As the new series of HIGNFY started on Friday, I’ve updated the spreadsheet I created last year about the gender of guests. You can find it by clicking here, and I’ll endeavour to update it every week during this series.

The overall figures remain pretty much as they did through last year – overall 23.49% of guests and 22.83% of guest hosts have been women and you still have to go back to 1997 to find a show where all the guest spots were taken by women. There hasn’t been an all-male show in 2013 yet, though – we men will just have to console ourselves with the 100+ shows that have been all-male since then.

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Lib Dem Voice have produced a remake of the old ‘where is the British West Wing?’ posts of a few years ago by asking ‘where is the British Borgen?

(The answer to that question is ‘waiting for someone to forget the poor ratings previous dramas about politicians got or for someone to come up with a good story’, by the way)

However, the part that struck me (from Alistair Campbell’s tweet that kicked it off and used repeatedly in the following discussions) is the idea that there aren’t ‘pro-politics’ dramas on British TV. The problem with that belief is that there are lots of incredibly political dramas on British TV, it’s just that they’re not about politicians. Campbell et al believe that ‘politics’ solely relates to ‘what we do’ – usually white men in suits arguing with each other – whereas politics actually covers a much wider range of interactions between people and power.

For instance, Jimmy McGovern’s stories are usually intensely political, showing what effect the system and its policies can have on people, but they rarely feature actual politicians. Spooks – particularly in the early series – often addressed the fundamental political issue of where the balance between liberty and security should be struck, and how dangerous it can be to give the state too much power. Even Holby City and Casualty have regularly shown the effects of changes to NHS policy over the years.

‘Political drama’ does not have to mean ‘drama about politicians’ – indeed, making it about politicians can get in the way of making a political point. The old adage of storytelling and scriptwriting is ‘show, don’t tell’, and a political drama needs to show the effects of the policies it’s looking at. Those effects aren’t normally felt within the corridors of the power (except sometimes changing who gets to walk them) but they are felt outside Whitehall and Parliament. Great storytelling is about great characters and the way they deal with the world around them, and the story of someone dealing with the consequences of a political decision and how it affects their life is normally a much more interesting story to watch than the debates that led up to that policy being enacted.

Politicians forget that they’re just a part of the political process and that their little bubble of process isn’t the entirety of it. Britain has a long and fine tradition of drama that’s pro-politics, and doesn’t flinch from showing the effects policy has on people’s lives. To ignore that, and imagine that politics is only important when it’s about politicians is another reflection of how the practice and the reality of politics are becoming completely separated in this country.

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And so the gender balance spreadsheet is up to date for the last time this year. It was a 30% series – 30% of the guests (including 3 out of 10 of the hosts) were women. The overall figures are now that 23.46% of guests and 22.95% of guest hosts have been women. This series had two shows in which all the guests (and hence, the entire panel) were men – the last time all the guests were women was in 1997. There’s never been a post-Angus show with a female host and two female guests, so every show since the series began has featured a majority of men on the panel.

Of course, as women are only 23% of the population, this is entirely right and correct. Maybe if there were more women – perhaps even if they were a majority of the population – these figures might make people think that something was wrong.

Hold on, I’m just being informed that women actually are a majority of the population. It turns out that TV has lied to me again.

But seriously, compiling these figures has been an interesting exercise. I’d looked through the list of HIGNFY episodes before and noted that it did appear to be particularly full of men, but hadn’t realised just how bad it was. Indeed, it’s actually more likely for Ian to win a show (33%) than for a randomly chosen guest to be a woman and yet only one of those is regularly commented on.

I’ve seen some interesting comments from people on these figures. Various men who’ve seen them have tried to justify them in one way or another, often presenting the bizarre argument that ‘women aren’t funny’ as though that was settled fact. It’s odd then, that I can look back at the female guests for this most recent series and think of funny moments for each of them, while there are several men there who may well have been accompanied by Vic Reeves’ tumbleweed for all the laughs they generated. Note too that any woman saying that she doesn’t find most male comedians funny will often be dismissed as a ‘humourless feminist’ while men are free to dismiss all female comedians.

There’s also the argument that somehow because the pool of journalists, politicians, comedians, actors etc that they draw guests from is male-dominated that HIGNFY can’t help but reflect that. That might be true if they were choosing names randomly from a hat, but the producers get to choose their guests, and the results can be clearly seen on screen. For instance, Alexander Armstrong and Kirsty Young are both very good guest hosts, but why has Armstrong done the job 21 times to Young’s 10? There’ve been 42 episodes hosted by women – just one more than the total hosted by Armstrong, Jack Dee or Jeremy Clarkson.

Claiming that HIGNFY is just reflecting the sexism already present in society isn’t much of a defence in my view. As many commenters have pointed out to me, that just ensures it continues to reflect the sexism of society by regularly showing women a world that they’re not deemed to be part of. An all-male panel on HIGNFY or other series is presented as entirely natural and not worthy of comment, while an all-female panel is presented as something so special that it has to be highlighted in the programme name (Loose Women).

It’s also been suggested that it’d be interesting to see similar figures for the representation of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities on the show. I agree, though I’ll pass that task onto someone else because of the time involved, but if you do gather those stats, I’ll happily link to them here – and the same for any other series too. For instance, see A Very Public Sociologist on Question Time.

Thanks to everyone who’s linked to or commented on the statistics over the last few weeks. I’ll update it again next year when the series starts again, but do feel free to remind me about it around April/May when it starts off again.

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And the spreadsheet breaking down Have I Got News guests by gender is now updated. After last night, the figures are now:

  • 29.63% of guests this series, and 23.43% overall, have been women
  • 3 out of 9 guest hosts this season have been women, and 23.08% overall
  • Charlotte Church broke a run of six straight male hosts, though it was the fourth week in a row with at least one female guest
  • There’s one more show in this series (next Friday) and I think after that I might do a post on some of the experiences I have had since I started collecting and publishing this information. It’s been quite interesting to see some of the justifications various men have given for these numbers.

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    It’s Saturday morning…

    …and so the Have I Got News For You spreadsheet has been updated again. Amazingly, despite there being two female guests on it last night, the sky hasn’t fallen and I can now report that:

  • 29.17% of guests this season have been women
  • 23.4% of guests overall have been women
  • 22.65% of guest hosts have been women
  • David Mitchell was the sixth male host in a row – the record is ten in a row, set a couple of times near the start of the guest host era
  • You can find the updated version here.

    And if last night’s HIGNFY seemed a little disjointed at points, these tweets from David Mitchell might explain why:

    Sounds like there was some last-minute re-editing going on.

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    I’ve updated the gender balance spreadsheet again. The figures now are:

  • 23.26% of guests overall and 23.81% of guests this series are women.
  • 22.78% of guest hosts overall and 2 out of 7 this season are women.
  • Last night’s show was the second in a row to feature a female guest.
  • Baroness Trumpington is the oldest guest the show has had, and (according to Wikipedia) also the oldest ever female minister.
  • I thought it was quite a good edition last night. It was a bit slow to start, but Jack Whitehall found his feet as host after a while and both guests got to contribute and be funny.

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    I’ve updated the spreadsheet after last night’s show, and it can be downloaded here. After a couple of weeks of all-male lineups, there was actually a female guest last night, so the figures are now that 23.23% of guests have been women, and 22.91% of guest hosts have been.

    UPDATE: Sorry, got the link wrong initially, but have fixed it now.

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    Last night was another show with all male guests, just the 108th time that’s happened since the last time all the guests were female. The averages change to 20% of female guests this series, while overall 23.2% of guests and 23.03% of hosts have been female.

    You can download the full spreadsheet here.

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    A couple of follow-ups to my HIGNFY gender bias post on Saturday that I wanted to highlight.

    Jim Jepps has taken my data and put into a graph that shows the gap quite clearly, and the fact that – apart from the big dip in female guests in the mid-90s – there doesn’t seem to be much of a trend in them. (There appears to be an upward tick at the moment, but that might be because of the high female percentage in series 42.

    Jim also has an interesting letter he received from John Lloyd, the producer of QI about the number of women who’ve appeared on that show. He also has a post looking at gender in police commissioner elections.

    Rhube responded to the post on Tumblr, and I think her comments need to be read in full to explain why statistics like this are important and are not just numerical quirks. A sample, but read the whole thing:

    If it seems irritating to you that I tweet every time a panelist show is all male, consider how irritating it is for me not to have my own gender represented at all most of the time on my favourite shows. And consider also how it encourages casual sexism from the male participants either when a woman is not there to remind them to reign in their less politically correct tendencies, or when one is and they treat her in a sexist manner, because her rarity makes her an invader, to be dismissed, undermined, or attacked.

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    I noticed someone on Twitter last night point out that yet again, everyone appearing on Have I Got News For You was male. This piqued my interest, and I decided to take a look and see how HIGNFY had done over its existence in balancing representation of men and women.

    The answer appears to be ‘not very well at all’.

    Using the information from here, I went through each of the 44(!) seasons, looking at how many spaces there were for guests and how many of those guests were female. I also looked at how many episodes featured an entirely male guest line up, how many had entirely female guests and how many were mixed. From series 24 onwards, after Angus Deayton left, I also looked at the guest hosts and the male/female breakdown of them for each season. The results can be seen in this spreadsheet.

    Of course, there’s also the institutional bias that means there’s a guaranteed 2 or 3 men (Ian, Paul and Angus) appearing in each episode, so remember that all of these figures have to be seen in that light.

    Some ‘highlights’ from the figures:

  • On average, 23.27% of guests are women (219 out of a total of 941).
  • Similarly, 23.16% of guest hosts are women (41 out of a total of 177).
  • The highest percentage of female guests in a series was 37.5% – in series 1. The next highest was series 42 with 36.67%.
  • Series 42 was the first ever (and, to date, only) to feature a female guest in every episode.
  • The first ever episode featured two female guests. There have only been six other episodes with entirely female guests, with the last one in 1997 (season 13). There have been a total of 177 entirely male episodes, with the last one yesterday.
  • The lowest percentage of female guests was 8.33% in series 11.
  • Aside from a bit of a dip in the mid-90s of which series 11 is the nadir, I don’t spot much of a trend in the figures, though the number of female hosts per series has been creeping up slightly recently. However, as women aren’t 23% of the population, the figures do show that there’s much less chance of a woman appearing on the show than there is for a man. As an example, the total number of shows hosted by women (41) is the same as the number hosted by one of Alexander Armstrong (21), Jeremy Clarkson (10) or Jack Dee (10).

    (I’m sure there’s much more that can be done with these figures, so please feel free to take and use them as you wish, just please credit me with them. I’ll attempt to keep them updated as much as possible.)

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