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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

A CALL TO ACTION: Radio 4's Today has only 16% women guests. Time to write in.

70 replies

Bidisha · 06/12/2011 14:03

This is a call to action, after Kira Cochrane's Guardian article aboucultural femicide pointed out that the Today programme has only 16% women guests, despite a 50% female listenership. On 5th July there was 1 woman and 27 men. The programme's editor said 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."

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 specifically mentions Radio 4's Today programme as one of the main perpetrators of cultural femicide. She mentions her many complaints to this and other 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 - at a sold out event called Where Are The Women? - countless women approached me and said that they had complained to major media shows including Today and were dismissed, patronisingly rebuffed or ignored.

This, then, is a call to action. On this morning's show on Tuesday 6th December, aside from the presenters (4 'cheps' and a lady), Today had 20 male voices and just 5 actual 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.

Back 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.

I have been contacted by Sound Women, a coalition of amazing professional women in radio. They are exhorting women to write to BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patte, and have drafted a form letter, below. Send it to Chris Patten at chris[email protected] and cc in his assistant [email protected]

We can also keep a log of names and dates sent on this thread, if need be.

Please feel free to adapt and change the letter below, especially if you are a Today/Radio 4 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.

Thank you for reading this email.


...And thank you for reading that long post, which is a version of an even longer feature giving very damning statistics, here:

Fingers crossed. Or radios off.

OP posts:
Prolesworth · 06/12/2011 14:27

Email sent. Thank you for posting this, Bidisha!

KRITIQ · 06/12/2011 15:55

Yes, thank you for the heads up. Here's my version, just emailed:

Dear Lord Patten,

As a long time listener to BBC Radio 4, I am dismayed that the flagship "Today" programme has four men as presenters and only one woman, Sarah Montague. More than half of the UK population is female and I am sure that more than 20% of those who listen to "Today" are women as well. I also read a disturbing figure today showing that only 16% of the programme's guests and reporters are female. Surely the programme could be more representative of its listeners and as a public service broadcaster, take the opportunity to enable women journalists to inspire and encourage the next generation of journalists by their example.

I understand that the BBC has not received many letters or emails of complaint regarding the proportion of Radio 4 presenters, reporters and guests that are female, which may create the impression that listeners are happy with the current arrangements. However, it may also be that listeners are "voting with their ears," and no longer listening to Radio 4, preferring to access news and features from other radio stations or the internet. In any case, as a public service broadcaster, I would as a citizen expect the BBC to be more proactive in featuring presenters, reporters and guests that reflect the diversity of the population within the UK. Efforts to at least achieve something of a gender balance would be a step in the right direction.

I would encourage you to use your position to influence change within the BBC to offer more opportunities for women journalists and to provide a service which reflects the community served. I would be grateful if you could respond with any action being taken or proposed to achieve a fairer balance of men and women as presenters, reporters, guests and "behind the scenes," at Radio 4 and elsewhere within the BBC.

Many thanks for your assistance and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

ElephantsAndMiasmas · 06/12/2011 16:28

Thanks will do - have just emailed via the Today feedback form but frankly don't hold out much hope for that.

TheRealTillyMinto · 06/12/2011 17:11

I used the Today feedback form to say:

"I have been enjoying Radio 4 & Today since I was 11 yrs old (which is a long time ago now) but please have more women.

It stinks that you don?t. Now that it has been pointed out, I won?t enjoy your program as much. The BBC's licence fee means you need to be better than other media. Otherwise what's the point of the Beeb?"

blackcurrants · 06/12/2011 18:42

I had already used the form on the website, but will email these addresses too when I get off the phone. If they. are reassuring themselves that no one really minds because no one complains, do you think these emails will change their attitudes? That is all it takes, right? oh I am such a cynic! I will email every day for the .ext few weeks, see if I get a response.

Takver · 06/12/2011 19:04

Many thanks for this prompt. I've just started working my way through the BBC 'History of the World in 100 Objects' and have been shocked by the lack of women in the early episodes. Oh, apart from the introducer who gets to say "Today's object is . . ." who reminds me alarmingly of the 'book' from Hitchhiker's Guide. It feels like women are ok in their place as 'pretty voices', but that's about it.

Will also write about Today.

The sad thing is that in general I would say Radio 4 are better than most of the media (where else would you get a serious programme about post natal psychosis presented by a woman who has suffered from it, and mainly made up of the voices of other women giving their experiences).

Takver · 06/12/2011 19:06

blackcurrants, I think it does make a difference, I remember years back (late 90s) when a woman on Thought for the Day was incredibly offensive about gay people, writing in and thinking 'oh they'll just ignore it' - they had their biggest number of complaints ever apparantly, and it was a really big issue. So it does make a difference if enough people do it.

smallwhitecat · 06/12/2011 19:07

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn

HalfMumHalfBiscuit · 06/12/2011 19:10

Used the Today form.

alexpolismum · 06/12/2011 19:18

While I do think it's good that people are complaining to Today, I can't help thinking that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Should we also be complaining to a long list of other programmes? Or to the BBC/ other channels in general? Is there anything else we should be doing?

I can't help feeling that they will just put a few more women on Today for a month or two until this has blown over, and then revert to normal, with all the other programmes that have equally inadequate female representation making no changes at all.

Or am I just too pessimistic?

ElderberrySyrup · 06/12/2011 19:24

gotta start somewhere Alex!
And Today is a flagship program.

Thing is, if one program gets really behind it, then that can help with all the other programs too - they can share their techniques and approaches for attracting women guests with makers of other programs. And if one of the issues is women refusing because they're not confident enough, then giving airtime to women who have never done it before will enable those women to go on to do it on other programs.

I think this is a well-targeted campaign. I sent a message via the form on the website yesterday, but will do one to Chris Patten later tonight.

msrisotto · 06/12/2011 19:30

Done. What a dumbass is Ceri Thomas if he doesn't realise that we just won't listen to radio programmes that neglect us? It takes effort to write in to complain and for every one person who bothers, there must be a hundred who don't!

alexpolismum · 06/12/2011 20:09

Fair point, Elderberry.

I'm not in the UK (although this country is in dire need of a strong dose of feminism!), but I do sometimes listen to Radio 4 via the internet, so perhaps I should get on the case!

ElderberrySyrup · 06/12/2011 20:10

I think a letter from an overseas listener would be really good Alex Smile

EleanorRathbone · 06/12/2011 20:12

takver - that was Anne Atkins
Who has gone from strength to strength
I e-mailed the fuckers today
At Today

NormaSparklerFlashBangAhhh · 06/12/2011 20:20

Marking place.

I have been a listener for 30 years +

AlwaysWild · 06/12/2011 20:25

Done - the only 2 letters a year statement was red rag to a bull Xmas Grin

TiggyD · 06/12/2011 20:31

Who are the guests on the Today programme? MPs? People high up in businesses? Religious leaders? Sports people? I think one of the reasons why there are more men on the show is that there are more men in the positions that are wanted for interviews. The statistics of the Today programme might be misleading due to sexism elsewhere.

AlwaysWild · 06/12/2011 20:33

Have a listen Tiggy. No it's not just the types of people you listed.

TiggyD · 06/12/2011 20:34

Never actually listened to it!

EleanorRathbone · 06/12/2011 20:35

Quite often they're just common or garden commentators.

Well women can sit there chatting about what x means for the economy/ politics/ culture/ society just as much as men can.

Currently of course, they are too scared to have unqualified women sitting there pontificating about stuff they aren't experts in because everyone would indignantly ask what qualifications they have to comment. No-one ever asks what qualifications the male contributors have.

ElephantsAndMiasmas · 07/12/2011 10:16

Excellent point, Eleanor.

Also, IME journos/producers are lazy, so if they want find someone to interview about e.g. radiotherapy they will look for people who have already been interviewed about it elsewhere. If someone's been on Today, then others will then feel they can use them as an "expert".

I know the presenter thing has sort of been left to one side, this time, but there is no earthly reason why there should only be one female presenter on Today. There are just LOADS of excellent female journalists and presenters. Ditch the Dimblebys altogether and let the two Questions programmes be presented by Samira Ahmed or Stephanie Flanders (if they want to).

alexpolismum · 07/12/2011 18:07

Just wondering if anyone has had any replies to emails?

AlwaysWild · 07/12/2011 19:33

I had an out of office from June. Nothing from Chris do far.

msrisotto · 07/12/2011 20:01

No reply here either.

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