» sexism ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenHave I Got News For You has been on the air for twenty-four years, and last night it managed to do something it’s never done before. For the first time ever last night, the majority of people on screen for an episode of the show were women – Victoria Coren Mitchell as the host, and Katherine Ryan and Janet Street-Porter as the guests, alongside regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. As I’m here to write this today, it appears the sky didn’t crack asunder and the world did not come to an end as a result.

As some of you will know, I’ve got a spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of guests on the show since it started (created mostly with the help of this Wikipedia page) and it’s usually been pretty grim reading.

Across the history of the show, less than a quarter of the guests (24.27%) and hosts (24.65%) have been women. During that time, there have been 8 shows (including last night) where all the guests were women, but the first seven were all from the period when Angus Deayton was the show’s permanent host and thus men were still a majority on screen. The last of those seven was in 1997. For comparison, there have been 181 shows (44% of the total) where all the guests were male, and thus everyone on screen was a male. The BBC has announced that there will be no more all-male panel shows, so this percentage will drop, but the fact it happened at all is ridiculous. Consider that in the time since the last show with all-female guests, there were over 100 all-male episodes of Have I Got News For You, and think what message that sends out to anyone watching.

Hopefully, last night is a sign that attitudes are changing, though I also fear that for years to come they’ll bring up the ‘all-woman’ show as an excuse for not doing it again for several years. This series might be the one that has the highest percentage of female guests on the show, a record which currently stands at 37.5%. The trouble for anyone hoping for progress is that that record was set back in the very first series of the show, and it’s failed to reach that mark in the 46 series since.

The current series is actually at parity for the four episodes broadcast so far – and there have actually been a majority of female hosts in those episodes – so who knows, it might finally be possible for a high-profile BBC series to almost accurately reflect the nation. (If we assume that 40% of the country are Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, of course…)

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Too much democracy? Time for 21st century democracy. – An introduction by Martin Smith and Dave Richards to some of the themes of their book Institutional Crisis in 21st Century Britain, which I’m working through at the moment.
Forget quotas for women MPs – time to limit the number of men – Rainbow Murray flips the debate on representation.
Making policy for the policy invariant – How do you make policy if the people don’t care what the results of that policy are?
Public Statement on the Readmittance of Lord Rennard to the Liberal Democrats – Jennie Rigg says exactly what I would say.
Do political parties make any difference? – Alex Marsh with details of some new academic research that’s relevant to my interests, and also contains some information on the party’s stance on immigration that’ll be of interest to activists.

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I uploaded my spreadsheet of Have I Got News For You guests broken down by gender after the last series, then today realised I’d forgotten to upload the new version. So, that’s now uploaded – and here it is.

I guess if you’re looking for a key statistic from it, it’s the number 33.3 – one third of the guests and one third of the hosts were women in the last series, which was the first since the BBC introduced their ‘no all male panel shows’ policy. HIGNFY has stuck with that policy, but has done the bare minimum to meet it – every show had a woman on it, either hosting or presenting, but none of them had two or three. We still have to go back to the last century for a time when all the guests on a show were women, and last year for one when they were all men.

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Quick trivia question: What connects Richard Osman, Dan Snow and Mark Steel?

They’re the last all-male line-up of guests on Have I Got News For You, if Danny Cohen delivers on his promise:

“We’re not going to have panel shows on any more with no women on them. You can’t do that. It’s not acceptable.”

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been collecting data on the gender bias on Have I Got News For You for a while and so this is welcome news. As I’ve got almost bored of pointing out, there have been only seven episodes of HIGNFY where all the guests have been female, with the last one of those being back in 1997 (Sue Perkins and Eve Pollard) and 181 where all the guests were male, with over a hundred of those happening since 1997 (Osman, Snow and Steel were in October last year).

So, if that number now freezes at 181 for good then there’s a cheer or two for Cohen, as it guarantees that female representation on HIGNFY will rise above the 23.72% of guests they currently make up, and a minimum of 33% female guests will make the next series one of the highest ever. It might even reach or surpass the record giddy heights of 37.5% female guests, which was achieved back in the very first series in 1990.

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for an episode where there’ll be all-female guests again (and hence more women than men on screen for the first time ever in the series history), but I will wager that when it does the time between it being announced and some moron complaining how awful it is that they can’t have all-male guests will be measured in nanoseconds.

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I haven’t been doing weekly posts about it this series, but I am keeping the HIGNFY gender bias spreadsheet updated – you’ll normally find the updated version of it available on that link by Saturday lunchtime after a show.

The problem is finding something new to say about it after every show, when the figures stay resolutely the same. 23.83% of guests overall (25% this season) and 22.46% of guest hosts have been women, and last week’s show was the 109th one with all-male guests since the last time all the guests were female. Still, we should have the first female host of the season (Mel Giedroyc) next week.

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How Liberal Democrat MPs voted against making it far harder to misuse libel – Depressing.
A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip – Gabrielle Giffords in the New York Times
Dead children and monied politicians – and David Simon on how American democracy is failing under the unrestrained influence of lobbyists and money.
Do you live in a Rotten Borough? – New figures from the Electoral Reform Society on how first past the post distorts results in council elections. (And I don’t live in a rotten borough, but it’s within a rotten county)
My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters – Another chronicle of the everyday sexism some of us like to pretend doesn’t exist.

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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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