Last month I received a letter from a dismayed radio listener, who has noticed the ignoring of women at all levels of the media and public life. She mentions her many complaints to the producers of various shows and the way they have largely been ignored. At major speaking events at The Women's Library in London last year and at The Arnolfini in Bristol this year - a sold out event called Where Are The Women? - countless women approached me and said that they had complained to major media shows and organisations and were dismissed, patronisingly rebuffed or ignored.
On this morning's show on Tuesday 6th December, aside from the presenters, Today had 20 male voices and just 5 female lady-women. Yesterday it had 14 men and 7 women. On Friday 2nd December it had 18 men and 6 women. On Thursday 1st December it had 18 men and 3 women. On Wednesday 30th November it had 17 men and 6 women. On Tuesday 29th November it was 18 men and 6 women. Notice, ladies, we never get above 7, and the men never get below 14 - usually much higher actually - and that's not even counting the presenters, who are 80% male.
In an article I wrote in May this year, Shut Up Ladies, Can't You See We're Trying To Talk?, I made a survey of representation across various networks (not just the BBC and not just talk radio) and all viewing times. It makes for very depressing reading, especially for any woman, like me, who is an experienced broadcaster and an avid radio-lover, who wishes to have a career. I know, how very dare we? Here are the stats for Today:
On Friday 20th March 2011, Radio 4’s Today programme featured 28 men, including the 2 male presenters, and 1 woman. The previous day they had gone completely mad ...and gave us Ladies’ Day: 7 whole women spoke, including presenter Sue Macgregor, alongside 21 men. The day before that it was a much more acceptable 4 women and 19 men. I have no idea what that spike on Thursday 19th was about. 7 women! Using up the space that men could have occupied! By Friday, thank Patriarchus, He That Knoweth, natural order had been restored.Nothing has changed since then. In Kira Cochrane's shocking and unmissable article about cultural femicide this week she revealed, after months of primary research, that 84% of reporters and guests on Today are men and 16% are women. Cochrane's piece presents a terrifying vision of an entire culture which sidelines women across all media and all outlets/networks/institutions, but Today's stats are the worst of an already-dreadful bunch. Cochrane writes, "On 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." There is currently a raging thread about this on Mumsnet, started when Kira's piece came out. There was also an instant and very interesting response in the Guardian letters page, here.
It's quite hard to have a formula that helps you decide who should be the new presenter. I can say quite honestly that it would not be, was not and will never be the case that being a woman will be the overriding criteriaWhen asked why more women were being seen on the BBC News channel but not heard on Today, Thomas said,
Because I think those are slightly easier jobs. They are difficult jobs but the skillset that you need to work on the Today programme and the hide that you need, the thickness of that, is something else. It's an incredibly difficult place to work.and
...what you can't expect is that the Today programme is the first place you'll see those changes [ie. more women] because it's just too tough an environment for novices, frankly.But I don't think the public furore is really about the presenters as much as it is about the guests. Today is honoured among listeners for a good reason. It is serious, quality broadcasting. Every day there are more than 20 expert guests, usually live, talking about more than a dozen different subjects, in dozens of different ways. Today is able to tackle any issue, in any area, about any country or culture, in any discipline. Its producers can (seemingly) access any speaker, craft any item and set up any discussion, interview or debate. It is capable of excellence in everything, except including women. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, only 16% of its guests or reporters are women, and 84% are men. That is why listeners are angry.
I have addressed the issue of the under-representation of women in a series of articles with statistics and anecdotes, many of which blow the whistle on the day-to-day misogyny of some of the producers, editors and commissioners I have worked with at broadcasting, media, arts and culture institutions: Tired of being the token woman. - The subtle art of misogyny. - So Today is a boys' club - what's new? - It's simple - just invite more women on air. - 30 seconds of misogyny in the lifts at Broadcasting House - Thank you, Radio 1 DJ Greg James, for today's edition of 30 Seconds of Misogyny - I hit the glass ceiling. It really hurts. - On despair.
Do we care? Yes we do! Everywhere I go, in public or private, in every in-depth conversation I have, with friends or near-strangers, this issue comes up. Countless women tell me they have written in to events organisers, editors, producers, impresarios, governors, MPs, whoever - and been brushed off. Countless extremely able women tell me they would love to be involved in these events as speakers, experts, advocates, artists, performers, debaters, subjects and commentators. They ask me to put their names forward, which I do, only for them to be ignored, talked down, frozen out.
What to do? Does complaining help? Cochrane spoke to Ceri Thomas on Friday 11th November, when only two female contributors appeared on the Today programme. The previous day there was just one. Thomas told her (three times, as Cochrane reports) that the issue of female representation "almost never comes up as an issue from the audience... I suppose it might be two letters a year, or something of that nature."
Only two? Check your Spam box. Oh - and perpetrators, please stop victim blaming. We are not your secretaries or subordinates and it is not our job to write you a memo to remind you that we are human beings, that we exist and are worth listening to. We are not going to beg you submissively to recognise our worth. You should recognise it anyway, if you are decent human beings yourselves and do not have some kind of misogynistic, man-worshipping superiority complex. We are not shy, unwilling, thick, boring, absent or too busy cooking and cleaning to attend. We expect and demand fair, unsneering and equal treatment and representation and you must supply this. You must change your behaviour.
If any programme, event or venture keeps its number of women guests at a steady 16% or invites 26 men and just 2 women to talk at an industry-wide conference, as happened at this year's Next Radio event, it is because it chooses to, not because women are too lax, amidst all the other oppression we constantly witness and experience, to write in and plead for basic recognition and humane treatment. Are perpetrators really so passive, hate-filled and unwilling that they need serious prompting to acknowledge and reflect the fact that we are 50% of the audience and half the world? Do they so despise the thought of contacting women, inviting women, being in women's presence and hearing women speak as experts, endorsers, analysts and subjects of celebratory discussion as writers/artists/thinkers/innovators? As ever, perpetrators make their hatred clear by their behaviour. They do not like women so they do not have any near them, except those used behind the scenes as exploited labour in a system which promotes and celebrates men as geniuses, on any topic, in any manner, in any field.
Those non-media outsiders who victim-blamingly say that women 'should' push themselves forward have not understood how events, conferences or shows are organised. Guests are cast, invited and briefed by producers in advance; potential guests are not supposed to psychically intuit that an unannounced and unpublicised event is in its early stages of organisation, and somehow get in there. It does not work like that - and indeed, confident women who do put themselves forward are, according to the double standard, slandered and punished for shrillness/loudness/bolshiness/aggression/whatever. The responsibility, the agency, the decision and the fault is on the perpetrators and the issue is one of sexism. As I wrote way back in late spring of last year:
We no longer live in an age where female thinkers, writers, philosophers, academics, artists, theorists, activists or politicians are rare. The discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count. It's all the more galling given that women equal or outnumber men as attendees of arts festivals, concerts, readings, discussions and debates, and as arts and humanities students at university. Women write, read, edit and publicise more fiction than men. Women make up the majority of executive, PR and organisational staff in arts and cultural institutions. Women's ticket revenue, licence fees, book purchases and entrance fees are being used to fund events at which women artists and thinkers are marginalised with breathtaking obviousness.
This issue, prompted by Kira's article, has truly opened Chauvin's Box.
This is what Sound Women suggest regarding the Today programme specifically: that people write to BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patten - ah, Lord Patten, a posh man who will never have to worry about these issues or be affected by them - and get our friends to write too. For a bit of encouragement, there's already a growing Mumsnet thread on this, based on a shortened version of this article. No ranting, please, and no abuse when you write in. Just concern, stats and a fervent desire for the glory of radio to reflect the intelligence, interest and intellect of its 50% of loyal women listeners. Send it to Chris Patten at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc in his assistant email@example.com - because, of course, the best partiarchal prop for a powerful man is a subordinate female assistant who does all the real work and has now been placed in the awkward and unfair position of fielding these messages.
Sound Women have drafted the letter below, but please feel free to adapt and change it, especially if you are a Today listener but do not work in the media and have additional points you’d like to make.
Dear Lord Patten
The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 has four male presenters and just one woman, Sarah Montague. In addition to this, today it’s been revealed that on average 84% of its guests and reporters are male, and just 16% female.
As [a woman working in the radio industry, and] an avid radio listener, I am deeply disappointed by these figures. If the Today audience is made up of 50-50 men and women, as Today Editor Ceri Thomas claims, then this means that the women in that audience are being under-represented and badly served.
Ceri Thomas also says he receives only two letters of complaint a year, and seems to think this means the audience don’t care about the issue. Well we do care. We don’t always write letters of complaint – sometimes we change to another station or shout at our radio instead – but if it will make a difference then please accept this as a letter of complaint, to which I would greatly appreciate a response.
I know the representation of women on air is an issue you feel strongly about, and have spoken about before. I hope you can encourage the BBC to bring about the change that is needed, and look forward to hearing a more balanced version of the Today programme, with many more female contributors, reporters and presenters very soon.Fingers crossed. And if anyone wants to start up a (paid) women's radio station, I'm 100% in on the arts and culture side. Just contact me and it's a yes.
Thank you for reading this email.
UPDATED at the end of the working day on Wednesday 21st December 2011: After the enormous reaction created by Kira Cochrane's article, which has (my sources tell me) prompted fervent debate in many major arts and cultural institutions, many women contacted me attaching copies of their own complaint letters. A very senior woman and former London bureau chief at a major international news and reporting agency told me that she was "at a 'Gender Agenda' event discussing this last week and was struck by how internally focused it was and that barely a single man was present to discuss the issue." In her letter to the BBC she wrote the following:
I am writing to address the perception that appears to be prevalent at the BBC: namely, that a failure to deluge the inbox of BBC executives with complaint about female representation on news and current affairs programmes is evidence that this is not an issue. On the contrary, it is a most pressing and serious concern and one that needs to be addressed urgently.Another woman, a radio lover and longtime Today listener, wrote to the BBC:
As [COMPANY] London Bureau Chief from 2007 to 2011, and a former financial and foreign correspondent, I personally put myself forward on numerous occasions to talk on serious business and political topics relating to the UK. Instead, I was invited on (just twice) to review newspapers during the general election.
Busy, professional women like me have full-time, executive jobs that rarely give them time to write letters of complaint – but if it will make a difference then please accept this as a letter of complaint, to which I would greatly appreciate a response.
...I hope you can encourage the BBC to bring about the change that is needed, and look forward to hearing a more balanced version of the Today programme, and other news and current affairs programmes, with many more female contributors, reporters and presenters very soon.
I noticed in that article that Ceri Thomas, Editor of Today said that he received hardly any letters about the lack of women presenters and contributors to Today and concluded that the audience didn’t care very much.
I grew up with Today and still listen to it briefly most mornings. I do care about the lack of women on the programme, and think it effects the way in which stories are covered and the way in which some issues are largely ignored. I’ve never written to complain – I just turn off the radio and get my news on-line instead.
I think the Guardian research should be a wakeup call to the BBC (and print media, which doesn’t come out of it well either, including the Guardian). Please can you tell me what you intend to do to ensure that we get something a bit closer to gender balance on our airwaves?Another woman, a very prominent journalist, wrote the following:
I am writing to complain about the under-representation, nay near invisibility, of women on the Today programme.
...Specifically, I find it hard to believe that Ceri Thomas says he only receives two letters of complaint about this woeful under-representation of women on the Today show per year. I question this figure and would like it confirmed.
As as writer for [COMPANY] I would welcome your comments on how the BBC is going to address this situation.
In the letter sent to me before the Guardian article a listener wrote,
My friend and I share regular tallies of the low numbers of any women’s voices on the Today programme. Lots of rage and gnashing of teeth. I have written to the producers/editors/ complaints departments in vain.I have now received messages from the BBC Trust and also from Ceri Thomas of Today. See the below:
My point is that not only is there a dearth of women presenters – women are routinely not invited on to the Today programme to discuss the topics presented, women’s names are not even referred to in discussions. The words “her”and “she” are not heard. Education controversy – let’s wheel out Chris Woodhead, Anthony Seldon – because clearly there has never been a notable women headteacher or schools inspector. It’s not just laziness, a question of the usual suspects invited on the programme over and over again - it’s a powerful bias that ensures that women’s voices simply don’t matter, that women don’t matter. I sit and listen and watch the minutes tick by as we are not only marginalised, but are inaudible, invisible, non-existent.
You could land here from Mars, tune in to the Today programme and - on some days - I kid you not – up to an hour later not have a clue that women exist at all.
I’m 60 in December – all that struggle in the 1970’s - and I cannot bear it. How many other young women are going to protest?
Another point - if Woman's Hour can respond at 10am to a breaking news story and get women on the show - academic/politician/vox pop/historian/scientist/other worker or professional/whatever - to interview, just why can't the Today programme do the same?!
from: Trust Enquiries TrustEnquiries@bbc.co.uk
date: Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 5:47 PM
subject: : Today programme
Thank you for your recent email to Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust. I am responding on Lord Patten’s behalf as a member of the Trust Unit which advises and supports the Chairman and Trustees. I understand your concerns about the number of women presenters and contributors on Radio 4’s Today Programme.
As Lord Patten received a number of emails expressing similar concerns, we are responding to them all in these terms. I can assure you that equality is an issue that the BBC Executive and the Trust takes very seriously and, as you may be aware, it’s the Chairman’s view that there should be more women both on radio and television.
However, the role of the Chairman, and of the Trust, is distinct from that of the BBC Executive and day-to-day editorial decisions - such as selection of presenters and contributors to the Today programme, for example - are rightly the responsibility of the BBC Executive and ultimately the Director General as Editor-in-Chief.
Reflecting that distinction, the BBC complaints process requires that complaints are handled by the BBC Executive in the first instance. The Trust’s role in the process is to consider appeals from complainants should they be dissatisfied with the responses that they have received from the BBC’s management. I have therefore forwarded your email to the editor of the Today programme, Ceri Thomas, and he has provided the attached response.
Should you remain unhappy and would like to progress your complaint further, you can do so using the BBC complaints process via BBC Audience Services, details of which are available on the BBC complaints website www.bbc.co.uk/complaints. Following this route means we can deal with complaints in a logical progression from BBC management to the Trust and those most closely involved with the complaint have an opportunity to respond first. I hope this is helpful and thank you again for bringing your concerns to our attention.
BBC Trust Unit
And this is is from Ceri Thomas, the editor of Today, exactly as sent to me, unedited, uncut and complete. It was sent from the man above as an attached Word document. It is aggressive, cold, arrogant, patronising, immature, punitive, derailing and defensive in tone, with no greeting, politeness, sign-off, contact details, introduction, tail-off or anything else. It personally singles out Kira Cochrane in a bullying and sneering way, when in fact the negative critique of Today has been made, rightly, by many people of both sexes across the media for nearly 18 months. As is obvious from the tone and style, Thomas cannot even pretend to be respectful of women or to take this seriously. It is written as a short school essay. The title in bold is original too:
Response from Ceri Thomas:
Your complaint springs from an article in the Guardian which contained extracts from an interview with me. Your letter quotes rather selectively from that article so, for the sake of completeness, I think it is worth bearing in mind the fuller context. In addition to noting the relatively small number of complaints which have come directly to the programme each year about the numbers of women on Today, the article contained the following exchange between me and the Guardian journalist, Kira Cochrane:Thomas claims that "the figures quoted in the Guardian article are inaccurate, even on the specific days which are mentioned." This is not true. Cochrane's article links to the specific programme line-ups mentioned, which anyone can check. The team at the Guardian rechecked the data multiple times to ensure accuracy. The Guardian has an extremely prompt and rigorous complaints, corrections and clarifications desk which deals with specific inaccuracies and Thomas has not contacted them with any objection. The furore over Today's extreme marginalisation of women began long before the Kira Cochrane article, as far back as March 2010 when Thomas gave his interview to Feedback. The data I have supplied in this piece, all of it accurate, is from March 2011 and November - early December 2011. The Guardian's research took place over the entire summer of 2011 and is accurate.
‘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.’
It is difficult, on the basis of that exchange, to characterise the representation of women on air as an issue about which Today does not care.
The broader question raised by your complaint is what the 'correct' proportion of male and female guests on Today should be. The figures quoted in the Guardian article are inaccurate, even on the specific days which are mentioned, but there is no argument about the fact that the programme has more male guests than female. This is a programme, however, which deals largely in areas of public life in which it is a simple statement of fact to say that, at senior levels, men outnumber women. To give just two examples, about 75% of MPs are men, as are over 80% of board members of FTSE 100 companies. The same skew exists in virtually every corner of the public arena which listeners expect Today to cover. It is inevitable, to a large extent, that the male-female balance within organisations in the wider world will be reflected on air.
Having said that, the programme clearly acknowledges the need to achieve the best possible representation of women on air consistent with listeners' expectations of Today's editorial agenda, and it is actively working to do that.
I have now done even more research over the last 9 programmes, analysing every line-up and every item. Here it is:
The Today programme has 4 male presenters and 1 woman. Aside from the presenters, on Saturday 10th December there were 19 male speakers and 2 women. On Monday 12 December there were 17 male speakers and 2 women. On Tuesday 13th December there were 17 men and 6 women. On Wednesday 14th December there were 18 men and 4 women, of whom 3 were speaking on one item about domestic violence. On Thursday 15th December there were 18 men and 7 women. On Saturday 17th December there were 19 men and 3 women. On Monday 19th December there were 22 men and 6 women. On Tuesday 20th December there were 19 men and 4 women. On Wednesday 21st December - today - there were 18 men and 6 women.
In the last 9 shows the general Thought For The Day, which is specially commissioned and not so closely pegged to the news agenda, had 6 men and 2 women. One of these women, Canon Angela Tilby, was used twice, probably because the producers could not stomach having another whole entire female she-creature stinking up the place. Across the last 9 shows, again, the number of men did not go below 17 and the number of women did not go above 7. These figures vary only minutely from those mentioned earlier in this piece for summer of this year (counted by Kira Cochrane's team) and spring 2011 and spring 2010, counted by me. Across something like 100 items the only one featuring all women was one about male violence against women. Because we are just victims, aren't we, of male femicide - both physical and cultural.
The Today programme does not just cover Parliamentary affairs or big business, nor does it only feature heads of major FTSE companies, political parties, conglomerates, major organisations, firms or any other endemically sexist institutions. Over the last 9 shows, these are just some of the topics Today have covered: the production of frankincense; Russian parliament; UK planning reforms; homelessness; found recordings of writers reading their own short stories (in which 3 white male writers were named, and 0 women); children testifying in court; pensions for council workers, NHS staff, teachers and civil servants (an item in which 2 men were invited to debate despite the overwhelming majority of public sector workers being women); commission on foreign currency bought on credit cards; large companies' tax liability; ambulance journeys; high street revenues; chronic fatigue syndrome; Syrian human rights; birdsong, the age of criminal responsibility; child poverty; London's social history; illegal immigration; wind turbines; the Zimbabwe elections; the greatest invention of all time; interviewing children in court; job seeking; the cost of green energy; homeowning and negative equity; a newly discovered Charlotte Bronte manuscript (in which a male trustee of the Bronte society was interviewed - yes, where there is female genius, be sure to dilute its power and remember, female genius must be dead); land rights in Southern China, the Egyptian elections; badger culling; diabetes; children in care and adoption; funding for care for the elderly; cholera in Haiti; violence in film; UK Uncut; foster care; maths on the curriculum; Ealing studios' films; teaching history in schools; Jamaican patois and Bible translation; Kinks singer Ray Davies and his new musical; tax breaks for married couples.
The most random item was the author Alexander McCall Smith [no diss to him - his books actually have excellent women characters and plenty of 'em, and they speak, too] getting an entire 3 minute slot of his own after Tweeting that it was "painful" to chuck away old books. He authored an item on 14th December revealing some of the responses to his Tweet and "gives his own tips on bookshelf management."
Over the last 9 shows the vast and overwhelming majority of named editors and correspondents (in politics, the environment, Moscow, parliamentary affairs, sports, the Middle East, home affairs, business, Scotland, Scotland business, North America, politics, health, science, world affairs, Beijing and religious affairs) are white men. There are 2 named women as correspondents on defence (Caroline Wyatt) and in the arts and one female sports newsreader. These 3 women are used very sporadically, unlike the main sports (Garry Richardson and Rob Bonnet) and business (Simon Jack) guys.
I will now give just a selection of the job titles of speakers on the last 9 shows. They are not all heads of companies, heads of political parties, major institutions, banks, companies, government bodies, quangos, thinktanks or heads of anything else. In fact the vast majority of speakers are just reasonably-ranked, broadly experienced and capable professionals who know what they're talking about. Here goes: archaeologist, farmer, zoologist, Pentagon official, green campaigner, classical music promoter, magistrate; climate change science analyst, diabetes expert, historian, academic in journalism and screen violence, maths teacher, academic in planning and local governance, varied museum experts and curators, drama and literature curator at arts institution, professor of psychology, member of Criminal Bar Association, pensions analyst, economist, music magazine editor, music journalist, management consultant, evolutionary biologist, science writer, researcher in animal behaviour, novelist, songwriter, UN human rights worker, consultant paediatrician, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs across all areas, contributing editor of current affairs publication, sleep researcher.
In the last 9 days Today has featured 167 male guests and 40 women. That's 19%. There's something else: of the 19% of women in the last 9 shows, women are massively over-represented as victims, subjects and case studies rather than experts, academics, influencers, analysts or endorsers. So, one is speaking about black students' experience at Cambridge, one was an evacuee from the Basque country to the UK in 1937, one fled Burma after the Japanese army invasion 69 years ago, one (on Wednesday 14th December) is named as a domestic violence survivor who "lived in an abusive relationship for a decade", one is a case study of homelessness, one is a foster carer and one is a Bangladeshi woman giving an interview about her abusive husband, who cut off her fingers.
So, can we only speak when we have been brutalised, abused, victimised and forced to flee?
Yes we can! But remember, even then, you are only allowed to be 19% of the total number of speakers, absolute max, last year, last season, yesterday, tomorrow and Today. Got it? They do not like us. They are not going to change. We have been told, good and proper.
There is now a Mumsnet comment and reaction thread on this, with some very interesting additional observations, some of which I have excerpted below. Each set of quotes if from a different contributor:
One woman wrote: