The other evening I was vegged out on the couch watching Countdown’s Keith Olbermann chit chat with 3 other white middle-aged men about what it all means, the implicit assumption being that they are important guys who should be allowed to represent and explain reality to the rest of us. Liberal. Edgy. White. Male.
Most of the time, out of sheer exhaustion, I man up and put on my blinders, but this time it got to me. So I went and checked out Countdown’s website and there on Friends of Countdown, surprise surprise, all but 2 of the show’s “friends” are men and all but 2 are white and all of the sites that they link to are run by men.
Of course it isn’t just Olbermann, with rare exception that is still the way it is with most of the media, liberal or otherwise. And it isn’t an issue that is limited to the U.S.. Last week The Guardian (UK) published a great piece of Tillie Olsen-esque cataloging of the extreme lack of women across British cultural and media offerings:
We no longer live in an age where female thinkers, writers, philosophers, academics, artists, theorists, activists or politicians are rare. The discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count…Somehow, a decision is being made, probably subconsciously, about what is worthwhile and what is worthless. When I was judging the Orange prize last year we all noticed how major bookshops consistently stacked 10 men’s books to every one woman’s book on its “recommended read” tables – in whatever genre. In one bookshop, fellow judge Martha Lane Fox was told barefacedly by the sales guy that this was because men published 10 times as much fiction as women. But as everyone knows, chaps are heavyweight colossal conceptual geniuses of quite massive greatness and literary ladies are clever little fairies, handstitching our charmingly personal tiny tales out of skirting-board dust and featherweight neuroses.
…The establishment, patriarchy, the mainstream, whatever you want to call it, just doesn’t find women interesting. It makes sure that women are heavily outnumbered from the very beginning by offering us only a fraction of available opportunities, slots, placements, commissions, trips, panel places, star jobs, reviews. Later, it conveniently uses this to claim that there are not enough women “out there” to make a stronger impression higher up. It talks down women’s work. It is supported by a false mythology about the weakness, inconsistency, subjectivity and inconsequentiality of women’s creation, experience and perspective.
As the New Statesman pointed out regarding the British elections, “with three white male leaders slugging it out in tv debates hosted by three white men will violence against women get the airing it deserves? Don’t hold your breath.”
Returning to Olbermann’s Countdown, in a major WTF moment, one of the 2 women listed on the Friends page is Rachel Maddow. She is listed as the host of The Rachel Maddow Show on Air America. Which is now defunct and as Olbermann and MSNBC well know, she has a show on MSNBC that comes on right after Countdown. And has for for quite awhile. Hello Keith? Might be time to update the website, not to mention that really isn’t a friends list for an enlightened guy like you to brag about. Unfortunately, it does need to be said that the guest lineup on Maddow’s show is almost as discouraging.
Finally in the circular logic department, there is the frustrating logic that women can’t be influential if we never hear or read about them and once again they are conspicuously underrepresented on the Time Magazine’s annual list of most influential people, comprising less than 24% of this year’s list, a significant drop from last year’s 28.5%. But for women who do make it onto the list, the inclusion can be extremely patronizing. In his write up about Malalai Joya, the Afghan Parliamentarian who is on this year’s list (and one of my personal shereos), Hirsi Ali writes,
But to get a seat in parliament and refuse to be silent in the face of the Taliban and warlord zealots shows true fiber. When Malalai Joya did this, her opponents responded in the usual way: expulsion from parliament, warnings, intimidation and attempts to cut her life short. She has survived all of it.
Malalai, 31, is a leader. I hope in time she comes to see the U.S. and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country. The road to freedom is long and arduous and needs every hand.
How to say this–the reason she is influential is because she doesn’t listen to men who tell her what to do and the implication of Hirsi Ali’s words is that she is being a bad little influencer by not playing along with the literally man-made rules. Time needs to take a hard look at their routine under-representation of women on this list and at the belittling way women like Joya are referred to when they are included.
Tonight’s plan? perhaps a Jane Austen novel, if you’re going to indulge in fantasy, it might as well be a good one.