» Series 44 of Have I Got News For You is over ¦ What You Can Get Away With

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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3 comments untill now

  1. I think it might be constructive to contrast HIGNFY’s stats with those for The News Quiz since Sandi Toksvig took over. Clearly there are sufficient funny people of both genders that The News Quiz often features a whole two female guests in one show!

  2. (And it should be noted, honestly, that Mock The Week, which has three guest spots each week, has a far worse record than HIGNFY.)

  3. I did HIGNFY because it’s a show I usually watch – sadly, I keep forgetting to listen to The News Quiz. Other shows are even worse – and the times I’ve seen Mock The Week, women on there tend to get talked over and ignored a lot – but I thought it was important to get together the figures for HIGNFY because it seemed better than other shows and because it’s the most high-profile and is interesting because it’s where politics and light entertainment intersect.