Mary Beard: “I dread any idea of a fixed quota of women on TV”

TV professor Mary Beard has hit out at the idea of a fixed quota of women on TV panels, saying she dreads the idea of producers frantically phoning around trying to find someone to fill "the woman's slot."

Her comments came as BBC director of television Danny Cohen banned all-male panel shows as "unacceptable" last month.

"It's easy enough to agree with Cohen's instincts, but it's less easy to see what practical steps the BBC [or any media company] should take," Beard told the Radio Times.

"I dread any idea of a fixed quota of women per programme. It's likely to leave desperate producers ringing round all the women they can possibly think of to fill 'the woman's slot'. I don't think it would be much fun being the woman vilified in all the reviews as the one taking the quota place."

Mary Beard with her OBE medal in June 2013

The 59-year-old Cambridge academic added that quotas "do not get to the root of the problem".

"The fact is that even now authority still seems to reside with the men in suits, and their deep voices; and those are the types we still assume we'll see when we're looking for words of wisdom on TV," she said.

"If viewers want to change this, the power lies partly in their hands. We all need to think a bit harder about our assumptions about whose face fits the TV screen."

Beard, who was awarded an OBE in 2013 for services to classical scholarship, also commented on the way that older women on-screen were singled out for their "glaring eccentricity and deficient grooming".

The classicist was caught up in a storm of protest last year after Sunday Times journalist AA Gill declared her too unattractive for TV when reviewing Meet The Romans, the BBC Two programme she wrote and presented.

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman described panel shows as "bear-pits disguised as studios... in which male comics set out to see who can pee higher up the wall"

"We'll know that we have finally bridged the gender gap not when we can point to mixed lineups on every panel show, but when almost every viewer in the land would simply think that it looked very weird (and unbelievably old-fashioned) to have a panel made up of four blokes – and would switch off," she said.

Mary Beard's new show, Oh Do Shut Up Dear, airs on Sunday 16 March on BBC4.

What do you think? Should panel shows be forced to have quotas of female panelists? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below.

Photos: Rex Features

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