likely to be taken as representative of their entire sex. If a male comic performs badly on Have I Got News for You, he lets himself down. If one of the few women to appear performs badly, she's proof that women just aren't funny. (In series 40, 41 and the first four episodes of series 42 – all screened this year – 84.5% of the five people who appeared on the programme were men, while 15.5% were women. Eight out of 23 episodes featured no women. Twelve out of 23 episodes featured one woman. In series 10 of the panel comedy series Mock the Week – excluding the one compilation show, the same as Have I Got News for You – 92% of guests were male, 8% female. Out of 11 shows, five casts were entirely male, and the other six featured six men and one woman.)

Natasha Walter, the feminist writer and activist, says the male domination of current affairs shows is, as with politics, partly about the way "the masculine establishment reproduces itself. They know the men, the men are already visible, so they're the easy ask … It's not conscious sexism, or conscious discrimination, but it's slight laziness."

Click here for the full article.

What are your thoughts? Why are there so few women visible in public life and the media? What can be done to change this?

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