No Willy No Woman’s Hour

As you can probably guess from the title of this blog post I am a bit cross and made a hashtag #NoWillyNoWH which is just ridiculous… but true

I love Radio 4, I have always loved radio 4, I also like Capital sometimes, but mainly R4 when I have no kids with me. Woman’s Hour has occasionally stuck in my craw as a title, but I think that – like the rest of the country – I adopt it with an indulgent smile, a nod to our ability to see humour in everything and satire is our bag, right? I love Woman’s Hour with the same bit of me that loves Boris being the Mayor of London.

I also thought long and hard about writing this blog post. It is not always helpful to be stabby and cross about things, but when my retired step-mother, who was a GP and fought the battle she had to fight for so many years as a female GP, was so totally gutted that this was *still* going on, and so cross she even surprised my father with her depth of feeling about this, I felt that I was not stupid to feel this cross.

Being a chick and doing what I do, I do get asked to go and talk on radio and telly, albeit badly as I have had no media training, just conviction and experience, so getting an email from Woman’s Hour was not completely weird, but it was EXCITING!

Now because of the caveat at the bottom of all BBC emails, I can’t share word for word what that email said, but I can tell you what my reaction was and what happened – I think. Well they can sue me if I got their email rules of secrecy wrong.

They asked me if they could talk to me the next day with a view to maybe going on to WH on Friday, tomorrow, to talk about the lack of women speakers at tech conferences and as a side issue girls and coding. Both of these things are passions of mine, and I run the Year 8 is too Late campaign and fight to get equality in attendees at Young Rewired State (last year’s der moment written here, with a reference to Woman’s Hour! #irony <- please read it, it is far more important than this rant). But I came back from that and by bringing Lily Cole onto the judging panel, upped the YRS girl attendees from 3% to 18% girls – still not awesome, but better.

I was also contacted by another lady geek type person who had been approached but they had replaced her with me, she and I had a digital thumb war, but basically all very happy about the fact that this was being discussed, even though really I should learn my own lesson from last year and NOT shine a big light on this!

Within half an hour they contacted me again to say that actually they wanted to have a man speaking on the programme, as they wanted to focus the programme on men standing up for women in tech and they would replace me with someone, whom they named, who – much though I love him and respect his work, is not known for campaigning or acting on either subject.

At this point I was just gutted, I had been so excited but I was gutted.

I suggested Aral Balkan, who is the accepted person who fights hard for this and writes about it, acts on it and it the male voice in this space.

It turns out they already had him booked, they wanted another man. “So…” I clarified, ” you want TWO men talking about this? Oh the irony”

Look, I have no problem, dear Woman’s Hour, with finding the right people for the discussion regardless of gender. I would have had no problem with you actually speaking to me and deciding that what I said was not appropriate, or that my lack of media training made me an unsuitable candidate. But to pass me over, simply because I do not have a willy, in the very thing I give up my spare time, and earn sod all in my organisation, actively working for, trying to solve and sharing and writing what I learn along the way on the very subject that actually cries out for a woman’s voice amongst the men who do indeed fight for us, is infuriating. Patronising. Misogynistic.

I know I will never be invited on Woman’s Hour now, and I am over that.

Tomorrow’s discussion is what it is. I am not sure that it is the right thing to do, shining a big light on this can have a detrimental effect, but there are ways to address and overcome it. I certainly do not have all of the answers, but I do have quite some decent experience – as do many other lady geeky and non-geeky people.

But it seems: No Willy, No Woman’s Hour #NoWillyNoWH

PS Dear YRS kids, do not let this happen in your generation

PPS I have nothing but respect for Aral Balkan and Dr Tom Crick, those two men who are speaking on WH tomorrow, Aral was always going to be there and so he should as this has long been a fight he has naturally, if uncomfortably, felt driven to fight for and write about. Dr TC is doing wonderful things and is an academic who also spends his spare time fighting for digital literacy – not known focus (unless I have missed something) on female speakers or girls and coding, more about just generally shifting the nation up a gear – a noble and respectful thing. My issue is just with Woman’s Hour and how they have interpreted this problem and actively chosen to address it

Update to this post now that the programme has aired

Firstly, both the boys were brilliant, of course. However, I saw absolutely no reason why it was so necessary to have two men debating the subject, as Tom was asked questions about girls in programming and Aral – rightly so – was asked about his campaign to get more female speakers into tech. So the above blog post remains true. I understand that the BBC’s response to a National paper was that this was always going to be about men standing up for women and they only ever wanted male speakers, which begs the question: why contact me, and *all* the other really fabulous and far more eminent than I, ladies.

To the points made in the comments about researchers using contact to get background for the show, this is often the case, but I just want to clarify this contact was made in email form to set up a discussion the following day with a view to me talking about it on the show today. The follow-up email stating they wanted two men to discuss it instead came 1/2 an hour later, not after they actually spoken to me.

Finally, and most importantly, Amy Mather was an absolute superstar. She was the young female programmer they had pre-recorded a session with, during which she spoke eloquently and brilliantly about what she does, why and the problems facing young girl geeks. I know Amy well through Young Rewired State and think she is great. The points she made are what we should be focusing on. However, her inclusion in the show does not take anything away from the fact that the live debate on this subject was actively selected based on gender and was intentionally all male.

I think this is quite enough on this subject, I am glad it has aired, I just think that one own goal could have been foreseen and avoided very easily.

43 responses

  1. If they were asking two men to defend their positions I could, perhaps, at a push, understand (if not agree) with their decision.
    But I wish you, not that you need it, more strength to your arm…

    • It is not even that, it was just that they had asked me to speak to them about this, then not even spoken to me before they discounted my opinion because I am not a man

      • Yes.
        If only there were some kind of outlet on a station such as Radio 4 to raise and discuss such behaviour…
        Today, Feedback, WATO, PM, but perhaps something that could directly address such misogyny on a regular basis.
        Maintain your rage…

    • This is also ironic given the Woman’s Hour Power List which seeks to showcase the women having the biggest impact on our society. Just a thought, but how about we actually hear from some of them…? Broadcast is running an Expert Women campaign which involved the BBC Academy hosting a training day for females in areas such as science and tech. Yet more irony.

      • i am surprised that you consider the irony of this, yet fail to make the nearest easiest connection, i.e. that precisely there cannot be anything at all wrong with offering men a chance to voice their views on a 90% female populated show? do you not realise the terms of your own contradiction? rage is a very bad, unproductive thing. it blinds you to the actual FACTS. and make you a fascist of sorts. best of luck.

    • As I said in my tweet, I’m running a campaign to increase diversity in pupils taking Computing at school. I was approached…and asked to recommend some men. I did find it a bit odd at the time but I mentioned some guys who are supporting our @casinclude working group, who they didn’t use.

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  3. I’m afraid I don’t have anything nice to say about Woman’s Hour, I’ve always thought it’s the worst thing about Radio 4. All the people I know who listen to the station who I’ve ever talked to about it dislike it and roll their eyes when it’s mentioned (echoing what’ve said, I’d note my mum doesn’t like it either).

    It’s often spectacularly ignorant – even when it comes to subjects I don’t remotely consider myself any kind of expert on I’m frequently reduced to physical face palming at the sheer amount of nonsense. I don’t like the format but also I think Jenni Murray is too lightweight – she doesn’t seem to do any research before hand, so it ends up being as informative and heavyweight as This Morning or The One Show. I say this not to make it personal out of hand, but because it’s something I’ve specifically noticed and it really bugs me.

    Presumably they don’t think women can handle listening to or presenting serious, in-depth formats shows like the ones the The Menz get; after Moral Maze, In Our Time or Unreliable Evidence listening to Woman’s Hour is like being whacked round the head with a stupefying mallet.

    Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now. What I’m trying to say is “Yes, that seems annoying and being cross seems justified (& would have been excited too) but don’t worry, I don’t think anyone believes WH has a clue anyway.”. This err, sounded more supportive in my head. 🙂

    I don’t know Tom, but I don’t know of a better man for this than Aral – although the mind boggles at why when my Twitter feed is full of eloquent and informed women with varying opinions who talk about this all the time.

  4. Totally endorse your suggestion of Aral. He’s not just balanced on gender – he’s just a hugely balanced guy.

    oh god oh god I hope it’s not either of the (1 male, 1 female) people I saw squabbling on this issue on Twitter today. I *really* hope not.

    I was at #sohoskeptics this month with a panel on this subject, and I have to say I was hugely disappointed. An important issue, but one that missed the actual point.

    I’ll have to see how WH handle this. I hope it’s vaguely sensible.

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      • Yes, it changed in the 1/2 hour from when they first emailed me to the second email standing me down. The second email started: “actually the editor has decided to …” so it changed, but I think it had been changing backwards and forwards, but regardless – a balanced view would imply both sexes discussing this, I don’t know. I mean, you are PERFECT for this too, I have alsi heard from three other ladies who were spoken to – what *is* this? Get the gen from the girls in the background but only let the men debate this on the radio? Un-believable

      • Ah, this might explain how the result ended up so muddled, a bit about education, a bit about men standing up for women in computing – each subject worthy of it’s own slot I would have thought. I found the two men interesting on the latter subject, although they mainly spoke about what they wanted not what women wanted and the initial premise about one signing the pledge and the other not didn’t evolve into anything substantial. I don’t see why men only should be asked why women don’t take up technology. The interviewer made so many stupid remarks, the supposition about having to be good at maths was particularly irritating.

        IMO, give Amy a weekly 10 min slot to fill with her own guests, she would probably ask better questions.

  6. I don’t want to say too much until I’ve actually listened to it but the way it’s described on the schedule is a piece about men standing up for women. Why on earth would I want to hear about that when I could be listening to a successful woman who is actually making a difference? Shocking.

    • Yes, and I know Aral and Tom will take this seriously and do a good job. It is just a very, very weird decision they took. And they spoke to SO many really great women, all of whom would have been great to have in the discussion even if they did want to make it from the pov of men standing up for women *shudder* they could have had a female there too. So irritating

  7. I sympathize with some comments above who are trying to provide balance by suggesting reasons why WH might have sought extra men for their binders.

    I would suggest that in an environment at Radio 4 where women are so frequently considered to have nothing interesting to add to a discussion – or often second billing or “special interest” voices when they are invited to participate – it’s not over the top to say it’s misogynistic. Eg. They recently had a profile about morning sickness on the Today programme and invited a man to speak: a male expert on women’s issues, I say!!!

    Radio 4 continues to uphold a male voice as the normal human experience and women are called on to speak for themselves as a special interest audience.

    • “Radio 4 continues to uphold a male voice as the normal human experience and women are called on to speak for themselves as a special interest audience.” — Eloquently put and very true. It’s the reason the whole concept of ‘Woman’s Hour’ jars.

  8. Similar things happen on Newsnight too. They recently invited the tax campaigner Richard Murphy and acknowledged no1 tax evasion expert onto a panel discussion on Starbucks. Then they decided they wanted 2 men and two women so disinvited him. This had the effect of leaving the tax campaigners as an activist and a priest debating an accountant and a lawyer. Hopeless.Then again I do like their panel of 4 women economists – who actually listen and agree with each other sometimes.

    They seem to make a haphazard effort to balance discussions out across the BBC- which is good- but sometimes they sacrifice the content or balance of argument to other concerns.

    • I love the female economists! I called them the ‘lovely lady economists’ when I last saw them because they were just so CIVIL – they never talked over one another, they tended to relate back to one another as they each spoke, almost like they were actually listening to one another rather than just waiting for their turn to speak. Of course, it could have been because they were economists and not politicians rather than because they were women, but I have an inkling it may have been a bit of both.

      Having done a wee bit of sociolinguistics over the years it’s fascinating to me how true the stereotypes of how women vs men communicate seem to hold, so much of the time. I want it to be a fiction but it really isn’t…

  9. very light ‘magazine’ material show. however, regarding women in IT, historically , women were very much typing pool workers which then translated to computer operators – however, at some point things broke down….when computers became hobby tools , when IT was introduced to schools in the early 80’s ? something fundamental which meant girls got (and are still being?) steered/deflected away from IT. there is NO reason why women should be different to men in IT – some might even say they should be better because of intuition (which is very important in trouble shooting 🙂 )

  10. Not going to defend the outcome. But will add my two pence worth on the process, as its something that i and others who write about sexualisation, censorship,porn, etc.have encountered a great deal.

    Its not quite as badas it felt. Though the real evil is something else.

    What happened here, in terms of your initial contact, is that a researcher, whose job it is to get as much background as they possibly can on an issue, sucked your brain. They know that if they just phoned up and asked you to give them 20 minutes free research you might have said no.

    So, instead, they dangle the carrot of maybe letting you on the show. How realistic that carrot ever is, i don’t know. They may actually be dangling it in front of a dozen peeps every time, which means that really they are lying from the off: you never had a chance of getting on there.

    Or maybe sometimes, they are telling the truth:they’d LIKE you on there…but in the end, their producer says no.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of this processwith all five main stations now, plus the ITV Morning showplus countless regional stations. Currently waiting to see whether an invite to be on R3 next week will bear fruit or just fizzle.

    One friend i know with a pretty high media profile (she writes on relationship issues for the Telegraph) has more or less given up helping these researchers. She feels it is awaste of her time and energy and always makes her feel cross.

    So. Their bad for struicturing the prog as they did. Either they knew they were going to do that from the off (and were just tapping you to extract interesting questions to feed their interviewer)or they had a failure of will at the last minute.

    And to everyone subject to this process,maybe it is time to start tweeting when you have been approached. Because it harms no-one…and when you discover it isn’t, like some scam lottery win, that YOU have been chosen, but actually you and half a dozen others, peeps might just start to stop helping quite so much.


      • and now i have to eat my words, cause R3 phoned back this pm to say yes, please, and i’m lined up to debate with Julie Bindel on monday! 🙂

    • I’ve been tapped a bunch of times by researchers putting together welfare to work programmes on radio and TV. Always been happy to talk, but what I say has only had a solid impact on the direction of the show maybe twice, one of which was when I was a guest. I guess I’ve been lucky never to have been offered a fake place, although it might help that I usually clarify I’m speaking ‘off the record’, i.e. don’t want to be identified.

    • No because the email was to set up a talk the following day. They had not actually spoken to me at all. The second email was to say that they wanted a man on the programme. I appreciate what you are saying but they did not even begin to talk to me before cancelling because I am a woman

  11. *grumble grumble* associating penises with men and vaginas with women *grumble grumble* many trans women have made important contributions to computer science *grumble grumble*

  12. Emma, you would have been great! It’s a pity that they changed their minds.
    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the programme yet (it’s not yet available on iPlayer as I write), but I find it incomprehensible why Woman’s Hour would want only men to speak about this issue, however wonderful they are. I do listen to the programme (or parts of it) regularly – and generally feel that most of the content is for other women, not me – which is fine (I long ago realised that I didn’t seem to be typical of the women that media people have in mind as their audience) – but this makes me more concerned that the Woman’s Hour team have little real understanding of the situations women face in the UK today.
    Incidentally, it would be good if women’s news and issues were finally included in mainstream news and factual programmes so Woman’s Hour could become redundant.

  13. Can I now run a campaign with a chocolate fanny and a #nofannynorights discussion?

    This is silly. You are seeking to impose your “politics” onto the situation making a fuss out of nothing. A woman talking about it is one thing. A man doing it something else. Both are valid.

    “I have no problem, dear Woman’s Hour, with finding the right people for the discussion regardless of gender.” Fine. Now extend your understanding to another possibility, which is that gender does make a difference re. speakers and a topic like this, its gender selection which you object to, but only because you wanted it your way. Then you add derogatory genitalia remarks.

  14. ‘because of the caveat at the bottom of all BBC emails, I can’t share word for word what that email said…. Well they can sue me if I got their email rules of secrecy wrong.’

    As one more than interested in precedent and, when it comes to the BBC, ‘uniqueness’, might I enquire of you what that caveat was, and what anyone versed in such matters may have offered on the legitimacy of BBC rules of secrecy? I have come to realise that just because they saying something is so, that may not need be the case.

    I also have a slight concern that the national broadcaster can essentially tell you anything you write is theirs to play with in public, but in contrast anything they write to you is ‘their little secret’.

    Creepy enough, but post-Savile… not high on the PR score by any measure.

    And as a ‘news’ medium, I am intrigued at how they will in future handle any coverage they may undertake of those they seek to quote but have popped a nifty little disclaimer in to prevent just that… if it’s legally possible.

    • Here is a copy of the thing at the bottom of their email, the bit that I referred to in my blog post:

      Do not use, copy or disclose the information in any way

  15. There are so few women on Radio 4 – so the issue much broader – so this is an illustrative case written in a way I find funny and gracious. It is not silly and its certainly not fanny politics.

    Women work in technology – in the developing world theres a huge issue with only male tech being thought about (phones, cars, TVs, welding equipement etc) yet if you wnat to think about what technology works most for poverty reduction you need to start with womens tech – simple farming tools, clean cookstoves – bet you didnt know that the latest research in The Lancet suggests that 4 million people die each year as a result of killer smoke from cookstoves.

    If you wnat to get women into technology you need to talk about what intersts them – and for many its making a difference in the world. Women are ignored in technology – no wonder we’re not invited on to panels or even Radio 4 programmes with ‘Woman’ in the name.

    I love Radio 4 – why am I so often disappointed with their love of male!

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