Pick me!

Last week Media 7 ran a show discussing, amongst other things, whether the demise of Women’s Studies programmes was in any way related to the increasing laddishness in contemporary media (witness the wretched ‘Win-A-Wife’ competition). Clearly they needed some people to talk about women’s studies programmes, and the media, so they got John Campbell, and Chris(topher) Trotter.

I’m betting that your first reaction is an almighty *headdesk*. Because it seems bloody odd not to have some women discussing the issues. Chris Trotter himself has raised an eyebrow over it, wondering why on earth the program couldn’t get at least one woman to front.

It wasn’t for want of trying. I know this because Media 7’s researcher approached me.

Media 7, Russell Brown’s show on TVNZ7, is next week looking at the demise of the Women’s Studies course at VUW…. it’d be great to have a discussion about what effect women’s studies had on those who work in media (particularly journalism) and if it disappears from our universities as a subject of serious research, how will that affect our media? It seems with all the male antics going on right now …, that a discussion of this sort is more important than ever. It would be great to talk to you about the possibility of being our guest for the show, on a panel.

I was delighted to receive the request, and I would have loved to have been able to say yes. But I said no. No, I would not appear on the program to discuss the decline in women’s studies programmes, and the increasingly boorish treatment of women in the media.

I couldn’t because I am not a Women’s Studies graduate, nor have I ever taken a Women’s Studies paper, nor even a paper that could be credited to a Women’s Studies major, and not even a paper in feminist philosophy, or feminist political theory. I have simply not been in contact with professional academic women’s studies. I have no expertise in the area.

I couldn’t because I am not a journalist, nor a person who studies the media, or a person who has any expertise in the media, at all. I have no expertise in the area.

I am not willing to hold myself out as an expert in these areas. End of story.

More than that, I now work in a university, in a completely unrelated discipline. But just down the hallway and up the stairs from me, literally, are people who work in media, even in gender and media. This is their turf, not mine.

These are professional and academic reasons for saying no. But some personal reasons counted too. Taking a day out to go to Auckland is not an easy matter for me. It can be done, but it takes a power of organisation, of juggling schedules and organising childcare and making sure that homework is done / school bags are packed / evening meals are planned. I find it very hard to be a last minute, or even a few days before, traveler.

This might all sound like me trying to plead that I am a special case, but I know I am not. I know that many women in academic jobs are not willing to trample all over their colleagues’ areas of expertise. I know that many women in academic jobs feel too vulnerable to speak out about particular areas of research and study. Critic and conscience of society is all very well, but critic and conscience of your own workplace’s management might be a DCBM matter. I know that women in public service jobs simply cannot speak at all. That goes with the territory of having a job in the public service. I know that women with children find it hard to simply take a day out, because they don’t have a wife at home to ensure that everything will run smoothly in their absence.

So when Chris Trotter asks what the hell is going on, and implies it is all the fault of the women who wouldn’t appear, well, whatever, really. Instead of asking why individual women felt that they could not appear, perhaps he might like to examine the systemic factors that constrain women’s actions. Alternatively, he might like to think about whether is is a good idea to hold yourself out as an expert in an area in which you know nothing. Chris himself works in media, and is conversant with left wing politics. I do not wish to criticise his own appearance on the show, nor Media 7 for asking him to appear. Nevertheless, I think he misreads the non-appearance of women on the show.

And… umm… Media 7, perhaps with just a little more lead time, we would have been able to come up with a woman who was able to appear on the show. Not easy, I know, in a fast moving media landscape, where timeliness is critical. But something that would be worth having an eye to, if possible.

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21 comments on “Pick me!

  1. Giovanni says:

    “Alternatively, he might like to think about whether is is a good idea to hold yourself out as an expert in an area in which you know nothing.” This, for the love of God.

  2. QoT says:

    Brilliant post, Deborah. His whole attitude of “here I come to save the day because silly women can’t even do their bit for their silly girl-cause” is … off-putting.

  3. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I don’t know whether this is true in NZ — can’t think why it wouldn’t be — but on top of the excellent points you make, don’t underestimate the knee-jerk horror of academics that most media types seem to have. They think acas are just bad ‘talent’ — too abstruse, not sexy enough — and they use the word ‘academic’ pejoratively, as in she’s too whiny, she’s too squeaky, she’s too academic.

    • Deborah says:

      Yes, sneering at academics is pretty common here too. ‘Though as it turns out, not from this particular program, which has from the start been happy to talk to academics and regards them as people who really do know stuff. I think that attitude comes from the “star” of the show, Russell Brown, who also runs a very successful blog / discussion forum here (like LP but different). “Star” in scare quotes because when I’ve seen the show, it’s been very much about facilitating discussion, not grandstanding.

    • Perhaps we can climb down from generalising “they” to specifics. Can’t say I’ve seen much evidence that Russell Brown considers academics “bad talent” — I think you’d be hardpressed to find any evidence that an academic honorific gets you blacklisted from anything he does.

      BTW and FWIW, I’d have to say Judy McGregor is spectacularly “good talent” when it comes to talking about the media (and the place of women in it) from both academic and ‘flax-root’ perspectives. But even then, I doubt she’d want to comment second-hand on specific cases in other institutions. (She might also quite rightly be circumspect about decisions she was a party to as a member of the Massey University council.)

    • Deborah says:

      Just to be clear, when I say “that attitude”, I mean the positive attitude towards academics shown by Media 7, and by Russell Brown.

  4. WittyKnitter says:

    You were right, Deborah. There should have been plenty of other women they could have asked – hell, even I could name a few and I’ve been out of the Womens Studies loop in NZ for more than 10 years. A coupe of them even live in Auckland.

    And I’m sure Dr Cat is right about the ‘bad talent’. Not enough makeup, wrong shoes, hair not glossy and flickable. Bah humbug.

  5. stephen says:

    excellent points, Deborah. the programme was taped on Wednesday last week, so when did they email you? more lead time in organising such panels would be an obvious way to raise the quality of debate, but just too hard for the conveyor-belt production system to cope with? the fact they couldn’t find any women who had been through the VUW women’s studies programme and were willing to discuss the issues in public reflects badly on both the Media 7 producers and the systemic disincentives for making one’s views known publicly.

  6. excellent points, Deborah. the programme was taped on Wednesday last week, so when did they email you? more lead time in organising such panels would be an obvious way to raise the quality of debate, but just too hard for the conveyor-belt production system to cope with?

    Stephen:

    First, let me declare my interests here. I (briefly) worked on the initial launch of Media7, and am a contributor to both Public Address and Public Address Radio. So, Media7 host/developer Russell Brown is not only my boss but a friend.

    As Deborah has said, and said well, I don’t think lead time would have been relevant for her — she’s very sensibly disinclined to pretend to expertese she doesn’t possess. If only more rentaquotes (yes, I’m looking at you Garth McVicar) would be so scrupulous.

    But I think you’re being unfair on Media7 here – the brief of the show is media analysis/debate and it’s actually important that coverage be timely. Things like the media response to the Christchurch Earthquake and recent events in Egypt don’t go down according to Media7’s production schedule. And you can’t hold off waiting for some Platonic ideal of a panel to fall in your laps.

    And let me tell you, from experience, you can woo an interview subject/panelist for months, and still have it all fall apart on production day. Oddly enough, our legislation and media ethics take a dim view of a show being put together at the business end of a shot gun.

  7. merc says:

    What Giovanni wrote.

  8. Giovanni says:

    “But even then, I doubt she’d want to comment second-hand on specific cases in other institutions.”

    I’m still having some difficulties in bridging this very reasonable point with the producers going “oh well, let’s invite Chris Trotter then”. Take me through the decision making tree.

  9. stef says:

    I remember Auckland university has both a women’s studies discipline (though it used to be a stand-alone department) as well as a media studies and political studies department. In the politics department I know of at least one lecturer who has an interest in women’s representation.

    I understand the tight deadlines media work under. But it seems to me that we have a chicken or the egg problem, not enough regular women commentators on shows so that when you have a ‘women’s interest’ story finding a women commentator because an issue because you aren’t in regular contact with them.

    But like giovanni still having issues as to how we went from ”can’t find a chick” to ” lets have trotter.”

  10. Something else. Fairly or not (and I’d say the latter in Media7’s case), I know plenty of academics — not only women — who are very ambiguous about the media. Had a fascinating chat with a female academic of my acquaintance who said she would have declined the invitation for a slightly different reason than Deborah.

    Like Deborah, women’s/gender studies is not her area of expertise beyond a couple of undergraduate papers, but she has a fascinatingly nuanced and ambiguous view of WGS as an academic field. To put it bluntly, she has no confidence, fairly or not, that the media would treat that nuance and ambiguity fairly rather than boil it down to a sound bite in a “girl-on-girl bluestocking cat fight!” narrative. She just doesn’t want to co-opted into a public golden shower on other women in academia.

  11. As one of ‘that lot’ ), I would say that Media 7 uses the experiences of academics in very considered and useful ways, with time and space to speak. I have been on one programme and take vanloads of students up to Auckland, to join the audience.

    In some ways, I was more interested in what Chris Trotter had to say about notions of journalistic ‘objectivity’ and the class positioning of journalists, than what he had to say about WGS. One of the reasons for the decline of gender studies generally may be because it has migrated to other disciplines, such as Media Studies. For example, we offer a course “Media, Gender and Representation”

  12. Mindy says:

    Maybe NZ needs a No Chicks No Excuses website like has just been set up in Aus?

  13. […] it look like it’s the fault of women that it’s all about teh menz is explored by BeeFaerie in Pick Me. Even when the media makes it all about women, they don’t get it right, shows News With […]

  14. […] Shiny: Deborah shows off her new bike and celebrates the Frocks on Bikes (with baskets) movement, which is fast encroaching on the lycra and road bike paradigm. "[It has] resonance with the early days of cycling, when bicycles were great liberators for women. Cyclng has seemed to me to be dominated by fitness and sports riding in recent years.” She also writes about not appearing on a TV show about journalism and laddishness, in Pick Me! […]

  15. […] Feminism not being an actual hivemind and not actually anointing Official Spokesbitches, hence why Chris fucking Trotter ends up valiantly fending off attackers with his glorious moustache on our behalfs (and we […]

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