Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Mock the Week Mock the Women

A few weeks ago, a disgruntled BBC viewer tweeted that popular comedy panel show, Mock the Week, once again featured only white, male guests.  Since then, the Mock the Week twitter feed has been embroiled in a debate about how male dominated its line-up is, with one statistically driven tweeter (@princesstoffee) discovering that in the last series, only 13% of the comedy guests on the show were women.

Throughout the social media row, the Mock the Week twitter feed has insisted that it features proportionally more women than there are in the comedy world, and that they don’t select guest based on gender because that would be ‘sexist’. They have argued that women watch the show, and that – in spite of the BBC’s diversity duty – they have no responsibility to put on a show that reflects their audience. Mock the Week have pointed out that in their history, 18 out of their 63 guests have been women, arguing that this made their representation ‘higher’ than the number of women working the comedy circuit, (although I am not sure what stats they were using to back up this assertion, beyond the 20% number about Edinburgh comedy award in Guardian articel i pointed them to http://m.guardian.co.uk/culture/theatreblog/2010/aug/12/edinburghfestival-comedy?cat=culture&type=article). However when you consider the number of appearances over the six years the show has been on, the percentage drops to 8.3% women. Whichever way you cut it, that’s pretty poor.

When one tweeter suggested that seeing as Mock the Week are happy to have all-male line ups (over and over and over again) they could have an all-female line up, they reacted with predictable horror. But that’s not representative of the comedy world! they spluttered. The fact that the comedy world is not all white and all male seemed to pass them by.

Excited by something I read about the women in comedy competition, I sent them a link to a news article about women comedians, quipping that they clearly had plenty to choose from. Their response was as follows:

“thanks, but we'll keep booking female comedians relative to how many there actually are, or else it'd be positive discrimination”

This rather spectacularly misunderstands how sexism, the silencing of women’s voices and the invisibility of women on our cultural stage actually works…

It was perhaps unfair to single out Mock the Week when criticising the lack of women’s voices on TV, particularly on comedy panel shows. As examples of what Bidisha calls ‘cultural femicide’, comedy panel shows are leading the way. Never will you turn on Mock the Week, QI or Have I Got News For You to see more women than men behind the desk. @princesstoffee continued her diversity audit to find that an overall chance of seeing a woman on the latest series of comedy panel shows was 27.25%, with Mock the Week being the least likely show to feature women. She found that Never Mind the Buzzcocks featured women 18/64 (28%) of the time; Shooting Stars 8/24 (33%); Just a Minute 6/28 (21%); 8 out of 10 Cats (S11) 14/27 (34%), Would I Lie to You 10/22 (31%); QI 10/48 (21%); Have I Got News For You 7/28 (25%) and The News Quiz 12/36 (33%).

The issue isn’t just about representation. It’s also about the acceptability of misogyny and sexism in the Mock the Week show (and other comedy). I stopped watching the programme after one of the male regulars informed a woman guest (the only woman on the show) that he would be picturing her when masturbated back home. Another incident (from a woman comedian) involved saying women would make bad world leaders because they would spend the whole time talking about shoes. Incidences of rape jokes, and mocking of women’s bodies and physical appearance also had me reaching for the off button. I don’t want to be seeking out sexism to entertain me on a Thursday night after all.

Two and a quarter years ago, Jo Brand wrote in the Guardian about why women don’t appear on panel shows:

‘Women don't want to go on panel shows for six reasons. 1) They won't get a word in edgeways. 2) They may be edited to look stupid. 3) They may get the piss taken out of them. 4) They may not be funny. 5) They don't like competing for airtime. 6) They may be patronised, marginalised or dismissed.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2009/jun/10/television-panel-shows-jo-brand

Three years on, this still stands. Particularly point one, and point six, as the Mock the Week masturbating comment shows.

Mock the Week’s twitterfeed has now stated:

‘We're done w/ this topic now. We've listened, we've stated our position, we've responded fairly, and we've bored the hell out of most of you’

But us feminists – we’re not done. Because contrary to Mock the Week’s dismissal, this issue matters. It touches on big issues of cultural silencing of women’s voices, sexism and misogynistic assumptions about women and men.

When Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett ran the Where are the Women project (www.rowitm.org), we found a shocking absence of women’s voices in our popular culture. TV, radio, music, books, film, comedy – all these industries proved to be incredibly male dominated. And the continued male domination of these areas further entrench sexist assumptions and misogynistic ideas about whose funny, whose talent matters, who creates ‘art’. Earlier this year, novelist V.S Naipaul claimed that he was better at writing than every woman writer who has ever put pen to paper, because women aren’t as good at writing as men (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers). He’s a Nobel Laureate. People listen to him. And he, like Mock the Week, perpetuates the idea that women are somehow culturally ‘lesser’, that our voices, are stories, are less valid of being heard, and that we can’t compete with the male norm.

It is a tired and old stereotype that women aren’t as funny as men. We know that this isn’t true. Find any group of women friends and you’ll find laughter and giggles and more laughter. Victoria Wood is consistently found to be one of the nation’s favourite comics. But the perception is continually there that women simply aren’t as funny as men – or that when women do make jokes it’s about ‘womany’ things like periods and boyfriends (never mind the fact that male comedians regularly jokes about dicks and tits). And it is this sexist perception that prevents women from having equal representation on comedy line-ups, comedy panel shows and at the Edinburgh Festival. It isn’t that women can’t do stand-up or won’t do stand-up – although this argument is often put forward just as the argument that ‘women simply don’t want well paid high status jobs’ is commonly presented when discussing the glass ceiling. The reason women are not represented is that so long as the belief exists that women aren’t as funny as men, comedy clubs won’t ‘take a risk’ on booking a woman. And this leads to less women higher up the food chain, meaning they don’t have the same opportunity to be picked to appear on panel shows.

What has been so frustrating about the Mock the Week twitter debate is the acceptance that a lack of women’s voices in comedy is somehow inevitable and that nothing will change. They repeatedly defended the sexism in comedy with the assertion that they already have women on there, and that there are no more women to pick from. There was no recognition that they could play a role in changing this.

Only by challenging sexism in the industry, by recognising that women’s voices and jokes and performances are as good as men’s, and by giving women performers equal chances to be heard and perform as men, can we tackle the sexism in comedy. This is how women’s representation improves. If we continue to accept sexist assumptions about where women ‘belong’ on our cultural landscape, then things simply won’t change. But I really believe that they can.

Anyway – here’s the amazing Stewart Lee talking Mock the Week to make us all chuckle…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft2TXXuQrTo 

Update = princesstoffee has written a great post on the f word about her stats: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2011/09/mock_the_tweet

31 comments:

tillytakestea said...

Serious suggestion - do we really need the broadcasters? If funny women 'can't get on TV' then surely we can just make our own video recordings of them on YouTube and just ignore the mainsteam media. It's days are numbered anyway.

It's genuinely not rocket science to make a panel show

Anonymous said...

Wow, a number of glaring errors in your post, Sian.

- it's actually 18 out of 57 guests (not host or regulars) that have been women
- according to @MockTheWeek, of the 1,380 comedians listed on comedy site Chortle, 249 are female, which is 18.0%. Where has the 27% of Edinburgh performers stat come from, and is that including character comedians and sketch acts, who generally wouldn't be in the running for Mock The Week, which is a show for stand-up comedians?
- you say "the fact that that comedy world is not all white and all male seemed to pass them by", completely ignoring the non-white and non-male guests that have been on the show
- comparing Mock The Week, a comedy entertainment panel show for stand-up comedians, to Never Mind The Buzzcocks (which has musicians, actors and general entertainers and broadcasters, as well as comedians), and Shooting Stars, Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You and 8 Out Of 10 Cats (even wider variety of guests), is pretty unfair. They are different shows.
- your issue with "one of the male regulars informed a woman guest (the only woman on the show) that he would be picturing her when masturbated back home" seems sexist. The joke was about being open about his private sexual intentions, not about him being a man and she being a woman
- Jo Brand's article was not 3 years ago, it was 2 and a quarter years ago
- you seem to think that it's sexism that prevents equal representation for women in comedy, but in fact it's due to the lack of them trying comedy as a career in the first place, for whatever reason. Comedy clubs do 'risk' women, but just like the men, they have to be worthy with their talent - comedy clubs, like comedy shows on TV, just want to keep people coming back, to make more money, so all that matters for them is how funny audiences find each act

sian and crooked rib said...

Hi anon

Sorry, it was 18 out of 63 guests, my mistake.

Here's the tweet from MTW:

'ok, and 18 out of 63 of our regulars & guests have been female, which is... 28.6%, so we're doing alright?'

I can't find the link at the mo for the Edinburgh number but will have a dig around.

I think my blogpost addresses the rest of your points.

Anonymous said...

Nope, it doesn't.

sian and crooked rib said...

Have corrected the post to change a factual error.

To wit:

'(although I am not sure what stats they were using to back up this assertion, beyond the 20% number about Edinburgh comedy award in Guardian articel i pointed them to http://m.guardian.co.uk/culture/theatreblog/2010/aug/12/edinburghfestival-comedy?cat=culture&type=article).

Dru Marland said...

'Glaring errors', anonymous? Crucially, what Sian's written here has the ring of truth, which is surely what counts.
I'd never watched 'Mock The Week', because I really don't watch much telly; but when this hoo-ha blew up I made a point of watching an episode on Youtube. Meh. It was like being stuck in a group of lounge bar bores, several pints into a session. I wonder if the programme in its present form would even be capable of changing; certainly, as it is, I saw nothing to make me want to watch it, and I count the time spent doing so as time wasted. The MTW tweets during the discussion yesterday put me in mind of a dinosaur telling the little mammals "There's absolutely no problem with the Jurassic".

tillytakestea said...

Hi Anonymous

There are a few strange points in your comment too.

When you say

comparing Mock The Week, a comedy entertainment panel show for stand-up comedians, to Never Mind The Buzzcocks (which has musicians, actors and general entertainers and broadcasters, as well as comedians), and Shooting Stars, Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You and 8 Out Of 10 Cats (even wider variety of guests), is pretty unfair. They are different shows.

You seem confused as to what the word 'compare' means. We do not only compare things which are completely identical. We compare things that are different too, and things that are similar.

The comparison is valid. They are all comedy panel shows. Some just don't have exclusively comedian guests. They're all trying to make the audience laugh.

Perhaps this is the real problem. Perhaps it has nothing to do with gender and is specifically about being a stand up comedian. Maybe that aggression is not 'male', but 'stand -up'. The stand-up circuit is pretty brutal, a lot of funny people are not funny in stand-up. I think that's the shame about mock the week. They miss the nuances of comedy that are demonstrated outside of the circuit.

Mary Tracy said...

@tillytakestea I totally understand what you are saying. But we have to remember that comedians have bills to pay too. Being able to say "I appeared on Mock the Week" is bound to open a lot of doors for them.

And the doors are very much closed everywhere else.

Also, comedy is something that comedians have to work at. They have to write their jokes, and it's not easy for them to come up with more and more of them if they are, effectively, giving them away for free.

As a general rule, I don't like male comedians. Which is why it bugs me that they are everywhere, given all the atention, fame and money. They are unbelievably overrated.

sianandcrookedrib said...

Ok Anonymous.

Seeing as my blogpost doesn't answer your points, lets try this.

SO, have corrected the factual errors you pointed out - thanks for that. Was trying to remember stats off the top of my head, never a good plan. However, whether we look at the Edinburgh 20% stat, or the Chortle 18% stat, MTW's rep of women is still below, either at 13% last series or 8% all time appearances.

'- you say "the fact that that comedy world is not all white and all male seemed to pass them by", completely ignoring the non-white and non-male guests that have been on the show'

Erm this doesn't make sense out of context. The initial complaint from the initial tweet was about an all white, all male line up. When a tweeter suggested that they had an all female line up, they said they wouldn't because it wasn't representative. But neither is an all white, all male line up.

It's interesting that you mention how not all the guests are comedians because i find this especially to be true of women. So, for example, HIGNFY or WILTY sometimes have women guests, but a lot of the time they are not women comics, they're journalists and tv personalities. in my personal observation (and have no stats to firm this up) it seems that you are more likely to get a non comic woman guest than a non comic man guest (altho obvs you do get both).

You say:

'but in fact it's due to the lack of them trying comedy as a career in the first place, for whatever reason.'

I simply don't accept that as fact. It is the same excuse we hear all the time.

oh but women DON'T want to be politicians/engineers/scientists/CEOs/comedians/rock stars/booker prize winning writers. It isn't sexism it's just women don't want to and men do!

I just think that's BS. It's more interesting to look at why women don't enter these profession or are put off and i think one of the reasons is insitutionalised sexism. Particularly in comedy i think stereotypes around women not being funny, the lack of women's representation and the sense that it is a boys' club put women off from the start.

It's too easy to say 'women don't want to'. It's much more complex and difficult to consider that maybe patriarchal structures, gender stereotypes and plain old sexism might play a part in creating a situation where women feel excluded.

全くのでたらめ said...

I can vaguely remember this sort of thing coming up as a topic on QI between Jo Brand and Steven Fry.
To which the sum up was that it much harder for female comedians to break into the comedy business.
Partly due to the audience taste as a whole and partly due to the need to be able to openly ridicule yourself which male comedians are far more willing to do.

sian and crooked rib said...

I think women comics are willing to make fools of themselves and mock selves! And can think of male comics who don't...!

Anonymous said...

"It's too easy to say 'women don't want to'."

Nobody said that?

Anonymous said...

"I think women comics are willing to make fools of themselves and mock selves! And can think of male comics who don't...!"

Nice work, sexist!

Anonymous said...

"As a general rule, I don't like male comedians. Which is why it bugs me that they are everywhere, given all the atention, fame and money. They are unbelievably overrated."

Ah right, a sexist feminist. Now there's a surprise...

BookElf said...

I love you Sian. This IS an important issue because what is acceptable on the telly is deemed acceptable by people in general. I had a lad in a class tell me he had 'something I could support' the other day when I was doing a library induction that got a massive laugh. Only when making jokes about the inappropriate harassment of women stops being acceptable on mainstream media outlets will I as a teacher be able to approach the casual sexual harassment that I encounter in the classroom with the gravitas it deserves, instead the message of 'respect everyone regardless of gender' is never enforced.

sian and crooked rib said...

Anonymous, I think you need to check the definition of sexist...

Book Elf that's awful. Exactly why we need to fight misogyny, where we find it.

dwh said...

Oddly enough, the thing that's prompted my biggest question is a slight error:

"Would I Lie to You 10/22 (31%)"

Actually, 10/22 is 45%.

This appears, at a glance, to be significantly different from the other shows you mention.

What's different about WILTY? Why is it seemingly so much more equal?

Dru Marland said...

Is it sexist not to like anonymous trolls? Enquiring minds need to know.

sian and crooked rib said...

DWH - i think WILTY has a lot of guests who aren't comics - so maybe newscasters, TV presenters etc. Be interesting to look at the stats and see how many times women and men comedians appear compared to women and men non-comedians, as i said earlier, to me it alwys *seems* that you're more likely to see a woman who isn't a comedian but have no stats to back up that feeling...

CNelson said...

I think anyone who posts an opinion as "anonymous" does not have enough faith or belief in the strength of their own opinions. Therefore, neither will I.

Ursual said...

I too wonder why there are fewer female comedians. I don't buy into 'women are less funny than men'. But what puzzles me is that women laugh at male comedians, so why would anyone think that 'female comedy' is somehow 'different'? From what I observe among my friends and audiences of comedy shows, men and women seem to laugh at pretty much the same things, give or take personal differences of taste of course. There are *some* jokes or routines that play on sex differences which might be more likely to amuse men than women or vice versa (although I don't even see why that should necessarily be the case, as both can appreciate the other's perspective and sometimes it might even make it funnier) but that is very far from being all of comedy! There is plenty of comedy that isn't about tits and dicks - the world is your oyster.

"oh but women DON'T want to be politicians/engineers/scientists/CEOs/comedians/rock stars/booker prize winning writers. It isn't sexism it's just women don't want to and men do!" -- "It's more interesting to look at why women don't enter these profession or are put off and i think one of the reasons is insitutionalised sexism."

I think institutionalised sexism obviously is an issue and needs to be tackled, but it's still the case that women take care of a lot of 'home-making' and childcare and jobs which have long, demanding or anti-social hours can be more difficult for them for that reason, making perhaps fewer women choose it. I am not saying that all women are maternal or that all women prioritise family but I think that a higher proportion of women than men still do - sometimes out of necessity rather than their real wish, because men don't always shoulder their fair share of the burden.

Ray Filar said...

@Anonymous

I think there is something to be said for commenting with a real username rather than as an Anonymous, particularly if you are serious about entering into a debate.

Having said that, and having read what you wrote, I don't think you are serious or at all genuinely interested in discussing gender inequality in comedy. Fine to point out statistical errors, but other than that your comment simply highlights your ignorance. Let's be honest, whatever Sian would have written, you would have tried your best to poke meaningless little holes in it.

My suggestion, though I am sure you won't take it, is that you take a step back from your preconceptions, become a little less thoughtlessly defensive, and try to listen to what feminists are saying.

sian and crooked rib said...

Just to clarify one point on anonymous commenters...

I used to check the box to not let anonymous commenters to comment, but after I heard from a few people who felt uncomfortable sharing their own personal experiences relating to some of the issues i wrote about (violence, reproductive rights etc) with a named avatar, i allowed anonymous commenters to ensure that i provided a safe space.

So there is a place for anonymous commenters in that sense.

sian and crooked rib said...

Ursual, CNelson and Ray - thanks for your comments!

Vicky said...

Anonymous:

You have a few errors yourself.

- Chortle.com features several personalities who are not of a Mock the Week class. My friend Ignacio Lopez is one of them. He's very sweet, but I've seen his standup. He doesn't headline in comedy nights in Swansea, he's not going to be invited to a panel show any time soon. When sampling comedians (and only comedians, don't worry) who have appeared on British panel shows in the last year, 25% were female. I'd take this to be a better marker of the practical proportions of successful women in comedy at the moment.

- Chortle.com also lists 'group' of comedians and troupes. When I asked Mock the Week, they said they had broken these groups into their 'component' genders to count up their average. So they were clearly counting persons you wouldn't consider worthy of teh show -- maybe you should raise this with them?

- Comparing Mock the Week to other similar shows is vital for several reasons. Firstly, it shows that we're not 'picking on them'. It shows that we're gathering data from multiple sources to put the statistics into context. Also, if you consider the other walks of life from which these shows might choose, I think you'll find they're all male dominated which balances out the statistics.

- The article addresses that the argument, "Women don't want to be comedians," is ridiculous. I suggest you re-read a little more carefully.

Yours graciously,

@princesstoffeee

PS - Sian, glad you were able to put the number crunching to some use :)

Viola said...

I've started up a Facebook page entitled "Campaign for More Women on Mock the Week."

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Campaign-For-More-Women-On-Mock-The-Week/270310939675171?sk=info

Please join if you feel strongly as I do on this matter.

Mr. Divine said...

Why don't you write a funny post to prove that women are funny? Is it because you can't? And why can't you write a funny post? Is it because you're a woman or is it because you just can't? Why haven't you tried to write a funny post? Is it because you are a woman or is it because you just can't. Maybe you have tried but nobody found it funny. And why didn't they think it wasn't funny? Is it because they were men?

sian and crooked rib said...

Well, at least you' re here to prove men are funny, Mr Divine.

Agatha Whitt-Wellington said...

Here's a funny woman. It's me. People have laughed so why no Mock the Week invite?
Everyone Needs an Algonquin
Yours, Agatha

Steff said...

'one of the male regulars informed a woman guest (the only woman on the show) that he would be picturing her when masturbated back home.' I'm sorry? What? That has got to rate as one of the most disgusting, sexist comments I have heard. If this is the kind of 'comedy' that these kinds of programmes offer, the sooner we get more women on them the better.

Anonymous said...

I stopped watching - lads making sexist jokes is too silly for words - let them have theri male bonding time in private - Im still watching have I got news for you