In February 2014, the BBC’s director of television announced that they were no longer going to broadcast male-only panel shows. Whilst this was certainly a well-intentioned move, the backlash has undoubtedly cast doubt on the decision. A year on, most of us have been left asking: has it really made any difference?
It would be wonderful to be able to say yes, that sexism is really that simple to fix, that all we need is more rules and quotas and eventually equality will come. However, positive discrimination has a tendency to become counter-productive, and in the case of sexism in television, it’s arguably caused more problems than it’s fixed.
There does need to be more women on every kind of panel show, from Have I Got News for You to Question Time. Considering there are no panel shows on the BBC that have anywhere near an equal number of men and women, it’s hard to argue that sexism is no longer an issue on screen.
However, it’s difficult to find evidence having at least one woman present on a televised panel is in any way beneficial. Comedian Dara Ó Briain pointed out that banning all-male panels will make any female that makes an appearance look like the ‘token woman’. Is it fair to deny a more-talented or qualified man a place on the panel just because he’s a man? And is it fair on a woman to disregard her talents and give her a place just because a woman is needed to fill a quota? I’m all for television executives pushing their producers to try and involve more women in their shows, but to do it so publicly has only seemed to alienate women and ensure the continuation of the problem.
The argument (one that’s brought up time and time again) that the lack of representation is due to the lack of women in comedy doesn’t quite stand up – what about talk shows and political programmes? It’s simply unacceptable that half the population is so far off being fairly represented on television.
On the other hand, what about panel shows like Loose Women, which are made up entirely of female panellists? They claim to discuss important issues from the female perspective, yet they’re often accused of being sexist themselves. If there were a panel show made up of men claiming to discuss issues from a male perspective, I can’t help but feel that it would be a hugely controversial and unpopular setup (especially if they discussed women the way the Loose Women discuss men). However, whilst the Loose Women don’t exactly portray women as effectively and broadly as many of us would like, it is refreshing that their space on TV is accepted, alongside so many panel shows which are inherently male-dominated.
Ultimately, the goal is not to have an equal number of men and women on every media platform. The idea is that one day, we won’t need quotas – all-male panels will be occasionally fine because there’ll be enough mixed and all-female panels to be representative of the population. Until that day, I suppose we have to take any victory we can get, and if that means celebrating Loose Women, so be it.