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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 13°C
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Column Ban on all-male panel shows? Don't make me laugh.
Quotas will never resolve the battle of the sexes. They’re regressive, counter-productive and a very short-sighted solution to gender representation, writes Lorraine Courtney.

I HAVE THIS brilliant idea for a new TV show. We’ll discuss the issues of the week with a panel of funny male comedians and include one woman we pull randomly off the street. It’s bound to be hilarious if we include a token unfunny woman who we will then reduce to a traditional female role of gasping and tut-tutting at the boys’ impudence while attempting to stifle her giggles.

BBC director of television, Danny Cohen announced a blanket ban on all-male comedy panels in an interview with the Observer earlier this month. “We’re not going to have panel shows on any more with no women on them. You can’t do that. It’s not acceptable,” he said. What should have happened next is that Cohen goes off and gets himself the telephone numbers of the dozens of excellent female comedians out there and everyone else could just move on. But he didn’t and the debate rages on instead.

Dara Ó Briain did an interview with the Radio Times where he said: “I wouldn’t have announced it, is what I’d say, because it means [comedians] Katherine Ryan or Holly Walsh, who’ve been on millions of times, will suddenly look like the token woman. It would have been better if it had evolved without showing your workings, if you know what I mean. Legislating for token women isn’t much help.” Too true. Although Ó Briain later retracted his position slightly, saying “I’ve no problem with a policy of no all male panel shows. I just wouldn’t have announced it.”

Quotas will never resolve gender inequality

Today, gender is not entirely irrelevant. But we have robust anti-discrimination laws, and most men and women want to be treated as individuals first and foremost – judged on their talent and hard work. Quotas will never resolve the battle of the sexes. They’re regressive, counter-productive and a very short-sighted solution to gender representation.  A panel show isn’t all that different from the boardroom and neither women nor the companies they work for benefit from bias.

Positive discrimination undermines the principle of equal opportunity – it makes some more equal than others. It can be bitterly divisive for colleagues to be passed over because of their gender. The wholly undemocratic notion of using gender quotas in our political voting system is laughable.

When groups demand quota equality, rather than equality of opportunity, they can’t be surprised that others don’t think it is right for them to get a leg-up. I can’t imagine how any independent woman would want someone, let alone a man, smoothing her career path for her. I certainly don’t. It’s demeaning. It’s degrading. Gender quotas don’t say that women are as good as men. They say that women are inferior to men. Our credibility is undermined if we are getting special treatment. Besides, feminism was all about women getting equality of opportunity and we can’t just turn around now and try to strip men of that same equality.

A humour gap? Don’t make me laugh!

Is there a humour gap between the male and the female? Don’t make me laugh. Asking if women are as funny as men is a question as redundant as it is annoying. Take Christopher Hitchens and his theory on why women aren’t funny. According to him men are funny only because they are using it for a tool for sex. Sex with women. He’s dead now, so can’t add to the debate and hopefully the “Are Women Funny?” debate is dead too.

Comedy has a reputation for being a boy’s club. Show-going audiences have been split evenly between men and women for decades, but female comics had a hard time winning over new male crowds and finding acceptance in spaces crammed full of male performers. That has turned around. There are lots of fabulous female comedians out there like Maeve Higgins, Katherine Lynch, Deirdre O’Kane, Dil Wickremasinghe, Eleanor Tiernan and Carol Tobin to mention just a few. And there are more and more every year. We’re only on the comedy bench if we choose to be.

The BBC’s idea of mandatory women on panels is deeply patronising and insulting. There’s no punchline to the joke about banning all-male panels. Nor is there any laughter. We women can stand up for ourselves.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.

News: Dara Ó Briain battles Twitter criticism following comments about female comedians

Watch: Here’s Harold Ramis’ heart-warming appearance in As Good As It Gets>

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