This past week, I was a guest on the Echo Chamber Podcast. For those unfamiliar, the podcast is in its infancy – it’s just ten episodes old – and uses stories from Twitter as a jumping-off point. Having heard most of the podcasts, I was honoured to have been asked, and delighted to accept the invitation immediately.
After we’d recorded, Tony (@trickstersworld), Martin (@williamhboney1), and I (@hazelklarkin) were having a chat, and Tony mentioned how they are making a conscious effort to ask as many women as men to take part.
‘Because there’s two of us, it’s (the podcast) already gender-skewed before we invite anyone else on,’ he said.
Martin and Tony informed me that as many women as men have been asked to appear as guests on the Echo Chamber Podcast, but fewer women respond positively. I was surprised. Tony elucidated.
‘Women will be interested, but also more hesitant. They ask questions about who we’re aligned with – politically – who our listenership is…things like that. They say they’ll have to think about it. They are often concerned about any possible back-lash with regards to their jobs. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to just say “Yes! I have something to say, I’ll come and say it!” ‘
This was a new narrative to me. I have been involved with initiatives such as Women On Air, and MAM, and I would normally only turn down a media appearance if I have a scheduling conflict. I have heard women say they are never asked – or they are only asked to comment on things that are specifically women- or children-centred. Or they are asked to contribute to more ‘fluffy’ items on radio, television, or in print. I have also heard producers and researchers talk about how difficult it is to find women who can talk on ‘meaty’ subjects, and who are willing to take part in programmes. In an effort to ameliorate this, Women On Air maintains a list of women experts in a number of subject areas. Still we don’t hear enough women’s voices on public platforms.
Why do women hesitate to take part in a podcast or other platform? Why are women more cautious with regard to committing to airing their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reactions? I’ve been thinking about this ever since Martin, Tony, and I discussed it. I’m of the opinion that the issue of the lack of women’s voices in public is not as simple as ‘there aren’t enough women’ and / or ‘we’re never asked’. The evil twins Patriarchy andToxic Masculinity are, I fear, to blame here.
Women, I think, are more hesitant to go on air because they fear the backlash. We fear that our words will be scrutinised to a greater extent than men’s. We fear that our mistakes, our gaffes, will not be forgiven. We fear that if we fudge a response, we will be ridiculed for being inarticulate and lacking in knowledge. We fear that our employers, or clients (or whoever it is who pays us), will take agin us if we express an opinion that is not aligned with theirs.
We fear that we do not have an equivalent of ‘boys will be boys’ to excuse our behaviour if we are deemed, on reflection, to have over-stepped a mark. We fear this because we are aware that we have not perfected how to have lines such as the following accepted women to the same extent, and with as much ease, as they are accepted from men. :
‘Can you not take a joke?’
‘I didn’t mean it like that.‘
‘Have you never heard of irony?’
‘Oh. I mis-spoke. What I meant was…’
‘I was speaking in my personal, not my professional, capacity’
‘If we all thought the same, life would be boring’
‘You’re taking me out of context’
This is one of the faces of toxic masculinity; that element of our attitude to men and women that allows men to be – and forgives them for being – irresponsible and immature; that doesn’t expect, or demand, that they stop acting like boys; that does not hold them to the high standards that women are held to; that doesn’t hold men accountable for their words and deeds; that allows men to get away with things that women wouldn’t be allowed to get away with; that portrays men as a bit bumbling, but generally well-meaning. I think the closest trope women have to this ‘Bumbling Ineffectual’ is the ‘Damsel in Distress’ – but the latter needs to be ‘rescued’ (and usually by a man). Mansplaining is an extension of this ‘rescuing’ of ‘distressed damsels’ and most women have been subjected to it, and are aware of how tedious and teeth-clenchingly insulting it is. Why, then, would any woman offer those whose wont it is, the opportunity to mansplain at them?
While the lack of women’s voices on air is a multi-faceted problem, there may be more facets to it than I had originally thought.