Do you care what gender your BBC sofa expert is? The BBC thinks we should care and that it matters, and so has pledged to guarantee a 50/50 gender split in the experts it brings onto its programmes by next year.
That’s those talking heads who offer their insights and opinions regarding anything from politics to bee-keeping and the Big Bang theory. I’m no expert myself, and I don’t keep count, but I suspect it’s fair to say that child care experts tend to be female, while air strike experts tend to be male. This may well reflect the gender make-up of the pools of people able and readily available to provide expert comment on these subjects. It’s understandable, but it’s not hard to see that gender stereotypes are being reinforced and perpetuated in this way on our national state broadcaster. If we really do want more girls to consider careers in engineering and more boys to learn that caring for children is a male role as well as a female one, then surely it has to be addressed?
But not everyone is happy at this policy of expertise equality. “How demeaning,” tweeted one female BBC regular expert, adding that she would never want to be asked onto a show because of her gender, but rather because of her knowledge.
Many of us dislike the idea of positive discrimination which, actually, is generally unlawful in the UK, meaning that an employer recruiting someone because they have a “relevant protected characteristic” (including age, disability, pregnancy, race, gender), rather than because he or she is the best candidate, is committing discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Yet how many of us have ever stopped to consider that men have long been selected due to their characteristic of gender? They have been granted education and jobs and promotions and experience and expert status above and beyond women, simply by being born male. Most don’t seem to have found the decades, centuries and eons of the positive discrimination from which they have benefited “demeaning”, as they competed only against each other and not also against an equal number of able, motivated women whose responsibility for child care was no different from their own. Men accepted all of this as their natural right and got on with it. So even today, more than two-thirds of MPs are male, women earn significantly less than male counterparts, and most child care is carried out by women. Bias still thrives all around us.
Female talent, intelligence and expertise exist in all fields. We can be sure that those women with expertise in a traditionally male field have worked especially darned hard for it.
Rather than introduce positive discrimination for women, let’s simply put an end to it for men.