For two days in a row, in October 2012, the Today programme ran a segment on a female issue. On both days, the issue was discussed exclusively by men. The BBC claimed that they had been unable to find female experts despite their best efforts. Well, their best efforts clearly weren’t very effortful, because within minutes of sending out a request on twitter, we had found a wealth of female expertise on both topics – teenage girls and their contraception and breast cancer.
The BBC’s second defence for this gender imbalance was that they had to reflect the world as it was. This throws up two questions. First, when discussing, rather than reporting news, why should the BBC have to perpetuate supposed gender imbalances? We are not asking them to pretend that it was a woman who first landed on the moon, but just because a man is the head of NASA, why does it mean that we can’t hear the views of a female employee? Why are her views any less valid? And second, it throws up the question of what the BBC and traditional media mean when they say “expert”. Who do they consider to be voices of authority? And by extension, which experiences do they consider to be representative of and relevant to the general populace. What experiences contain valuable knowledge? Going by their dominance of the airwaves and the press pages, it would seem that it is white, middle and upper-class men who are deemed most worthy of listening to. They speak for us. They represent us.
Except they don’t. And this is something we want to challenge at The Women’s Room.
We want to interrogate what we mean when we say “expert” – a term that is used far too unthinkingly and which therefore ends up serving to perpetuate power imbalances amongst genders, races, classes and abilities. We want experience to be considered as valid as traditional “expertise”. We want to question what knowledge is valued in our society – and why. And by asking these questions, we want to destabilise the complacent attitude held by too many in the media, that they are doing all they can to represent the public. They are not. They are representing the public that they see – and they see that public because that’s the public to whom they give a platform.
Our other aim in setting up The Women’s Room is to provide women with a collective voice; to this end we have our database sortable by region as well as area of expertise - and now, our new forum! We hope that this regional sorting will not only enable local media to find local female experts, but that women will be able to get together and form local networking groups.
Women have far more power than we – or the media – currently realise. Let’s harness it and change the face (and voice!) of the world.