Monday, January 19, 2009

Musings on female space vs male space on the radio

On, of all the places, radio 4's Just a Minute programme, today's show. It is very good incidentally.

Anyway they had a new contestant on today, Josie Long. Now I've never thought of the show as being a male space before today. Josie has not been on it before, and at one point, fairly early on, she interrupted because she hadn't had a chance to speak yet and wanted to say hello (her words). Historically many people on the show have interrupted because they want to get a word in and haven't managed to do it according to the rules of the game, and that's OK. Sometimes they are pretty arrogant about it, using it as a platform to show how funny they are (usually in that case they aren't), sometimes they are good and it works.

The way Josie did it was weird, she said she wanted to say hello, so she did, it made her sound like an outsider, like a spectator, not a contestant. Then she said she had made cakes and brought them in for people to eat. Which was where I went huh? She sounded so self effacing, and wanting to make friends with the others, and fit in, and very nice, but my god it sounded out of place.

The action of bringing in cakes, admittedly with a not-really-funny-at-all attempt to bribe the chairman or make sure the other panelists couldn't speak due to eating, framed her as being girly and female. She sounded like your pleasant middle class clad in pink mum who wanted to make sure all you're mates were comfortable when they came over but was actually just embarrassing and fussy.

And this sounded bad, and I don't think the other contestants liked it, in fact for the next 15 mins until she regained some credibility through playing the game, they sounded like they were humouring her, patronising her.

My impressions were that she'd created a female space and structure for herself on the show, which was at odds with the other contestants, and therefore they *must* be in a male space. I mean, there's only ever the gender binary right, one or the other??!! (sarcasm off)
It seems I still think in binary, which indicates how deeply ingrained the binary system is, in me, and I would hazard the majority of people.

I'd never thought of Just a Minute being male space before. They regularly have women on, so it's not the physical presence of the female sex, but how people use the show, how they interact with each other. It's full of ribbing and insults and badgering each other and sneaky attempts to gain more points. Roughhousing. Stuff we traditionally associate with men. Not the gentle caring supportive feelings we associate with women, which was the role I saw Josie putting herself into. A nurturing role, bringing in cakes and being all sweet about it. And I still have that impression even though she said she wanted to use it shut up the other contestants.

Why do I still have that impression? Is it because she wasn't an aggressive presence on the show? Is it because of the way the other (male) contestants interacted with her? Does this indicate that I value 'male' behaviour over 'female' behaviour? Actually the answer to that is yes. But that is because male behaviour is the default and encompasses a wide range of behaviours and attitudes. 'Female' behaviour covers a narrow range mostly concerning make up, pink , clothes, talking about boys and fretting about your weight, putting others first and putting yourself down. In actual fact, female behaviour covers just as much as male behaviour does, i.e. everything, it's just that we try and construct a little narrow box and condemn women for being un-ladylike when in reality they are just being human.

And that point of view can probably be applied to the radio show. Because Josie's behaviour was different to the norm, and because it involved baking I have labelled it female and therefore less worthy.

Or is that being friendly and supportive doesn't work in a game show setting? To answer that I'd have to listen to reams and reams of old shows and sit down and dissect the language and actions of everyone on it, taking into account the era.

Thoughts?

1 comment:

Boudica said...

I listen to Just a Minute fairly regularly and I would say that they only have women on sometimes. Episodes still frequently have all male panels. That's true for most BBC comedy panel shows I think. I was actually surprised when there were two women panellists on the News Quiz the other week.

When women are on Just a Minute they are all consistently patronised by the chairman. Some women create a female space in the way you describe - Pam Ayres springs to mind. Others, like Sue Perkins, don't limit themselves in order to be non-threatening.