Recently, Steve Paikin, author and host of TVO's The Agenda, took to his blog to ask a question: "where, oh where, are all the female guests?"
According to Paikin, it's awfully hard to get females to appear on his show.
He crafts two explanations for this that are so absurd and insulting to women, it's no wonder he struggles to get them on his show.
Paikin says "the vast majority of "experts" in the subjects we cover are men." That's quite a sweeping statement. If you've ever watched The Agenda, you'll know it covers an extremely wide range of current affairs and social issues. For example, the past few episodes alone have covered a huge spectrum of issues, such as access to water, breast cancer and the political participation of young Canadians. Peruse through their past episodes and you'll be amazed at the variety of topics they cover.
There is definitely no lack of intelligent, insightful women out there with expertise in the multitude of issues The Agenda covers each week.
Paikin offers up another reason women guests are so hard to come by, and this one will floor you. He says "we've also discovered there also seems to be something in women's DNA that makes them harder to book." I think the last time I read something along those lines was in my undergraduate women's studies critical theory course, but it was something written in the 1800's.
I'm sure these words will find their way in a women's studies course someday too, to be picked apart by clever students who won't believe for a second it was written in 2014.
Paikin then tops off his blog post with a plea, "is there something we're not doing that we should be doing to increase our female presence on the program?"
Well, he could begin with not insulting and stereotyping us, or making inane assertions that for the most part went extinct in 1952.
Paikin has rightly been receiving a lot of heat over his blog post, but the silver lining is that at least he has opened an important debate: why aren't there more women commentators and pundits?
Firstly, how often are women asked? You often see panels on current affairs and news talk programs that include only one woman. If programs are treating women guests as quota fillers, that's a big problem. My question to Paikin and others is, how many women to you actually invite on your program versus men? Is it 50/50, or is it less? If so, why? It's a cop out, and inaccurate, to say there are more men out there willing to opine on topics than women.
Secondly, how often are women only invited on programs to talk about so called "women's issues" like child care? I'll bet it happens a lot. Women get stereotyped and pigeon holed, and that's not right.
Thirdly, how common is it for women pundits and commentators to face sexist backlash? Unfortunately, that's all too common. I wrote a weekly column for two years and headed up a national advocacy organization, and I can say first hand at least half the negative criticism had something to do with my looks or gender. It's completely wrong, but it's a unique challenge women in the media face.
The network that does the best job of putting women on the air is also the newest, the Sun New Network. They have an impressive number of female guests, hosts and contributors - who talk about everything under the sun.
The only way women are going to appear on more news and commentary show is for them to be invited. The only way this will change is if TV hosts stop thinking like Paikin, and make a greater effort to include women on their panels and in their programming in a meaningful way.
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