These gender quotas are an insult to women

Some of the best comedy writers in the business are women – they didn’t need a leg-up.

Tim Dawson

Topics Culture UK

Over at ITV Comedy – yes, it does exist – the woke police have claimed another victory. Saskia Schuster, ITV’s head of comedy – yes, ITV does have a head of comedy – has launched a new initiative: Comedy 50:50. ITV will now insist that every writers’ room will have women in it – and a token woman will not be enough. All shows must now ‘aim towards 50:50 gender representation’.This is the latest in a long line of initiatives across our cultural industries that seeks to elevate the attributes of the individual above the art – gender, race and sexuality above ability.

The reality is that audiences don’t care at all about who writes TV programmes – anyone who does is either a wannabe writer, a geek, an identitarian political fanatic, or some combination of the three. Being able to write comedy is a fantastic skill – one very few have. Seriously, if you doubt this assertion, sit down and try to write a page of jokes, let alone a 6,000 word episode of original audience sitcom. The likelihood is that you won’t be able to and, if you can, you are (like me) a comedy writer and should not have your talent judged according to whether you’re straight, gay, black, white, or have penis or a vagina.

The writer I’ve worked most closely with through my career is a woman: Susan Nickson. She went viral this week when news of a Two Pints of Lager reboot broke on Twitter. She’s an extremely good writer. I have met funny, distinctive female writers on both sides of the pond. Former Frasier writer Anne Flett-Giordano sticks in the mind – my God, she was smart and fabulous and certainly not in her position because of some stupid quota. Indeed the majority of writers’ rooms I’ve been in have been run by women. They clearly didn’t require patronising gender discrimination in order to succeed.

What’s more, schemes like Comedy 50:50 create barriers to people who may be talented but don’t tick enough boxes on the identitarian checklist. And while we’re here – why just women? Shouldn’t ITV also enforce a certain percentage of BAME writers, or LGBT writers? I’m bisexual – does this mean I can have a gig, Saskia? The mind boggles at the problems that would be caused if men started identifying as women simply to get work. Brace yourself, commissioners: on its way is a new sitcom by Mrs Tim Dawson.

I am a comedy geek, so here are just some programmes that wouldn’t have existed if their broadcaster had insisted on a mixed-gender writing team: Dad’s Army, Absolutely Fabulous, Yes, Minister, Hancock’s Half Hour, Are You Being Served?, Bread, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Butterflies, The Liver Birds – the list goes on and on and on. And if women did need quotas to succeed, then something must have gone very wrong in a country that has produced Marti Caine, Victoria Wood, and French and Saunders.

The ITV scheme reflects such a depressing, regressive attitude. Alongside patronising women, it reinforces the notion that men are terrible misogynists, constantly trying to trample down women: Schuster says male-dominated writing rooms are ‘not sensitively run’ and ‘can be aggressive and slightly bullying’. They are not. Some men are gits, obviously. But some women are, too. One of the slight problems, in the UK at least, is that writing rooms tend to favour the loudest – but who says women can’t be loud, too? I remember sitting in a writing room with a woman who was very loud and garrulous and completely unfunny. But she impressed the (also female) producer and, as far as I’m aware, is still on the show.

Mainstream comedy is morphing from a form of entertainment into a vehicle for preposterous identity politics. And it is leaving its audience isolated. This is not really about left or right in the traditional sense, it’s about amplifying a very particular worldview. The comedy industry seems determined to push every form of diversity, except diversity of thought. And all of us who believe in genuine free-thinking comedy and art should be worried about that.

Tim Dawson is a writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter @Tim_R_Dawson.

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Topics Culture UK


Tom Burkard

22nd June 2019 at 7:03 pm

Whatever happened to the basic principle of Common Law that all people are equal before the law? It lasted for hundreds of years and it created a nation that led the world in the scientific, commercial and industrial revolutions that has freed the great majority of humans from hunger and infectious diseases, and doubled the human lifespan.

Now we have woke morons dominating our managerial elite in pursuit of equality and diversity. And ironically, their idiot notions are exacerbating the very inequalities they are supposedly intended to ameliorate.

James Knight

21st June 2019 at 4:26 pm

To imply that men are more likely to be “bullying” is ironic. This proposal IS bullying.

James Hillier

22nd June 2019 at 8:33 am

It’s also revealingly sexist, to men and women. As is the ideas that all-men teams are bad but all-women teams are ok and that, if you can’t get all-women teams, the best way to get women involved is to force the men to take women on their teams as supercargo. Think about it for a second: a woman who actively, in the most sexist fashion, wants to promote her sex just for being the same sex as her, but who thinks that even this bias in hiring and selection isn’t enough: she also has to force male teams to find a woman, or she won’t hire them. How badly does she think of women?

Jerry Owen

21st June 2019 at 3:55 pm

There are few comedians that make me laugh. There are no female comediennes that make me laugh. Their voices just don’t carry well. Rather like female commentators in the world cup footie, they can be painful to the ears. The male voice is far more expressive and being more powerful carries better.

James Hillier

21st June 2019 at 4:32 pm

Really? Katherine Ryan is fantastic. Joan Rivers was painful at times, but also painfully funny. Amy Poehler is often very good. Ruby Was; also fantastic. Julia Louis-Dreyfus: perfect.

Here, I know it’s from a scripted show, but the delivery is amazing. Just the intonation of the word “up”:

Also very good fun and well worth watching:

Stephen Kenny

28th June 2019 at 12:57 am

Don’t think these really do it.
But you don’t need anything more than Ab Fab. Written by a woman, two brilliant comedy actresses, and two equally brilliant foils. Off to the desert island with that and Fawltey Towers – John Cleese & Connie Booth.

Neil McCaughan

21st June 2019 at 2:37 pm

Theresa May, Alison Saunders, Amber Rudd, Rebecca Mong Baliey and Cressida Dick ought to have dealt a death blow to equality of outcome. All (over) promoted because of the genitals, all complete failures in their roles.

I don’t want to hear from tokens. Not women, nor foreigners, nor any other demographic. Ever again.

Hana Jinks

24th June 2019 at 9:39 am

Those women are all victims.

James Hillier

21st June 2019 at 12:46 pm

What exactly are young men supposed to do? Die in a corner? Fail quietly, to oblige others? Boys today are marked down compared to girls for the same standard of work, disciplined more harshly for the same infractions, and shamed even in organisations such as the Scouts which used to be for them. Until recently, they had at least had the consolation of knowing that in the labour market they would be able to compete on even terms. No longer, it seems. Studies in the US have found that women scientists have a 2:1 hiring advantage compared to men with the same qualifications and experience. A recent blind-hiring trial in the Australian civil service had to be stopped when it yielded the “wrong” results. Naturally, what that meant was that when all indicators of sex were removed from a CV, more men were invited to interview. Rather than ask themselves if perhaps they had been discriminating against men in the past, the hiring committee halted the experiment and began the hunt for other ways to give women a hiring advantage. And now in the same week this ITV and the university in the Netherlands that is only allowing women to apply for jobs. For how long do we think we can keep this up, pushing young men further and further into a corner while scolding, taunting and shaming them, before the paving stones start flying and the cars burning? When it happens, we will have brought it on ourselves.

Malcolm Turner

21st June 2019 at 10:17 am

Are we so infantile that a physical form trumps understanding? In art we are taken not by the image alone but by the way that it is transmuted by the intervening mind of those doing portrayal. To think that having certain physical characteristics lends entitlement suggests that beauty might have the edge over reason as we are all too frequently deferential before its spectacle. Suggests that to have a body whose function differs in some way from others has an enhanced insight or comprehension. A person with some sort of chronic illness may have a different perspective and they could be of either sex.

Today we are defining our sex in so many ways to prove exception. Soon these subgroups will breed other more discreet differences until we reach a time when everyone is singular in their attitudes and predilections. They will then become individuals which is what we always were. The flummery of characterisation a mere social device to lend advantage to exception. Instead, once more, earning our place, no matter what our origins, sex or differentiation by action and individualism and making the crowd not men or women but as sheep.

James Gatehouse

21st June 2019 at 9:27 am

Regrettably, ITV has always played catch up to other TV stations and I suspect it hasn’t really thought about this. It just sees the BBC doing “positive discrimination” and is trying to keep up with the media herd. BBC humour went full on woke a while ago, so I do not watch any of its so-called “comedy” anymore. It is not in the remotest way funny.

Ironically if I want to get an overview of the current mainstream news I visit the ITV website, precisely because it is slightly out of date and unable to keep up. As a result it has information without the heavy handed bias characteristic of the BBC website. I then go elsewhere to find out the depth behind the stories, naturally.

All in all, as muddle headed and offensive as the ITV is with this initiative, it isn’t going to make much difference to my viewing, since their comedy is already uninspiring without the intervention of ‘representative’ comedy quota writers. I am very sorry to read though that yet another high profile institution has come out so firmly in declaring how little it trusts in women’s latent abilities. This sends out a very strong signal of women being second class citizens, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.

Jeremy Fissure

21st June 2019 at 8:32 am

Comedy is like sport in that those without talent can not fake success. ITV ‘comedies’ that will broadcast on quota lines will haemorhage viewers and the responsible teams will find themselves unemployable pdq.

Danny Rees

21st June 2019 at 1:03 am

This is patronising to women writers a it suggest they cannot succeed unless men are excluded.

gershwin gentile

20th June 2019 at 7:53 pm

Oh when will the left learn? Feminists don’t find women funny! Ask a feminist who Gracie Allen is. They will just stare at you.

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