Let’s talk about sex…ism, for just a minute. Half of you have already switched off – sadly a symptom of this discussion is that people just don’t want to know. I’m not here to push an opinion on you one way or another though, so don’t worry. This piece comes more from my own thoughts on the subject with the hope that I might garner a few opinions from some of you. Sexism can be an extremely convoluted subject, with a myriad of opinions and things you can and can’t say. I tend to find that when I read any writing on the subject it’s too polemic, there is no middle ground. You are forced into some binary choice between misogyny or feminism. One of the real issues with discussing sexism is also the fact that it is so incredibly ingrained into society – it is improving, gradually, but it is always bubbling away just under the surface.
My thoughts were turned to this subject again recently by the mountain-out-of-a-molehill story of Claudia Winkleman defending male dominance on panel shows. Reading the Independent’s article, then the comments, got me thinking. Is this what the sexism debate has come to? Are we really that entrenched with the tiniest issues that comedy is the target? Before anybody accuses me of chauvinism, I get it. I abhor prejudice of any kind and sexism for me is right up there with racism – I don’t understand why you would negatively judge a person without any prior knowledge about them or their life. That said, we are better at different things. Perhaps the reason that there are more men on comedy panel shows – is because male comedians are funnier.
The female comedians speaking out against this were Jenny Éclair and Jo Brand – both of whom make (in my opinion) puerile jokes about being women that actually only hurt their cause even more. This is where the debate becomes convoluted however – are male comedians funnier, because of ingrained sexism? It is only fairly recently that female comics have come to the fore and even more recently that they have become more prolific in stand-up as opposed to appearances in sitcoms. The fact that men have held the stage in comedy for so long could be the reason that they are, by and large, better at it. Practice makes perfect. So are we now wrong to compare female comedians against their male counterparts? Do we rank them in their own league, as we do in sports? I don’t think so. This isn’t track and field – whereas the top female sprinters aren’t running 100m in under 10 seconds any time soon there are some female comics that are outstanding in their field and as good as any man on their day (even that sounds sexist, do you see how difficult this is?)
The thing is, they aren’t really choosing the right arena to have this battle. Prime-time television is governed by one thing, money. They want the best talent, to bring in the highest viewing numbers, to get the best advertising revenue. We, as consumers, want to watch the funniest program – this is the way the entertainment industry works. If female comics want to combat sexism, and so they should, perhaps their time would be better spent writing challenging jokes and making people think (a purpose that all great comedians serve) rather than moaning about a lack of airtime. Because after all, there’s nothing us blokes hate more than a moany woman.