We shouldn’t need quotas for anything. However, the world is still not an equal place, even in the seemingly liberal world of Western media. Discrimination is so ingrained within the fabric of our society, that many people just won’t notice prejudices in themselves; even those who seem like the best kind of people are not immune to being unconsciously racist, sexist or homophobic.
The decision to ban all-male panel shows has come under a lot of scrutiny, and I’m not entirely sure why. Surely the BBC should have been hiring a decent amount of women anyway? To say that there aren’t enough funny women to fulfil this quota, or that the BBC will have to scrape the barrel to find female guests is an ignorant point of view. I have heard both men and women say of the ban that “female comedians on the current circuit simply aren’t funny”, and this blinkered view of the world is becoming tiresome. There are plenty of brilliant women, some not even comedians, who would thrive on panel shows. Just look at Paloma Faith on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, a show which seems to have no problem with finding clever, insightful and witty women, even without the all-male ban. She’s a singer, not a comedian, but even now I hear friends praise her humour and state that she should make another appearance on the show.
We shouldn’t need the quota to achieve something that should already be in place. To see a woman on a panel show generally dominated by men is already a rare event, and she’s often subject to much harsher criticism than her peers. Sadly, this is the old “women aren’t funny” line sneaking in again. Maybe we should look at our own engrained prejudices to understand why many of us feel this way, and why we would be so offended that the BBC would dare to try and include a social group who are still subject to discrimination is most aspects of their lives. If you tell a woman she can’t and isn’t meant to be funny enough times, she will believe you. If a young girl grows up seeing that the media doesn’t represent her, she will grow up to believe that it is not her place.
Having one woman on a panel of all men may look like tokenism, but isn’t that what it looks like anyway? Especially when there are so many all-male panels to compare it to. If we start with one woman on each show, eventually mixed-gender panel shows will become the norm, and it will allow, and even encourage more women to enter the world of comedy.
Seeing even one woman on a panel show is a small step, but it’s a start at least. Whoopi Goldberg once said that representation mattered. After seeing the wonderful Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series, she felt inspired to follow her dreams of becoming an actress; in a country where the black community and women were marginalised, seeing Nichols in a male dominated environment was enough to make Goldberg want to follow her dream. I hope that even allowing a small number of women to make their mark will inspire more young girls to enter the world of comedy, this time believing that they can actually be accepted.