Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Can't someone else to do it?

A few years ago there was a lot of criticism floating around regarding what appeared to be reluctance on the media’s part to interview women. The discussion has resurfaced every now and again, usually following some all too obvious example of this,  like an article about bras where the people interviewed were be a man who had once worked in a factory that produced the hooks on the back, a male doctor working on breast augmentations and a transvestite. No woman provides comments and the female angle is totally left out.

Every fall on TV we have two series of weekly quiz shows that are immensely popular and run through to the spring. One has all of the junior colleges competing against each other, two at a time, until one comes out the winner. The teams are made of three contestants and these are predominantly boys, with the occasional team having one girl member. The other is a competition between Icelandic towns working the same way, two teams at a time, three members per team. Again men are in the majority although a little less obviously, as most teams consist of two men and one woman.

Every time this criticism regarding the blatant gender bias arises the media promise to do better but note that it is not completely their fault – women shy away from giving interviews or participating in media events. The same replies are heard when political parties dish out their electoral roosters which usually read like a list of invitees to a gathering at a Freemason Lodge. According to these sources the usual reply from a woman who is approached to obtain a comment or run for election is: Oh no not me, can´t you get someone else to do it?

Despite Iceland being pretty advanced when it comes to women's rights, for some reason women are more reluctant than men when it comes to giving their opinion, standing up for office or even tooting their own horn at job interviews. This shyness or form of reserve might be a social influence from early childhood, something genetic or merely a coincidence; I have seen various theories but none fully conclusive. Being a woman myself I have my own opinion on the matter and believe it has a lot to do with some female reluctance in appearing stupid or making a fool of oneself. Before going further I should point out that as always when generalizing about groups one should keep in mind that the variance between the individuals in the group is often much more that the variance between the groups themselves. That being said, men do not seem to place as much standing on how they are perceived for some reason. They don’t mind if someone reading the paper thinks they are a fool. Women do. When asked to participate on the quiz show the female brain will go into the fifth gear thinking something along the lines of: No I can’t , I can’t. I don’t know anything about animals, plants, history or geography, I am horrible at dates and suck at poets. A TV screen adds five pounds so I will look fat, my hair is too crummy and I don’t know anything about dead painters and less about the live ones. I will get my hometown/school kicked off the competition and have to hide, maybe even move. And I know nothing about the Olympics. Processed the answer comes out as: No thanks, I am sure you will find someone else.

If this is a genetic thing, try as I might I cannot see what in our prehistoric roots could have set our genes in such opposite directions. Unless. Maybe the men used goofiness as part of their hunting skills acting the idiot by jumping up and down, sticking their fingers in their ears, poking out their tongues or in some other less-than-cool manner diverting a mammoth’s attention while the rest of the posse sneaked up on it. Thus the less a man cared about looking stupid the better hunter he would have been and the better his chances of survival and reproduction. As the rare photo of an actual caveman here above shows, they obviously also cared little for appearances. The women on the other hand would probably have wanted to keep a low profile, remember how cavemen asked cavewomen out on dates? Clubbed them on the head and pulled them by the ponytail held in place by a bone behind the next bush. Not exactly the romantics our ancestors.

When I first heard the explanation regarding the reluctance of women to give reporters comments or provide specialized opinions, I decided that I would be different. I am not going to be part of some complex suppressed self esteem routine that has absolutely no merit whatsoever and nobody really understands. Who cares if the odd comment will get on someone’s nerves? If little girls grow up seeing only men interviewed in the papers, on the news and replying to trivia on the quiz shows this will never change. If they see a better mix they will come to perceive it as the norm and the lay low genes inherited from the hapless cavewomen with their cracked skulls will cease to have an effect.

This stance has gotten me into numerous situations I would love to have been without. But never as much as now. You see I have been asked to be on the TV quiz show for my town team. And said yes. The only problem is: I don’t know anything about animals, plants, history or geography, I am horrible at dates and suck at poets. A TV screen adds five pounds so I will look fat, my hair is too crummy and I don’t know anything about dead painters and less about the live ones. I will get my hometown kicked off the competition and have to hide, maybe even move. And I know nothing about the Olympics.


  1. I think this dilemma transcends national and cultural boundaries. So, so, so many women I know feel exactly the same way about taking initiative. There are a host of explanations for it, and I think you've done an excellent job of talking about them. I think it takes courage, but when we get our courage together and just do it, it can work out well. Odd how we're sometimes our own worst enemies, isn't it...

  2. Lovely post, Yrsa.
    As the father of five daughters, and the grandfather of two granddaughters, one of my goals in life has been to imbue them with self-confidence.
    When I worked in Australia, a friend of mine ran a multinational company.
    He was a male, but took to hiring almost exclusively females as executive trainees.
    He was convinced they did a better job.
    In that country, and in that time, I have no doubt he was right.
    Reverse sexism?
    But there it is.

  3. Yrsa,
    I have no doubt that you will do extremely well. Furthermore, I'm sure you don't doubt it either, but you are too modest to say so!
    Best of luck with it.

  4. I recommend you practice several facial expressions, such as thoughtful, "I know the answer but I just can't think of the right word," and "oh, good question!" In front of a mirror would be best. Then, if you don't know the answer, you'll still *look* smart. ; )

  5. As Margot said, this transcends national boundaries, though it seems to be quite pronounced in Iceland.

    Genetically, I think the difference in men is that, as the hunters, they had to be risk takers, willing to fail publicly, such when the mastodon turned and chased them and Thag fell into a ditch in a humorous manner the other guys told stories about for years to come.

    Women were the gatherers, with an obligatory reluctance to pick a mushroom that might kill the whole family. They were also the last line of defense, where a mistake could be catastrophic.

    These rules don't apply today, but the hard-wiring is hard to overcome. My only child is a daughter, and, like Leighton, I have worked overtime to prevent her falling into this trap.

    Great and thought-provoking post.

  6. Yrsa--

    You'll do fine. Just remember this isn't an academic event, it's TV entertainment.

    Just keep your answers brief and funny. If they're also accurate, that's a bonus. But as long as you're the concise, witty one, the audience will be fond of you.

    You don't even have to be yourself. This isn't an interview. If you're nervous, pick someone amusing from fiction, stage, film or even real life, and play her for an hour. Give the answers Dorothy Parker or Emma Thompson would.

    I'm sure your hair will be okay. For starters, you have hair.

    The first time I did a TV talk thing the makeup person asked if I wanted makeup. I said no thanks.

    Did I just want a little pancake?


    How about just a little powder on my scalp?

    No thanks.

    Well, of course, once I sat down under that bank of TV lights, a sheen of sweat formed on my bald head. The glare coming off of it was fantastic. I spent a half-hour looking like a lighthouse warning ships on Lake Michigan not to crash into the TV studio.

    Have fun. And maybe a drink in the dressing room.


  7. Thank you all for your votes of confidence and suggestions as to how I can come out of this with my head held high. A) I will not shave my head prior to my appearance, B) I will definately practice various smart and very intreagued expressions, C) aim for humour and if none of this works I will just live with it.

    Again I must apologize for how late I reply to comments which relates to my lack of internet at home, or actually to my present lack of home. We are supposed to be able to move back in early December at which time I will become more respondent. Please know that I am very greatful for the comments I do get despite being so slow on the uptake.

  8. Oh - I forgot D) take a slug of something strong in the dressing room ala Lenny