Stop staring at my willy, please.
It’s not everyday that you get mainstream media confirmation that you are, indeed, the owner of male genitalia. It is sad, however, when an important topic gets overshadowed by talk of willies.
On Friday, BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour was exposed for what it really is: a seething den of misogyny, led by the misogynist‐in‐chief, Jenni Murray. It was Jenni and her team of mysogynists — including their editor, Robyn Read, and producer, Helen Lee — who replaced a woman with two men for Friday’s show because they value men’s opinions over women’s opinions. Furthermore, the men who were chosen were not qualified to speak on the subject. One look at their willies and they were in. Or so you would think to read Emma Mulqueeny’s1 post on her blog and, later, The Telegraph, and some of the responses on the #NoWillyNoWH hashtag.
The only problem is, that’s not what happened.
Those pesky little details
What really happened was that the programme in question was doing preliminary research for what was to be an 8‐minute segment on women in technology — a topic that they had previously covered several times with female guests. As Robyn Read, the programme’s editor stated in her retort on The Telegraph:
We have had discussions many times on Woman's Hour featuring female leaders in technology, addressing the question of why girls are apparently reluctant to take up computing at school.
They didn’t have a theme in mind when they started their research and were calling up both women and men to evaluate as potential guests. I was one of the people who got contacted.
When Woman’s Hour contacted me, they were very clear that they were just doing preliminary research. They had apparently come across me because of my article, On False Dichotomies and Diversity, and asked if I would be happy to talk to them. As I care deeply about diversity and equality, I told them that yes, I would be delighted to. At this point, even though they had initially contacted me by email and then phoned me and even though I had spoken to the producer for about twenty minutes, I was under no impression that I had been booked as a guest on the show. They had been very clear about that from the outset. Only later did they write back to officially confirm that they would like to have me on the show.
At this point, I still thought that the topic of the segment would be diversity in technology and conferences and I even joked with the producer about how I hoped they didn’t go and find another male as the other guest.
It was apparently around this time that Emma was contacted by the show. And, also, around this time, the show’s editor apparently decided on a theme for the segment: they would use this particular story to highlight men in technology who campaign for diversity.
I got a furious text from Emma about all this at about midnight that day and proceeded to give her a call back to discuss it. (I was unaware of the issue since I hadn’t seen the emails from the BBC that she had forwarded to me earlier in the day.) During that call, I voiced my own concerns about having two male guests on the show and I also told her that if Woman’s Hour changed the theme to something else, I would be more than happy to decline to speak. As it stood, however, since they had decided to go with a segment on men, it would not have made a difference if I had declined to speak. They would have simply found another man. Regardless of the potential fall out, I decided that it was a valid subject to cover and, furthermore, I thought that my speaking out in support of diversity and equality could provide a positive role model for other guys who care about these topics but who do not voice their opinions on the subject for fear of getting ambushed from all sides for doing so. We discussed all this with Emma and agreed how delicate and difficult a subject this was to tackle publicly for a male.
Then, a day before the show was to take place, Emma released her blog post titled No Willy No Woman’s Hour, which she later took to The Telegraph. She also started the #NoWillyNoWH hashtag on Twitter leading to comments like
‘So I hear BBC Woman’s Hour has been renamed BBC Men Talking About Women Hour’ by @CratesNRibbons
‘Wow. I’m so glad they were able to find 2 men to mansplain about women in tech.’ by @claireOT.
Fact checking and other silly endeavours
Woman’s Hour ended up calling the segment ‘Male Geeks Rise Up for Women’ and here’s the segment description that they ran on their web site:
At present, only 30% of computing jobs are filled by women and when it comes to the number of female speakers at computer conferences, the figure is much, much smaller. In an attempt to address this problem, men are now signing an online pledge to boycott conferences where there are no women on the panel. But just how effective can this tactic be? Should men be doing more to get women and girls into computing? And does the problem really lie with conference organisers or in the fact that just not enough girls are taking computer studies at school? Jenni talks to Aral Balkan, a web designer, who has signed the pledge, to 13 year old Amy who loves computer programming and to Dr Tom Crick, Chair of Computing at School in Wales.
Now, before anything else, let’s tackle the obvious problems with the title and the description. First off, the title is simply sensationalistic. I am not (cue: orchestral crescendo) a male geek rising up for women. I am a person who happens to be male who cares about equality and diversity. (Disclaimer: I do not own, nor have I ever owned a white suit of armour or a horse.)
As a boy who doesn’t like the boys’ club, I want to do whatever is within my power to change things so that I can live in a future where boys’ clubs are nothing more than an embarrassing blemish on our collective histories. So, if I’m rising up for anything, I am rising up for my right to live in a diverse and egalitarian environment.
Next, the 30% statistic both lacks a citation and is misleading as it differs depending on which country you live in and on which jobs within technology you are talking about. According to the 2011 report of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics2, for example, although computer and mathematical occupations as a general category comprises 25% women, the web development subcategory actually has a much higher percentage, 38.6% to be precise. The number falls to 20.8% for software developers and further to 11.4% for network architects.
Also, I’m an experience designer, not a web designer, but that’s probably the least of our concerns right now.
Finally, there were some inaccuracies stated during the segment itself. It is important to point out, for example, that the pledge was actually suggested by Rebecca Rosen of The Atlantic (and is not ‘a campaign begun by a group of men’ as stated during the broadcast.) Also, the pledge is not about men boycotting conferences where there are no women speakers but rather male speakers refusing to speak on all‐male panels as a device for getting conference organisers to rethink their selection processes and hopefully reduce their selection bias.
I actually emailed Rebecca about my concerns with the show when I found out about the final theme and format of our segment. Here’s what she wrote me back:
I just checked the show’s site, and, if I’m reading this right, the host is a woman and there is also a 13 year‐old‐girl on the panel, so it’s not nothing. And even if this were not the case, I’d say that having two men on to discuss why they signed an all‐male pledge doesn't bother me in the same way that the inadvertent sexism of asking only men to discuss ‘the future of mobile’ or some other generic topic does… Also I never specified in the pledge what constitutes a panel — I think people should have some flexibility in deciding how they apply it — but personally I don’t think two people is a ‘panel’ per se.
In the final broadcast, the segment ended up taking 12 minutes. 5 minutes of that was Jenni’s interview with Amy. The remaining 7 minutes was split between Tom, Jenni asking the questions, and me. I spoke for less than two minutes in response to three questions: one on why I took the pledge, one on why I thought conferences come under such criticism, and a final one on whether I had received any negative feedback from women about the pledge.
Wait a minute, did you say Amy?
Oh, yes, there was a female on the segment, in addition to the show’s host. You might have missed that what with all the talk about willies.
Amy, a wonderfully‐articulate 13‐year‐old, who is not only a programmer herself but who also teaches programming to others, was on the show talking about computing in schools. And she did an absolutely stellar job.
But we’re not talking about that.
Nor are we talking about the actual issues.
No, we’re talking about willies.
But then again, let’s be honest about this: all those details I provided above are not really exciting, are they? Not juicy. Quite possibly not even newsworthy. I mean, is it really important that they didn’t ‘replace a woman with two men’ but instead simply do what radio producers normally do while doing preliminary research for a segment?3 Does it matter that this was one 12‐minute segment in an hour‐long show with eight guests in total, five of whom were women? Or that this topic had been discussed on the show several times already by women? I mean, if you knew all these things, you might find it hard to get worked up enough to tweet your hate. And that’s no fun, is it? So, I say let’s ignore the nuances. Let’s definitely not think about the big picture or about who all this toxicity really hurts. No, these are boring things! I’ve got a better idea…
Dust off the ol’ pitchforks, fire up those torches, and come, let us flay us some diversity‐supporting, equality‐advocating misogynists!
1 Emma is the founder of Young Rewired State and does some very important work in encouraging and supporting young people in technology. I had the pleasure of helping support Young Rewired State as a judge at their Festival of Code last Summer and I got to see, first‐hand, the excellent results of her efforts and those of her team and the many wonderful volunteers around the country.↩
3 That is, throw out lots of ideas, contact lots of people, and try to find an angle for the story.↩