No place for a woman in this bear pit

Monday 17 February 2014

Danny Cohen, controller of BBC1, has issued an ultimatum to programme-makers: “We are not going to have any more panel shows with no women on them. It’s not acceptable.”

This would be good news but I’m afraid it’s too late. Female comics and pundits rightly shun most of these male-dominated television shows. There are exceptions – Jo Brand on QI, Victoria Coren-Mitchell on Have I Got News for You – but these are women of rare confidence. Indeed Coren-Mitchell is a champion poker-player, mightily skilled at calling anyone’s bluff.

Most women, however intelligent or funny, dread appearing on testosterone-fuelled shows such as Mock The Week. Even cerebral Question Time struggles to attract female guests. The reasons for their reluctance are complex. Let’s take comedy panel shows. Male comics are ferociously competitive. They’d sell their own grandmothers to get a laugh. A lot of them are frankly not very nice. And above all they want to win.

My husband’s been on quite a few of these programmes and can testify as to how intimidating the atmosphere can become as each male stand-up ruthlessly tries to undermine his fellow panellists. They treat it as a gladiatorial contest, a fight to the death – not a comedy game.

If it can be scary to be a man on one of these shows imagine being a woman. I’ve known very funny and talented ladies – household names – reduced to tears by the bitchy (yes men can be much bitchier than women) comments from the blokes on these programmes. Many of them vow never to go on a show like that again.

And even when it’s not a comedy programme, when it’s supposed to be a current affairs panel discussion, women can have a ghastly experience at the hands of Twitter trolls. A friend who recently had extensive surgery (medical, not cosmetic) to her face and shortly afterwards appeared on a talk show, was mocked mercilessly on social media by those cruel and revolting misfits who cannot resist judging a woman not by her thoughts, brain, or talent but simply by the way she looks.

Read the rest of Judy's Daily Express column here