Spoiler alert: It’s not women’s DNA, it’s systemic gender inequality.
Back when I was still married, my spouse and I used to watch TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin together. Having a bit more patience for talking heads than I, she also rage-watched The Michael Coren Show and Fox News. But I’m not really into pundits—I was just in it for a short pseudo-Left debate every now and then and maybe something to think about as the night wore on.
But after a year or so of watching, I started to think to myself damn, that’s a lot of dudes. And once I noticed, I couldn’t un-notice, and as the show went on, dude after dude after dude, I gave up on it.
Earlier tonight, Paikin himself decided to address the dudely problem with The Agenda. That, in itself, is a fine enough thing to do, but he went about it… well, to put it mildly, he went about it all wrong:
No man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.” The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show. Women use that excuse on us all the time.
No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.” I’m serious. We get that as an excuse for not coming on. But only from women.
No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.” They’ll get up to speed on the issue and come on. Women beg off. And worse, they often recommend a male colleague in their place.
Now I don’t have even the slightest doubt that these are in fact the reasons Paikin is hearing for why women can’t appear on his show. Here’s where things get really bad:
- “many many more men like doing television and make themselves available to do television than women.”
- “we’ve also discovered there also seems to be something in women’s DNA that makes them harder to book.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was parody. This is the kind of anti-woman rhetoric that doesn’t even count as trying any more.
I mean, haven’t we already heard “maybe women just don’t want to work,” and “maybe women just aren’t trying to get raises”?
And I’m sure we’ve heard “women are just hardwired to want a dominant man,” and “she stays with him because she’s codependent. That’s just how women are.”
And jesus, just last week I could have sworn someone said “she’s just making it up,” and “women always play the gender card.”
No, Steve. Women aren’t underrepresented in media because we just don’t want to participate, or because our DNA makes us passive. And when we tell you what our barriers to participation are, we aren’t giving you “excuses.” What your potential guests who are declining to appear on your show are telling you about is systemic gender inequality. That men make up the overwhelming majority of your guests is also systemic gender inequality.
Let’s start with childcare. Despite being about half of parents, women do a disproportionate amount of childcare. It’s a part of a form of systemic gender inequality called the “second shift.” In 2013, a blogger at Handbags in the Boardroom explained:
A second shift was first used in Arlie Hochschild’s book ‘Working Parents and the Revolution at Home’. Her definition of a second shift essentially describes what happens after a working day, i.e. those endless household chores, child-care and elder care activities. […]
Last week a client was telling me how she has a long commute (about an hour each way to work). Her husband works and is ‘hopeless around the home’. When she gets home she has to cook an evening meal. And then she goes to visit her elderly parents to do a number of household chores. This can be hugely challenging for women who are keen to progress.
Further research in the US has suggested that 92% of women manage all household tasks including child care and meal preparation*.
Whilst this figure is perhaps on the high side there is still some truth in the research.Women still tend to be the decision makers, the ones who manage more of the second shift and are the social organisers at home.
In 2007, researchers at Cambridge University looked into the average working week. For women in full time employment they worked an average of 68 hours (including commuting, domestic work and child care). The average working week for a man was 55 hours (including commuting and domestic work).
This is not just a dig at men not helping out at home. There is a wider issue that a man’s career still seems to take precedent over a woman’s career. (emphasis in original)
The reason women say they can’t appear on the show because they have childcare duties, Steve, isn’t that men are just that much more plucky, going out and getting a babysitter. It’s that your male guests have wives to take care of their children, freeing up their time to be on TV, while your potential female guests are those wives.
That’s right. Men have the free time available to be on your show at the expense of the time of the women who could be doing it.
Those undyed roots? Well, guess what? Included in that systemic gender inequality package women get to deal with is steaming pile of double standards related to beauty. When women go on TV to talk about political ideas, their critics talk about their looks. When women run for political office, their critics talk about their looks. Hell, when women try to be damn reporters, just like you Steve, their critics talk about their motherfucking looks. That doesn’t happen to men. But hey, y’know, women are probably just being vain.
And women aren’t confident about their expertise? Well, setting aside that when women try to talk about their expertise, their critics talk about their fucking bodies, “imposter syndrome” is actually a thing. It’s a lack of confidence women feel about their own knowledge, instilled through a lifetime of being subject to skepticism that they actually know anything. I wonder if it has anything to do with systemic gender inequality. Paikin is asking a question he already has the answer for.
Why are women systematically underrepresented on Steve Paikin’s television show? Because women face systemic gender inequality. And Paikin hasn’t asked, nor has he offered stats to measure intersecting inequalities, but since Indigenous, disabled, poor, racialized, immigrant, trans and queer women face even more systemic inequality and even heavier burdens of un- or underpaid work, scrutiny of their bodies and looks and skepticism about their qualifications, I’d hazard a guess that they’re even more underrepresented on his show.
By writing off women’s legitimate, systemic barriers to meaningful participation in media as “excuses,” as women’s individual failings, or as just how women are, Paikin writes off women’s political issues as such. There’s no overcoming them because instead of attempting to change the system causing them, of which the unequal representation on Paikin’s show is a part, Paikin is blaming women for them. That sexism – that refusal to counter the burdens of the second shift, beauty double standards and imposter syndrome – that refusal to even acknowledge that women encounter these barriers as a system of gendered inequality that intersects with racism, class war, colonization, transphobia and other oppressions, and not as individual failures to buck up and be more like men – is why women will continue to have to turn down guest spots on Steve’s TV show.
But more importantly, that sexism is why many women really would want to turn down a guest spot on Steve’s TV show. Cause I mean, Steve, if you’re going to write misogynistic blog posts calling my political issues frivolous, vain, made-up, lazy or “just how women are,” why on earth would I want to talk with you about politics?