Sexism in TV – an idea whose time has come?

I first posted this almost a year ago, in the wake of a conference I attended about the intersection of ageism and sexism.  The Women’s Equality Party has hit its stride since then, and with the notion of quotas raising its head again, it feels like an idea whose time may have come. So here’s what I thought last year:


Dateline: November 2014

Olenka Frenkiel’s piece in today’s Guardian about sexism and ageism at the BBC reminded me of something I really need to do when I’m Queen.

At the everyday ageism conference I was in a session about the invisibility of women over the age of 50 on TV.  “Think of some solutions”, encouraged the Chair of the session.  “The crazier the better – what’s the thing we could do that would make a difference if only we dared?”

“So what”, I thought  – slightly flippantly – “if, every time a presenter or lead reporter of a news or factual programme at the BBC retired/resigned/moved on, they had to be replaced with someone of the opposite gender? I’m not planning to sack anyone.  Just neatening up the balance by a process of evolution.

Think how different the world would look.  We could have a female economics editor, business editor, political editor, arts editor, and social affairs editor telling us what gives on the 10 O’clock News.  We could have a female chair of Question Time, a female presenter of This Week, a female-fronted equivalent of the Marr Show on a Sunday morning.  There would be female presenters on Mastermind, University Challenge, Match of the Day, Top Gear and Gardener’s World.   The General Election  coverage of 2020 would be fronted by a woman.  We’d have to concede ground on Watchdog and Antiques Roadshow.  And Great British Bake Off would eventually have three male presenters and a lone woman, but I feel it would be a price worth paying.

It will, of course, never happen.  But something needs to.  I came up with this list off the top of my head, first thing in the morning and against the clock – I’ve got a train to catch.  I bet there are lots more I could have added.  And the question I’m left with, is why does it feel so utterly normal that all of those jobs are done by men?   What if?  Why not?


Since then, of course, some things have changed. The BBC now does have a female political editor and Sandi Toksvig has single-handedly demonstrated the practicality of the scheme by handing over to a man on The News Quiz, and taking over from a man on QI.  Robert Peston‘s replacement as BBC economics editor has yet to be named.  If it turns out to be a woman, I think I’m onto a winner…


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