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.