An Actress's Thoughts

Listening to the Radio

Listen to the Radio

More exciting than having Bananas for Breakfast every Day.

The German media organization ProQuote has just published some new data on men in the media: 98 % male chief editors in the print media, 82 % male TV bosses, 78 % chief editors in online media, 54 % CEOs in radio station departments (I hope I got the technical terms right).

So things are looking best in radio broadcasting and by the way, ,my’ saturday morning radio show „Conversations“ (Deutschlandradio Kultur) is presented equally by women and men. But when it comes to their guests, yet again we have the 2 to 1 ratio: twice as many men talk as experts to the radio audience. How come? And why?  And does it make a difference?

On saturday mornings I quite often listen to a weekly radio show on Deutschlandradio Kultur (German Culture Radio, abbreviated DKultur) called „Im Gespräch“ (Conversations). There one or two guests who are experts on the day’s topic are invited, sometimes presenting opposing views, sometimes just coming from different and in a way complementary lines of work. Then there is a host and also listeners calling in or participating via emails with questions and comments.

The topics and discussions are (in my opinion) sometimes quite interesting, sometimes less so, sometimes the program is entertaining, other times quite annoying, as would be expected of a show like this.

In the last weeks for some reason I’ve had the impression that it’s only male guests being on air. The last female expert I can remember was talking about „dealing with insults“. Of course I may be wrong , also because I don’t tune in every week, so I decided to evaluate all shows that are still to be found on DRadio’s website, 28 in all between March 2 and September 7.


The show’s hosts are evenly balanced genderwise: 14 times Dieter Kassel and 14 times Gisela Steinhauer or Susanne Führer presented the Conversations. It’s a different ratio for the guests: a total of 14 female and 35 male experts were on the show, that’s a ration of 1:2.5. And yes, I was under the correct assumption for the last 12 weeks (from June 22 until yesterday): 18 men and only 2 women had been invited. One woman talked on said Dealing with Insults, and another (alongside a male guest) talked about Writing and Reading Poetry.

Looking at the first 12 shows (from March 2 to May 18) we get 9 female and 13 male guests. One show had only a female expert (Pollen alert! How to deal with allergies), 3 shows had only male experts (Bird watching, the Euro €€, Speculating with Water) and for all other shows a female and a male guest were invited to the studio. (I say „invited“, but I am only guessing. Of course I don’t know who was invited originally and who maybe declined or cancelled at short notice).

Of course I don’t want to start nitpicking or demanding some compulsory quota. I just find it interesting to look at public-law radio shows from a gender balance point of view. „Hey, the other day I learned something from the radio“ or „only yesterday I was listening to this controversial discussion on this topic on the radio“. And from whom do we learn something here? From men, mostly. Who have we been listening to in the discussion? Men, mostly. From women we learn how to deal with pollen attacks and insults. (ok, that’s a slight simplification). Men-only-shows are not a problem, but what if you have them over and over again?

This is how DKultur comments on the choice of guests:

We do not keep any statistics on the gender of our guest on saturday’s feature program „Conversations“. The participants are chosen on the basis of competence on the respective topics, gender equality or quotas are as unimportant for their being chosen as they are for the choice of listeners calling in to appear on the show.

If the gender of the guests does not matter, how come there is such a strong male dominance? 1:2,5 for the total of 28 different topics, topics that are on the whole not characterized by a notorious lack of women in training and practice. A mere coincidence? If the search for competent guests doesn’t result at some point in a more or less equal number of women and men, then maybe something is wrong about the way  the guests are sought.

The Conversations show is broadcast every satuday between 9 and 11 a.m., I have listened to it many times while eating muesli for breakfast. Now of course I don’t keep any statistics on the fruit that I cut into my muesli. This is chosen entirely for reasons of adequacy, not on basis of a quota or fruit equality, which we may simply call variety. So this has led to me usually eating my muesli with bananas, at most with apples. I don’t want to say anything against bananas of course, they taste really good and of course are very suitable and nourishing food. But lately I have been choosing diverse fruit – muesli with red currants for example! Or with apricots – very delicious! And this has not led to a deficient breakfast, on the contrary. To conclude: it is not a must for a muesli to be eaten with added bananas.

DKultur is a public-law broadcasting station, financed through public broadcasting fees, and it holds a cultural and societal mandate. And this mandate can probably not be summarized as „Do let’s have first and foremost men on the shows“ or „do suggest that expertise is a man’s business“.

As an example let’s have a look at the computer-related topics of the last weeks, there was one show about the internet (sept. 7), one on data security (july 6) and one on Big Data (june 29) with a total of 5 male guests: a blogger, a media law person, a computer scientist, a sociologist and a politician. Only men. Did DKultur not find any qualified women? Or did these all decline? What was going on?

The radio station is based in Berlin, and here we have Constanze Kurz, she lives and works here, a computer scientist, author, spokesperson for the Chaos Computer Club (Europe’s largest association of hackers), she is an authorised expert for the parliament (Bundestag) and the Federal Constitutional Court, she has great knowledge on data preservation, the Federal trojan horse computer surveillance program, microchips in documents, privacy protection and social networks, she regularly writes a column for the FAZ, a national newspaper (Aus dem Maschinenraum), has published the book Die Datenfresser (The Data Snatchers) and on top of all that is very eloquent and entertaining – for these reasons I was expecting to hear her name called out as a  guest for the show whenever it was a topic to do with data and internet (yes, I am a true fan). Of course she is not the only competent woman that comes to my mind without much research, there is for example also Anne Roth, a blogger and internet activist, or women from political parties and more. I suppose the situation will be similar for the other topics, there’s NOT ONLY competent men to be found. Only somehow they are what DRadio comes up with foremost.

Of course the qualfication to discuss an issue is not anything that can be measured objectively. Some of the guest on the show I found brilliant, others quite inadequate for an informative and broad discussion, and this had nothing to do with their gender. But when women are heard half as often as men in talks on some 30 topics, and these are topics relevant to our current society, on a high scientific level or simply concerning matters of every day life  – then what is going on?

A short while ago I heard the very bad  review of a new children’s picture book on work and professions (it may well have been on DKultur): In this book men go off to work in the office, on a building-site, on an agricultural field, in some gastronomical place and more. Women are housewives and mothers. Oh, I forgot, one did go off to work, as a kindergarden teacher.

I assume that whoever produced this book did not keep any statistics on the gender of the characters in the book. They were obviously chosen on the basis of competence for their respective jobs. Gender equality or quotas did not influence their being chosen. It is most probably a mere coincidence that a vast number of housewives are being depicted and not a single ,househusband’, and that there are no female architects, farmers or doctors in the book as well as no male kindergarden teachers. Only, this accidental selection does paint a rather outdated and conservative picture of society, doesn’t it.

Of course we not only have this book, in addition there are loads of pink toys, clothes and sweets for the girls, and toys, clothes and sweets in all other colours imaginable for the boys, which leads to a totally unneccessary division of the sexes and their possibilities and opportunites from early days on. Television programs such as sesame street (refer to my blog text from January Happy birthday Sesame Street) and others add to this.

And then there is DRadio and ARD (channel 1, public TV station) and ZDF (channel 2, public TV station). Of course not always but in a large number of programs and fictional productions a gender imbalance is the normal situation, so much so that we very often are not even aware of it any more. In Germany we have just about equal numbers of women (41,64 mio.) and men (40,21 mio.) as the figures for December 2011 show (source: Statistisches Bundesamt). But in fictional TV productions that tell stories of every day life or sometimes exceptional situations in our society, we find twice as many male over female characters, over and over again. And we have been used to this for so long that maybe we do not even notice it any more. But that is a topic for another day.

Dear people from Deutschlandradio Kultur:
Of course you are no bad radio people and you are no misogynists either.
Nonetheless what you do is somehow bad in as far as you are creating a normality that does not correspond to reality. Both men AND women have something to say on banal and important subjects, on politics and society. It is worthwhile to listen to them both. You say you do not want a quota and that you do not regard gender equality as something of importance for your program. But please do consider how outdated a situation you are creating with your guest lists is. So please: do abandon your male 66+%-quota.