The Daily Male

It’s time to end the media sausagefest, argues Katherine Trebeck.

Four incidents happened this week that illustrate just how difficult it is for women to be part of public debates, to get their voice heard, to share their views, and to be listened to. Some were in full public eye, some were hidden in private emails, and another a mix. But each of them are in themselves vignettes of wider circumstances that give rise of a situation in which women are still, despite massive progress and some wonderful exceptions, all too marginal to debates about issues that matter to the economy, society, and the environment.

And that is a problem because the extent to which the economy needs to be transformed for our society and planet to survive is massive and it won’t happen with the same old (often literally!) voices dominating the conversation.

So here is a snapshot of what change is up against.

Male bias in the blogosphere

What became termed as ‘#sausagefest’ was triggered on Wednesday when the blog FP2P published Stefan Dercon’s list of top ten thinkers in development. Almost all were men (and Dercon critiqued their limitations). Readers pointed this out and noted some of the many amazing women doing great work on a range of development issues. So Duncan Green (who runs FP2P) asked Alice Evans (who enriched all our vocabularies with the indelible term Sausagefest), to write a complementary blog to fill obvious gaps. Evans’ excellent blog and the related twitterstorm led to a remarkable list of remarkable women. A good part two, but why aren’t they household names for Dercon and others?

Male bias on the podium

That same day I helped suggest names for a high-profile speaker for an event later this year. Fortunately, the organisers, after hosting male speakers in 2017 and the year before, are trying to ask one of my favourite economists to speak who happens to be a woman. But the list of alternatives they had to hand as a back-up were almost all blokes. The woman who drew up the list sheepishly admitted that she hadn’t even noticed that she’d suggested so many blokes. Another sausagefes

Male bias on the ‘Beeb’

That day I also opted not to dedicate time to the multifaceted application process for BBC Scotland’s women’s expert panel. I just didn’t have the hours in the day, but like many other women, was pretty peeved that women had to go through such a process while often rather un-expert blokes seem to get invited onto BBC Scotland all the time without having to jump through Beeb hoops. This point was nicely made by journalist Kevin McKenna – with Esa Aldegheri powerfully pointing out the practical flaws in proposed process, given the reality of most women’s lives. Doubly burdened to prove our equality.

Male bias on the airwaves

The commonality across all these small instances of male bias is a lack of thought – the default position is ‘ask X bloke’. And so that man gets asked and he becomes more well-known and hence gets asked again.

It’s more complex of course –  time constraints are just one barrier that many women struggle to get around and hence can’t be available at a moment’s notice or constantly offer themselves up to appear on public platforms. That reaffirms the need for a conversation about policy and shifting social norms: shared parenting, shared household work, shared parental leave, and so on. And beyond gender lines, where are Southern voices, those from non-Northern framings?

But clearly it is a lack of thought – let alone effort – that constrains a rebalancing of views and voices away from the constant stream of baritone. Fortunately, this is something that can be sorted quickly and easily. We shouldn’t have to remind people of the existence of women experts. The women are there – they’ve got ideas, they’ve got perspectives, they’ve got insights, and they’ve got passion. Every now and again it might mean a platform needs to give someone other than a ‘big [ie established] male name’ a try, but we’ve been trying the apparent wisdom of those big names for too long, and look at the state of the world.

An easy start would be for more blokes to take the Pledge; for conference organisers and media producers to ensure 50:50 in all conversations (or at least across an entire show); and when taking questions from the audience be conscious to begin with a woman, given that doing so has been shown to ensure balance in subsequent questions.

With a bit more thought the Northern white male bias might just begin to budge.



This article was first published on Open Democracy UK here.

Comments (10)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    Some interviewers will apparently cut off their subjects if their contributions become unintelligible, repetitive, long-winded or irrelevant. Or challenge what appear to be factual inaccuracies, evasions or logical inconsistencies.

    An interviewer/viewer assisted by real-time artificial intelligence will be able to make better, faster decisions, for example by argument analysis and fact-checking:

    These may need to be weighted (for example, for people speaking in a 2nd, 3rd etc. language), but it should be possible to objectively measure the quality of contributions in real time, with displays for interviewers and viewers. This would seem one way to promote effective contributors.

    Of course, such analysis can be done more easily retrospectively, and contributors scored accordingly. Interviewers could be similarly scored. All automatically with transparent data and methods.

    There will be other reasons put forward for including objectively poor contributors, such as entertainment value and accountability. However, if AI-assisted selection procedures start to improve interviews in the public eye, a more open competition for places which would include more women and marginalised contributors is likely.

  2. Alan Bissett says:

    While I take all of Katherine’s points on gender bias seriously, I’m struggling to make sense of this one:

    “Where are Southern voices, those from non-Northern framings?”

    Surely she doesn’t believe that ‘Southern’ voices are somehow being excluded from the mainstream? Whatever way you choose to define ‘Southern’ that’s a nonsense.

    1. Alan Bissett says:

      It’s occurred to me that she may mean Southern Hemisphere? Otherwise it’s a a head-scratcher.

  3. Chris Downie says:

    Perhaps the grievance works both ways?

    I have yet to see feminists argue for gender balance in occupations such as refuse collection, coal mining or any back-breaking manual labour – and very rarely call for women to be involved in front-line combat. No, it’s all about the male privilege, despite the fact that, despite admittedly having many flaws, Western society affords women the most privileged lifestyles in the world.

    1. Willie says:

      Of course the weapon of grievance cuts both ways and the recent tidal wave of allegation after allegation of prominent women in Hollywood against prominent men in Hollywood is an example of that.

      As a man I have to say that it is goes without saying that you could get some pretty vindictive women. The old adage about a, woman scorned may have some merit, assuming it wasn’t written by a man scorned.

      But maybe God is to be blamed for making man first with women second, but I digress.

      Women are made slightly different from men, and unless and until we de-engineer the species I fear that men will always be at risk from bias from alpha females.

  4. BLMac says:

    “The woman who drew up the list sheepishly admitted that she hadn’t even noticed that she’d suggested so many blokes.”

    Isn’t that the whole point of gender equality? Not noticing?

    I can’t help thinking that if we referred to people by initials rather than names much of the apparent would disappear.

    Also seeing as women are about 50% of the population the power is equally in their hands.

    No one seems to think it anything remarkable that we have a female monarch, a female PM, a female First Minister, a female head of the Unionist party, and just lost a female head of the Labour Party. Nor is it remarkable that some of them are gay and we have a gay Secy of State.

    Perhaps as a society we are further along than we think, and it’s just a few creepy dinosaurs left in the privileged classes that is the problem. Them and the ardent Daily Mail clientele.

    1. Willie says:

      Albeit that I have strong views on how it is important that we protect women are abused, used or discrimated against, the question of who is using who here is a valid one.

      Maybe the film the Full Monty should be banned.

      Or maybe the now ubiquitous hen parties should be banned. Well of course they should.

      But back to the question about this male bash. Who was using who and where should the line be drawn in these things.

      Indeed on always seem to notice that in the bonnie looking women are used in advertising and whilst the reverse may be true, are we not in danger of calling wolf too often and overblowing things like this. If we do, then we potentially reduce the message about real abuse and exploration.

      Ah well off to complain about the dinosaurettes at the hen party.

  5. w.b.robertson says:

    Half a century ago women in journalism received the same pay and conditions as men. Any realistic thinking male must recognise that women deserve equality…however, as I used to suggest to feminists back then …”so should women get to work down the pit?”

  6. L Wade says:

    Despite being a researcher by trade, Katherien Treback does very little by way of research. She merely rehashes other columnists and repeats incorrect assertions by Kevin McKenna and Easa Aldegheri – neither of whom bothered factchecking either. Just one reason not to use Katherine Trenack as an expert voice.

  7. Mala Content says:

    AA bunch of anecdotal, non-statistical beliefs doesn’t help make a case, and this article puts a substantial gloss over the number of women who turn down invitations.

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