“Tokenism is no use to anyone” – more women on panel shows won’t change anything

Radio Times' TV editor Alison Graham argues that women trying to "be funny on male comedian terms" is a waste of time

Have I Got News For You - Nadine Dorries

After watching the dramatised force-feeding of suffragettes in Lucy Worsley’s recent BBC1 documentary, I read a snippet about how Channel 4’s 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is to do an all-woman show to mark 100 years since some women were given the vote.

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Of course, it’s very well intentioned, but surely there’s no sensible woman on Earth who didn’t think, upon hearing the news, “Ah yes, clearly that’s what women fought for, sometimes died for, and were pinned to chairs with rubber feeding tubes shoved up their noses for. So there could be an all-woman panel show in 2018.”

I’m sorry if this sounds snippy, but come on, why would any woman, comedian or public figure, even bother to appear on a panel show? Don’t play the game, women! Do your own thing! Don’t feel you must strain to be funny on male comedian terms, why put yourself through it?

I’ve stopped watching (and listening to) panel shows. I even gave up on Have I Got News for You, for so many years a comedy beacon in my viewing week. But, nah, not any more. This wasn’t just because of the shoehorning of women into the line-up, as I have no particular objection to all-male panels as long as they are funny.

Maybe it’s just the snippiness, the endless slyness, the self-satisfaction, the general corrosive powers of sarcasm (yes, I’m one to talk, I know). Maybe it’s an age thing, but I can’t be doing with any of it.

I ’ve turned my back on HIGNFY parent show on Radio 4, The News Quiz, for the same reasons, much as I like Miles Jupp (I love his sitcom In and Out of the Kitchen). Maybe when you’re no longer young and angry, you’re just older and more weary, keeping up with such sourness is a waste of energy.

So why any woman would jump at the chance of throwing her views down the echoing well of the male world outlook will remain a mystery to me. The 8 Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown special is just that, a special – presumably it will go back to its usual panel make-up in the new series. A bit of tokenism.

This is all fine and dandy as far as it goes, but in the long run it will make no difference. Panel shows will still largely feature men shouting at each other in acid-laced battles for supremacy as women try to get a word in here and there, and the audience feels duty-bound to laugh, even when the women aren’t funny.

But there are other more important battles to fight. All-women anythings – panel shows, documentaries, dramas – can only go so far and are pointless if they aren’t any good.

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Just look at The Split, which had a mainly female cast, was written by a woman and had a strong female production team. What emerged was a cloying narrative punctuated by soppy songs where supposedly clever middle-class women with excellent jobs talked about men. If this is what comes of all-female productions, then this woman says: forget it. Men, go ahead, you might as well make endless dramas about tortured women being kept in disused freezers by leering yet highly intelligent male psychopaths. Tokenism is no use to anyone, particularly to women.

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