You’re not going to shift the fact that loads more men want to do it

[See update at end.]

Ah yes – this again. If you make it explicit that you’re attempting to correct the lazy habit of inviting only men (only white men, only straight white men, etcetera) to do something then that’s tokenism, shock horror, so you shouldn’t do that, you should instead just stick with the lazy habit of inviting only men. It’s better all around. No one will use the word “token” and everything will be in every way better and more emollient.

The Independent has the details.

Dara O’Briain thinks the BBC’s ban on all-male comedy panels should have “evolved” without making future female guests appear as the “token woman”.

The Mock the Week presenter criticised the decision, arguing that stand-up by nature has a larger share of male comics.

By nature?

Ok wait, that could be just the Independent’s paraphrase. Maybe he didn’t say anything quite that dumb.

“It would have been better if it had evolved without showing your workings, if you know what I mean. Legislating for token woman isn’t much help.

“A certain number of women want to go into comedy and they should be cherished and nurtured, but you’re not going to shift the fact that loads more men want to do it.”

All right, that amounts to the same thing. If you’re not going to shift the fact, that must be because it’s “by nature,” also known as “it’s more of a guy thing.”

To go over the old ground yet again: nobody knows it’s “by nature” or “more of a guy thing” or a “fact” that you’re not going to shift. Why does nobody know that? Because there hasn’t been a careful test yet. The “tests” have all been done in a context where men are already expected to be the ones who do the talking, which includes the performing and the being funny. In a context like that it’s not possible to know that loads more men want to do it. The tests have also all been done in a context where women’s offerings get overlooked or dismissed or forgotten; a context where people just casually say “oh not many women want to do that” without pausing to realize that years of discouragement and extra-high hurdles could have something to do with their inability to think of many women who do stand-up.

O’Briain went on to argue that tackling gender inequalities in other areas such as computer coding would be a more effective use of time than dwelling on the representation of women in comedy.

“I wish a tenth of the energy that was put into the women-on-panel-shows debate was put into women in computer coding, in which there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe and 11 per cent of them are done by women,” he said. “It seems a more sensible challenge than these 300 people (in stand-up comedy) and how they are represented.[“]

Tech jobs are also important; of course they are. But you know what else is important? The culture. The discourse. The public conversation. Why is it important? Because it shapes our perceptions of the world and ourselves and each other, and the interactions among them. If women are scarce or totally absent in big chunks of that, that matters.

Update: O’Briain says he was misquoted. On Twitter he said

To clarify, yet again. I have no problem with a policy of no all-male panel shows. I just wouldn’t have announced it.

Fair enough. I still disagree with the “you’re not going to shift the fact” claim, but that’s less annoying without the misquoted part.

Thanks to Malachite for the correction.



  1. jamessweet says

    This has a very simple rebuttal: You actually very well might, over time, shift the fact that loads more men want to do it, if you make “it” a more welcoming place for women. That’s, uh, kinda that point…

  2. thetalkingstove says

    Dara is all over the place on this one. The coding thing is just a non-sequitur, really. He also says that it won’t be fair on the ‘token’ women because they have less experience than men and so will find it harder.

    Maybe if they get to be on panel shows, they’ll get more experience? And that may well inspire other women to have the confidence to be on panel shows?

    Why do I get the impression that he’s just rationalising a subconscious fear of having his boy’s club invaded by icky girls?

    Possibly unfair speculation, but it’s such a repeated pattern with men coming up with reasons why no one should do anything about the lack of women in their field.

  3. scenario says

    All male comedy panels are less fun then mixed panels. The best panels, imho, play off each other and that works best when the participants are really different from each other.

    I can see the argument that its a numbers game. We have had both men and women on the show the last 8 weeks and we couldn’t find any women this week that we felt were talented enough but we have women booked for the next 3 weeks. They don’t have to have women every week, although it would be nice to have a week here and there with no men on it to balance it out a little.

    It is frustrating that a lot of shows end up with the same 3 or 4 women mixed in with 15 or 20 guys over the course of a series or two. I’m sure that there are a lot of very talented women that they could choose from if they looked.

  4. opposablethumbs says

    Oh, Dara, educated, astute bloke that you are – don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the concepts of microaggressions, stereotype threat and the chilly climate? I haz a gargantuan disappoint. I really do; I had foolishly allowed myself to hope for better.

  5. says

    Ok. On Twitter he says he didn’t say he has a problem with bans on all-male panels, he just thinks they shouldn’t be announced. I’ll add that to the post. Thanks for the tip.

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