Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't boycott male only panels - complain about them

The Burd has posted about continuing, ignominious gender fail at the BBC. The culprit this time is Newsnight Scotland, affectionately tagged #newsnicht on Twitter - again. Female panellists are as rare as hens' teeth on that programme, a source of great annoyance to me, as you can imagine. To be honest, though, I hardly ever watch it - it's on way past my bedtime.

I tend to get equally irate about Question Time, which hardly ever has a balanced panel, politically or in terms of gender. Politics Scotland is also a persistent offender. I've seen shows, like yesterday's, where all the interviewees from Westminster, as well as the pundits, were male.

I was quite stupefied by one of the comments on The Burd's piece which suggested that the BBC overall made quite a lot of programmes aimed at women. So, we're supposed to watch Masterchef and EastEnders while the boys talk about the issues of the day, are we? It's the 18th century, without the corsets, thankfully, all over again.

Kate (the Burd's real name) also mentioned a letter to the Guardian by a group of eminent women announcing that they would boycott events which had all male panels. I get why but I think a retreat from the scene of the crime is in this instance counterproductive. We need to make more noise, not less. We need to encourage audience members of panel programmes like Question Time to embarrass the BBC by making reference to the stupidity of a virtually all male panel - in a calm way, I'm not talking about stage invasions or anything like that, but the point needs to be made, publicly.

At non televised events, I think it's also worth asking the men on the panel if they are not embarrassed to be taking part in something where there are no women. Put them on the spot. Get people to sign letters of complaint to the organisers.

And the rest of us - every single time we see an unbalanced panel, we should complain. I usually say something on Twitter if I notice it - but we need to complain to the relevant organisations and be systematic about it. Here's the BBC complaint form - something I now have in my favourites.

Writing this has reminded me that they haven't replied to the complaint I made about the way the BBC  News Channel treated Miriam Gonzalez Durantez during the Autumn Liberal Democrat Conference, so I've sent  them a reminder this morning.

I think that all male panels are off-putting to women and often lead them to conclude that politics isn't for them because it's not about them. When political parties put up banks of men in suits at a photo opp, it makes me seethe. My lot are just as culpable as anybody else and they hear from me when they get it wrong, you can be assured on that. I remember getting annoyed last year at some footage from a bit of razz at SNP conference when there wasn't one single woman on the stage.

Women's bodies are often airbrushed in photographs, but we're also in danger of allowing ourselves to be airbrushed out of discussions on the governance of the country. We need to find some way of ridiculing those who allow that to happen, to make them feel uncomfortable about it. A boycott is way too silent for that.

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