The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where are all the women?

Shirley Williams, Sarah Montague, Jo Brand, Sarah Millican, Shami Chakrabarti and Lauren Laverne.
Photograph: guardian.co.uk

Now is not a good time to be a woman, let alone an older one. Well, at least not at the BBC.   

Following a number of scandals, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has vowed to end a culture of “sexism and ageism” at the BBC.  The case that allegedly first sparked these accusations was the April 2007 axing of Moira Stuart (55), the first black female newsreader on television, after over twenty years of broadcasting. In November 2008, four female Countryfile presenters (Michaela Strachan, Charlotte Smith, Miriam O’Reilly, and Juliet Morris), all in their 40s and 50s, were dismissed from the programme, leading to more outcries against ageism.  O’Reilly was subsequently successful in an age discrimination case against the Corporation, but not sex discrimination. Further controversy came in July 2009 when choreographer and judge Arlene Phillips (66) was replaced on the Strictly Come Dancing panel by Alesha Dixon, a pop-star half her age. The men on the show are Len Goodman (65), Bruno Tonioli (53), Craig Revel Horwood (44), and Bruce Forsyth (81). More recently, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year nominations were also criticised for failing to include any women on its shortlist.

There is a disproportionate lack of women in all aspects of the media and research conducted by The Guardian newspaper found that in any given month, ‘78% of newspaper articles are written by men, 72% of Question Time contributors are men and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s Today show are men.’  Dorries claims that if female presenters are selected, they are generally sidelined to weekend or early-hour programmes and that there is an “unchallenged format” of pairing a young, blonde presenter with an older male counterpart.  As a result, this compromises the female presenter as the public may view her as inexperienced and lacking in real authority, therefore marginalising her comments and opinions.

What is peculiar is that 50% of BBC Trust and 42% of its executive board are female.  So the question is, why isn’t this reflected in the number of women seen on our screens? One proposed reason is that women are much more heavily criticised in comparison to men.  Moreover, the lack of women in the public eye means that other girls and women have no role models to identify with, and no examples to aspire to. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has also sworn to address the issue and states, "It is an issue that we must keep pressing at... We want to hear a balance of voices on the radio and to see a balance of presenters on the television."

However, gender balance is the beginning of what needs to be addressed. Women of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity need to be both seen and heard with or without their male counterparts. 

-Sinny Cheung
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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