Oh my god this blog post from The Agenda just made my head pop right off my shoulders.
But we’ve also discovered there also seems to be something in women’s DNA that makes them harder to book. 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.
You have to understand: no producer sets out to book a show with five, white, 60-year-old, male guests. Think about it! Everyone in the current affairs business wants guests who are brilliant, but who also accurately represent the population they serve. For us, it goes beyond that. Many of us who work on The Agenda have kids. We want those kids to know that expertise doesn’t just come in a 60-year-old white male package. We want our daughters, in particular, to see that expertise can come in a female package too.
But still, despite our commitment, despite our efforts, despite EVERYTHING, there are too many days when it feels as if female guests are an endangered species.
Men will, apparently, prioritize appearing on TV over taking care of kids. How nice that some of them seem to have that luxury. So if you want female guests, why not have a roster of babysitters on call, that you can offer guests? Or offer child care? Or, when possible, give your guests enough lead time that they can arrange child care?
Men aren’t subject to the same beauty requirements as women are. So make it easy for a woman to appear on your show: try to book her in advance. Let her know that a hairdresser will help her minimize her roots. Offer her dibs on makeup artists. You can’t fix the beauty double-standard, so accept that this is a concern for women, and make it easy for them. Don’t tell them “the beauty myth don’t real, so come on my show with your roots showing.” The beauty myth is a thing. The sexual double standard is a thing. If I go on TV with my roots all showing, every stranger who disagrees with me is going to mention my hair, and also my mom will call and lecture me about my hair. More people will talk about my hair than talk about whatever points I was making.
Women are uncomfortable appearing in public unless they feel themselves to be experts. They usually undervalue their own expertise and defer. So prop them up: let them know the kinds of questions you’ll be asking so that they can swot up. Don’t make them softball questions—just give your woman guests a chance to become comfortable with the subject matter. Or, even better, run a boot-camp for women on TVO. Maybe ask your regular guests to each identify one possible woman guest (or guest who is a member of another visible minority) and to mentor or coach that person.
Improve your “binders full of women,” so that you know maybe more than one woman who feels herself to be an authority on a given matter. That way you won’t have to defer to a man the next time she can’t drum up childcare on three hours’ notice: you’ll have another woman you can call. Do this with all the underrepresented groups you want to better represent.
Sheesh. In 15 minutes, with my head having flown right off my shoulders, I came up with a bunch of ways to mitigate women’s concerns beyond saying, essentially, “Man up, ladies.” Maybe if you’d talked to some women about how to find solutions rather than how to be more like men, they might have come up with some other ideas I haven’t thought of.
Don’t tell women to man up. If you want women to come to you, then ask them how you can make that happen.