A Twitter row kicked off recently between whoever it is that mans (deliberate choice of word) the Mock the Week feed, and a number of people who are sick of the lack of women on TV panel shows.
However, it was interesting to hear Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent picking up the thread on Saturday evening at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Their hour-long session involved the two very funny women, and a female chairperson, debating around the topic of Twitter and pop culture. The session was fantastically entertaining… and also bizarrely unusual because it was a female-only panel.
During the Q&A, a woman in the audience suggested Moran and Dent should turn this into a TV show as it was so funny, and people would love it. A whoop of agreement went up from the sold-out crowd. And of course, the woman who asked this question was right – this would make brilliant TV. However, both Moran and Dent just laughed wryly, and said they’d never be allowed to talk in such a candid way on TV… because women never are.
This led to Moran saying she turns down appearances on shows such as Have I Got News For You if they ask, because she knows she will be on as the token female guest, that she will rarely be allowed to speak, and when she is allowed to speak – it will be edited out before screening in order to “save her from herself”, with the result that the only clips of her actually shown would be her politely tittering at a man’s jokes. The implication, said Moran, is that women don’t get politics and can’t understand political humour. So she doesn’t bother anymore. Dent agreed.
Jo Brand has also said she won’t go on Mock The Week anymore as she was sick of not being allowed to speak. And Brand’s not the only one to publicly complain about this. Mariella Frostrup, Victoria Wood, Rhona Cameron… these are just a handful of the intelligent and witty women to speak to the press about this problem in the past few years. But still nothing is being done. While women are not being heard on panel shows, the female audiences are turning off in droves – bored to tears by hearing the likes of Stephen Fry, Dara O’Briain and Russell Howard talk YET AGAIN about how pleased with themselves they are.
But back to Saturday, and Dent added that when she writes for some magazines and newspapers, her typically barbed style is generally toned down by the sub-editors, in what she perceives as a well-intentioned effort by the subs to “save me from myself”. Moran agreed that she sometimes experiences the same thing. When Dent wondered aloud if male writers would experience the same level of censorship in their writing, Moran quickly and loudly laughed and said “not a chance”.
But WHY are women so under-represented on TV and radio (let’s save cinema for another time)? Why?! It would be hilarious to see Moran and Dent afforded an hour-long TV show every week, where they could talk in the same articulate, intelligent and hilarious way as they did on Saturday night. If Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington can make a career out of podcasts and TV spin-offs of themselves rambling on about nothing in particular, why can’t women do the same? I dare say they’d be just as funny, but a lot less sexist and disablist than some of the unpleasant guff I’ve heard Gervais and Merchant say in their otherwise funny podcasts.
Earlier at Cheltenham, I heard Dent do a reading from her book How To Leave Twitter, and I was thrilled that she chose the section which highlights this very issue – the absence of intelligent women on TV, yet the wealth of identikit programmes with men looking like potatoes in jumpers.
Nobody seems to know what the solution is to making women more visible on panel shows, and allowing women an equal voice on TV and radio. And nobody can tell me why there is such a lack of women being given a voice – and by this, I do not mean women who are there only for what they look like, but women who actually have something interesting, amusing or relevant to say.
Women make up 52% of the population, but you wouldn’t know it by turning on your TV or radio. As a result, I rarely watch any TV these days as it seems so irrelevant to me, and so out of touch with the life that I live.
NB: There are several blogs on this topic that give full details on the stats and history of this issue. Here are links to a few recent ones: