Sunday, 1 May 2011

Women's History in the Public Arena.

This is a response to a post by Female Science Professor on the way female academics are presented in public.

Recently, I was interviewed for radio on the topic of my research, as were a number of other academics. The focus of the radio was on my topic of expertise - let's call it the history of women in chocolate-making in fab country in x period. The other people interviewed weren't really experts in the field, but did have some overlapping interests. So, one female academic was interested in women in fab country in another context, while another male academic was interested in fab country in x period, but knew nowt about women (and if fact is slightly notorious for this). The reason for interviewing a range of academics appears mainly to be because listening to one person talk for 30 mins is a dry approach for public radio, and of course, when you dilute history for the general public, a good general knowledge of the field is all that is really needed - so I am not criticising this decision by the radio crew.

However, when the show was broadcast, the various interviews were edited together, so that different voices spoke at different points, interspersed with some readings of historical sources. And it went it bit like this Male Academic gave the legal context in speech form (ie no interviewer) (something, btw, which I am a leading expert on and which he is not); I give nice anecdotes about women in chocolate-making in conversation with female interviewer- lots of pleasant conversation and jokes; Male Academic gave more legal context in speech form; female academic gives nice anecdotes about women in fab country more broadly in conversation with female interviewer; Male Academic summarises the implications of this for women, etc etc. And, the overwhelming impression was that the ladies do the fun stuff with the pretty anecdotes, but the men do the serious business of history- providing the FACTS to back up the fun stories. The effect was really striking, as this was the only male voice on the entire show, and it was used in such a different way from the women's voices.

The interesting thing is that the production team was entirely female and, moreover, the underlying drive of the show was broadly 'feminist'- in that it was women's history created by women who held a belief in the importance of both broadcasting women's history and reflecting on the significance of women's past experiences for the present.


Saranga said...

How infuriating.

Is it appropriate for you to question them about how the programme was edited and put together for broadcast?

Feminist Avatar said...

The problem is that you do the interview and you don't really have any contact with them afterwards (well they sent me a copy of the show, but other than that). If I ever bumped into them, I might mention it in friendly conversation... but will I ever get that chance?

Saranga said...

Oh I see the problem. Hmm, difficult. Well I think that raising awareness by blogging about it is a good step. Maybe someone else who has read this will think twice next time they put a programme together?

Susan said...

Many years ago I was interviewed for a Channel 4 series (as was my husband). When the show came out, we realized that my words had been turned into a narrator's voice over, while he was shown in the place we were interviewed. (To be fair, there was one woman they showed on the screen.)

Anonymous said...

You could simply contact the producers and point out to them what you noticed. They may have had their own reasons for editing the way they did -- thinking they were putting the women in a more accessible light, for example -- and be blind to other impressions it might create.

Obviously, they come with good intentions. So maybe it's just a blind spot peculiar to their industry. We all have them.