A platform for voices supporting women's rights
BBC boss Danny Cohen seems to have taken some people by surprise when he announced: “We’re not going to have panel shows any more with no women on them. You can’t do that. It’s not acceptable.”
Before the same tripe gets trotted out about this topic for the millionth time, let’s get one thing clear – despite being a comedian who happens to be a woman, I can’t stand so-called positive discrimination. I say this in the face of being a beneficiary of the policy, before anyone accuses me of bitterness. I’ve had numerous work offers or auditions in the past year where it’s been clear to me that the fact I’m a girl has been a contributing factor in asking me in. I should be pleased, really. Except I’ve also been advised to lie about my age by industry types and have often suspected that losing a couple of stone and getting a discreet nosejob would do greater things for my career than writing new jokes.
I went into comedy because I wanted to get ahead for being funny, and while progression on the live circuit is reassuringly meritocratic, when it comes to TV work I’m back to worrying about having to use my looks as currency before middle age renders me invisible and redundant.
Here’s the thing: gender equality isn’t being dished out equally – the hot ones and the posh ones are first in line when it comes to getting the one designated spot for a women on panel shows. It’s a heated topic among many comedians, yet Cohen and his ilk are oddly silent on that one.
The women I see on panel shows rarely reflect the comedy circuit I work in, where many brilliantly funny women who don’t look or sound the part will struggle to get on. Despite the fact most comedians of both genders would clamber over the dead bodies of their peers to get on these programmes, when it comes to placing women on panel shows, producers still can’t bring themselves to avoid the easy option of sticking in a pretty TV presenter who won’t challenge their male counterparts but are great to look at. Alternatively, they generally stick to the usual middle-class and privately educated women (Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Victoria Coren, Miranda Hart, Sandi Toksvig, to name a few) whose only experience of comedy are the gentle Victorian parlour games that pass for humour on Radio 4. I’ll believe true equality is being put into practice once I see a woman who is the looks and class equivalent of Adrian Chiles chairing a panel show.
Every time women in comedy are discussed, people get the wrong answers because they’re asking the wrong questions. The responses usually contain peculiarly dated notions of women. There are apparently fewer of us on the circuit because we have difficulty with the travelling, our warbling wombs demand we stop everything to have children, our hands are too small to grasp a microphone from its stand (I might have made that one up) and the worst offender – women don’t like to interrupt.
It’s when female comedians also buy into these myths that it’s most galling, with Victoria Wood quoted in 2009 as saying: “A lot of [panel shows] are very male-dominated because they rely on men topping each other which is not a very female thing.” What’s innately female? What’s innately male? The more that people mindlessly endorse statements like this, the more they believe this utter horseshit to be fact.
I keep waiting for the penny to drop – for people to figure out that it’s not TV makers’ attitudes that need to change, nor does the responsibility lie on their shoulders – it’s attitudes to women in general. We still live in a world where men are valued primarily for being funny and clever and women for being pretty and youthful – or at least their ability to fake a youthful appearance.
Stop looking for answers in the wrong places and accept that that dynamic needs to be erased before any real change trickles down into comedy. Until then, I just want the BBC to know that I am available for all future recordings.
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