Oh Jeremy…

// 25 August 2008

Jeremy Paxman, oppressed white middle class man, unable to succeed in the womyn-centric world of televisionJeremy Paxman, surely one of the most high-profile TV journalists in the country, thinks that “the worst thing you can be in this industry is a middle class white male”, reports the BBC (via Anji).

“If any middle class white male I come across says he wants to enter television, I say ‘give up all hope’ – they’ve no chance.”

The journalist then named five women TV executives including BBC One controller Jay Hunt, Channel 4 head of news Dorothy Byrne and Dawn Airey, who will soon become Channel Five’s chief executive.

“Is this evidence of some male conspiracy keeping women down?” he said.

But [Mariella] Frostrup told the festival: “He lists five women because he couldn’t possibly name all the men in positions of power in TV because he would be there all bloody day.”

She said women still faced prejudice, adding that she was once told by a TV producer there were so few women on a quiz show because “there just aren’t any intelligent women out there”.

“That’s what you’re up against – it’s that sort of assumption,” she said.

She added: “He talks about middle class white men being a beleaguered species on television. Well, excuse me, but Jonathan Ross, Jeremy on Newsnight.

“Look at the Today programme, Have I Got News For You, Newsnight.”

She said that she thought the industry seemed to be “a fantastic place for middle class white males”.

“They are very much judged to be the people imbued with a sort of gravitas that women are still struggling to achieve,” she added.

Photo by willismonroe, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

chem_fem // Posted 25 August 2008 at 6:17 pm

This might have sounded just a little bit more sincere coming from a struggling talented middle-class white man. This man however is highly successful and at the top of his game.

Never mind, the BBC gave just as much air time to Jeremy’s complaints about M&S underwear and socks. I just can’t be arsed to read the newspaper articles agreeing with him tomorrow :(

Hazel // Posted 25 August 2008 at 8:40 pm

I was going to write a rebuttal to this but the comments over at the Times and Telegraph made me feel ill so I had to take a breather.

The only bright spot was at least one of them was from the same poster so I can try to imagine the Internet is not completely full of bitter people.

A Very Public Sociologist // Posted 25 August 2008 at 10:26 pm

I thought Paxman was supposed to be an intelligent man. Obviously not. Who in all seriousness can believe this hooey?

Sian // Posted 26 August 2008 at 11:21 am

God I was so disappointed with Paxo as I’ve always rather liked him previously. Mariella however has earned big brownie points in my book for responding like this-both for sticking up for women and for doing it in a hilarious way. It seems telling to me though that I haven’t yet seen a response from a non-white/working class person in the industry, probably because they’re represented even less in similar programmes-at least Newsnight has Martha and Kirsty (both of whom do their jobs excellently I think-I wonder what they think of his remarks).

Sabre // Posted 26 August 2008 at 12:32 pm

Those poor middle class white males make up most of the BBCs best paid presenters; including Jonathon Ross, Jeremy Clarkson, Terry Wogan and Graham Norton. Perhaps it is so hard for them pooor white men to make it at the BBC because the BBC can’t afford to pay big fat cheques to so many white middle class men any more. http://news.scotsman.com/celebrities/Highest-paid-BBC-stars-avoid.4352541.jp

Fran // Posted 26 August 2008 at 1:01 pm

As Katherine Rake pointed out (quote from the Independent), “When you look at who’s making the editorial decisions, we found only one out of 17 people was a woman. If you look at the last series of Have I Got News For You, out of 20 contestants they had four women. There is a failure to represent women in terms of news and political content.”

It sounds like Paxo is bitter that there are even women in TV at all. Why else claim that the presence of five(!) women in powerful positions is evidence that THE WIMMINS ARE TAKING OVER?

Stephanie // Posted 26 August 2008 at 1:30 pm

You know, I always thought Paxman was an intelligent enough fella. Then again this is the same man who paid (read exploited) Romanians to clean his house for waaay below the minimum wage.

Super-kudos to Mariella though.

Qubit // Posted 26 August 2008 at 1:52 pm

Don’t you think dismissing these comments is sexist in itself? We wouldn’t like a man saying it wasn’t true women struggled more to get positions in a field than men. It is worth taking his opinion seriously.

While white middle class men are represented in the fields listed how are they shown in general on TV? There aren’t many average looking people on TV, maybe this is effecting who can get jobs and leading a preference away for white middle class men. In peak time schedules what is the percentage of men to women shown?

I think it is wrong of feminism to deny men are suffering. Without looking at the statistics you can’t tell if there is a real bias and those given on feminist sites tend to be for male dominated shows which can be misleading.

Amity // Posted 26 August 2008 at 2:11 pm

Paxo = boo!

Mariella = yay!

Sian // Posted 26 August 2008 at 2:54 pm

Jane Martinson in the Guardian put his comment into perspective with some numbers:


Soirore // Posted 26 August 2008 at 4:40 pm

Qubit – It would indeed be wrong to suggest that men are not suffering but in this instance; in the BBC and the rest of broadcasting there is no evidence to support it. Why should we listen to a wealthy priveleged man tell us why he is so hard done by when it is evidently (by his own success) a lie.

Please don’t accuse feminist sites of manipulating statistics by “only using those from male dominated shows”. The very reason that those shows are male dominated is an issue in itself sometimes.

I do believe that class and race are much bigger issues than gender here though. It’s really hard to get into TV if you cannot afford to do lots of unpaid work experience so people from poorer backgrounds have less of a chance. In terms of race it seems (although based only on anecdotal evidence) that broadcasting as an industry remains rather racist.

There are a few, but very few, schemes to enable wider participation from ethnic minorities and working class individuals but they are unlikely to have an effect on the make up of the higher levels of the industry for some time.

Sabre // Posted 26 August 2008 at 4:54 pm

Qubit, I think your comment is valid but in this case the men clearly are NOT suffering and Paxo is just having a whinge without seeming to have a clear grasp of the facts. The link that Sian posted says it all really.

One good thing that could come out of this ridiculous publicity is that it will highlight how women are still struggling to make it to the top and be taken seriously as TV figures. What’s Moira Stewart doing these days anyway?

Qubit // Posted 26 August 2008 at 4:56 pm

If about 50% men and women are employed but men dominate all the high positions that means there are no entry level positions for men. This means while the anti male prejudice is not obvious it is there.

You would expect a drop in the number of females employed to compensate for the domination of the men in high level positions. This agrees with the original suggestion that men starting in the media have less chance then anybody else.

Meanwhile having an equal number of females in high positions isn’t yet logical as these are positions you have to work up towards. The idea of equality is still filtering through and will take several years for women to be in positions of power. I think it seems there are a relatively large number of women in authority in the BBC compared to other industries and this could easily be seen as a female bias when compared to women in power in similar company.

Hazel // Posted 26 August 2008 at 6:44 pm

I’m going to stick to Jeremy Paxman’s field: “Newsnight”. Of the four editors (i.e. senior reporters) one is a woman, Susan Watts, the other three are white middle-class males. Of the regular reporters I can think of two female reporters, Gillian Lacey-Solymar and Liz MacKean, and the rest are men. Obviously, I am prepared to be corrected on this. One woman has edited “Newsnight” since its inception though it must be added that its acting editor at the moment is an Asian woman.

And just how is equal representation “anti male prejudice” or “female bias”?

And other than programmes aimed specifically at women (in that generic way TV and magazines do) can anyone name a programme that is female dominated?

beesknees // Posted 26 August 2008 at 7:29 pm

Qubit wrote: “If about 50% men and women are employed but men dominate all the high positions that means there are no entry level positions for men. This means while the anti male prejudice is not obvious it is there.”

Umm no, you have merely demonstrated your inability to understand statistics, not an anti-male prejudice. The key word here is the “about” before the 50%. Given that the numbers of people employed in the higher positions are tiny compared to the numbers in lower and middle positions, it is perfectly possible for men to be over-represented in the higher positions and fairly represented in the lower positions without pushing the total number of men much above 50%, due to statistical swamping. Besides you are assuming that the BBC should be hiring equal numbers of entry level men and women, despite the fact that women are possibly completing greater numbers of the degrees in relevant fields.

Qubit wrote: “I think it seems there are a relatively large number of women in authority in the BBC compared to other industries and this could easily be seen as a female bias when compared to women in power in similar company.”

Less of an anti-female bias than other companies does not equal a pro-female bias except in a bizarro-patriarchial-world.

Anne Onne // Posted 26 August 2008 at 10:14 pm

Qubit, whilst it may or may not be unfair or rude, it cannot be sexist by definition. , An individual act by a woman against a man does not the same inherent power inbalance involved, because overall men are more priviliged by the system, particularly white middle-class men.

It’s not impossible that somewhere there is a nuanced point and a genuine grievance which feminism would actually adress and would benefit the men affected. However, 99% of the time, the ‘white middle-class men are getting it tough because of the PC brigade’ outcry is all about the privileged throwing their toys out of the cot because the focus is on someone else but them.

I agree with Soirore (very well put!) – clas and race are huge factors, here, and people like Jeremy Paxman have the odds very much in their favour from this perspective.

In a way, it reminds me of the furore over boys vs. girls and school and university achievement. People bring up again and again that girls are outperforming boys and there are more female undergraduates, and how that’s a problem. The flip side is, that despite girls doing better, and being qualified better, they still end up with less pay and in worse positions.

And here, despite men being a (relatively) smaller proportion of the people who make up the lower rungs, those that do make into areas dominated by women tend to experience a ‘glass elevator’ effect, and are much more likely than women to make it up the ladder to top positions. If women make up most of the people that the elite are chosen from, why are they not making up most of the execs? If women occupied most of the lower rungs AND were filtering upwards into a corresponding majority in the upper echelons, we would have a case that men were at a disadvantage and there was discrimination. As it is, this just isn’t true.

So I won’t take the argument that women are overprivileged for occupying more places in the lower rungs where there is a potential to rise to the top, when any male colleagues that do make it into the lower are MUCH more likely to rise higher and be paid more for the same work.

Besides, we don’t know exactly what the distributions are. For all we know, the 50-50 number is influenced because cleaners and other personnel who are in ‘undesirable’ jobs with very low wages and little likelihood of working up the ladder are predominantly female. The idea that women are keeping men out of the lower paid jobs (or rather, women are forced to take them on) is a problem that feminism needs to address, too.

I don’t mean to be flip, and clearly there is a lot of interplay of many factors. I’m not suggesting men have it easy – clearly cut-throat businesses are never an easy environment to succeed in, and I don’t envy anyone wanting to make it. But when the vast majority of arguments stating that the privileged have it really tough hinge on the privileged resenting that the less privileged have clawed some privileges away, an argument needs to be pretty strong to stick out from all the self pity. And I suspect that for Paxman, it was probably luxuriating in the feeling that men don’t rule everything any more, rather than a nuanced understanding of complicated dynamics.

Vicky // Posted 27 August 2008 at 8:19 am

There’s a witty piece by Zoe Williams in the Guardian which points out the absurdity of Paxo’s position


And (depressingly) the inevitable backlash comments from male commentators that seem to accompany every piece that Zoe writes.

Qubit // Posted 27 August 2008 at 11:44 am

It isn’t a good way to look at the statistics because given the difference between males and females employed is 1% I would expect a larger variation. I would expect the proportion of women in high positions to be representative of the output of the education system 20/30 years ago and I don’t know what that was. I imagine it was strongly male dominated.

Put simply a large number of people feel that today men are discriminated against, particularly white men. While the statistics don’t suggest this it is wrong to dismiss them as this view seems common enough to suggest it must have a basis. The question is how to have equality. Discrimination against white men isn’t equality.

Soirore // Posted 28 August 2008 at 10:43 am

Qubit – the view that white men are discriminated against is common not because there is lots of evidence for it but because we live in a patriarchy that people are fighting against.

White men used to have much more power than they do today. Due to political and social change they have less power although still more than any other group. This is not a disadvantage to them just less of the advantage they had before.

Oh and I’m currently finding some statistics of graduates (most higher level staff at the BBC have degrees) in the 1970s to show you that the propertion of female graduates is not represented.

Soirore // Posted 28 August 2008 at 11:15 am

OK I have some statistics now. Currently 37% of the top roles at the BBC are held by women. But only 4 of the 15 executive board members are women and the board is where the actual power lies.

In 1967 there were 27742 people who graduated in the UK, 29% of these were female so if they are people from Paxo’s age group roughly then actually there is a greater proportion of women doing the top managerial jobs.

However, I suspect these people are likely to a be a bit younger. In 1978 50997 people graduated with 36% of them female. This is more in keeping with the proportion of managerial roles but still means that women are under-represented on the board. I would argue that the numbers still need to be nearer 50% but that’s a feminist perspective and not a pure numbers one.

The numbers for ethnic minorities are harder to find due to the potential for those educated abroad etc. but I strongly doubt that the number of people graduating in the 1970s from ethnic minorities is anything as small as 5%. (The number of ethnic minority senior managers at the BBC.

None of this suggests that white men are in any way disadvantaged at the BBC, if anything BBC management reflects the classist, racist, patriarchal society rather snugly. And I really could argue further but above are some statistics if they are wanted.

Anne Onne // Posted 28 August 2008 at 8:21 pm

I’m a little bemused that you think that an opinion must be true if enough people hold it. Most people are misogynists. We can call them sexist, or say that they’re not feminists, if we wish to be soft on them, but the truth of the matter is most people are prejudiced against women in many subtle ways.

Many people routinely blame rape victims for the fact that rapists rape them, if they’re wearing a short skirt. That doesn’t make their opinion more valid, even if 99% of people were to hold this view.

The result of this subtle bias is that many men (note: not all, but many) resent any move towards equality, because it takes away some of the privileges they enjoy. As privileged people, they may not notice the fact that others don’t have the same benefits, or they may not care. Not noticing or caring about the very real discrimination other people face, or putting them down to the minorities not being good enough, or not trying hard enough, or not wating it enough, it’s easy for them to get used to having better chances, and having an easier ride than the minorities. When the field is levelled a bit, not only do they have to work harder, they are also less likely to succeed, because there are fewer impediments to the minorities getting as far.

If someone didn’t understand how privileged they were to start with, and saw the privileges they had as something they were owed, it’s not unreasonable that they would be annoyed that their life just got harder. Tehy used to be able to conveniently ignore that minorities couldn’t get as far, and now they

In this case, Paxman, being one of many white, middle-class men in a position of responsibility and wealth, may well feel for his fellow men, who he rightly percieves are having a harder time. The catch is this, however: they are not having a harder time because they are being discriminated against, but because the privileges they unfairly enjoyed are lessening, and they have to compete with minorities in a way they never had to do before.

People often feel discriminated against. It’s the context of society, and the evidence we have that tells us what the situation is really like. If they’re a POC, chances are there is a lot of discrimination going on. Same for LTBTQ people, women, people with disabilities, fat people and the poor. This discrimination is reflected in thousands of ways we can see, although we do not experience their lives. We see how homosexuality is treated, how racism, despite being taboo, is still defended. We can see fat-shaming in the media, slut-shaming and all the ways minorities are put down, made to remember their place, and judged more harshly than those with privilege. We can see just how far up the ladder minorities can get, whether they are more likely to end up with low-wage jobs, get paid less for the same job, or can’t get a job at all.

What evidence have we got that white middle-class men are truly discriminated against? They don’t get arrested more than poor men, or men of colour. They don’t earn less than other groups of people. Their (presumed) sexual tastes are eagerly catered for by the media. They dominate positions of power in considerable numbers, and they are taken more seriously than POC or women. They aren’t at all likely to get falsely conficted of rape, being rather likely to never be caught if they choose to commit a sex crime.

When we have statistics enough and the experiences of many women detailing just how the system is discriminating against them and privileging men, why should we automatically believe that men are underprivileged, despite demonstrably being better off?

We’ll all agree the Patriarchy Hurts Men, too, and that this should also be combated. There are areas where the patriarchy is very harmful to men, and as feminists our breaking the gender divide and constraints on women would also benefit men greatly.

However, taking a rich, white, middle-class man’s word, on faith, with no evidence to support it, and much against it, would be affording him a privilege. White, middle-class men don’t have some divine right to automatically be believed and pitied whenever they toss their toys out of the pram. They oppress others in too many ways, too often. Too often they complain that they are being oppressed when their right to rape women, to objectify or demean or insult or abuse or dominate has been reduced. They can put forth their experiences if they wish, and it may be that they have a legitimate grievance. But we have no obligation to assume that they are automatically right.

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