Turn on the radio and chances are you hear a man’s voice. Men dominate the media landscape, and radio makes no exception. In 2013, only 20% of UK radio shows with a single host were presented by women. On shows hosted by two or more people, listeners were ten times more likely to hear a man speak. These numbers may seem outdated, but recent reports from the UK and other countries including the US and the Netherlands show the same pattern. Do women’s voices not get transmitted by electronic air waves, or what?
Although very skilled women have been involved in radio making for more than a century – like war journalists Betsy Wason and Audrey Russell – there are pervasive prejudices against women radio makers. They would not be able to keep up with technology, or it is thought that they cannot commit to irregular working hours due to caretaking responsibilities.
Others argue that male voices are more pleasant to listen to. That is a rather remarkable point, since the exact opposite is said to explain the overrepresentation of virtual assistants speaking in a “female” voice. This demonstrates that people associate different roles with different genders. We expect serving, submissive voices to be female and authoritative voices that are worth listening to to be male. This also explains the absence of women experts on radio (and television): When producers need an expert on a specific topic, it often just doesn’t occur to them to invite a woman.
Underrepresentation of women on radio and television matters because the opinions, backgrounds and perspectives of those working in media determine what is newsworthy and how news is presented to the public. It therefore cannot be stressed too much that People of Colour too deserve more opportunities to voice their opinions on radio and television.
Great things happen when unheard voices are given a platform. In the 1940s, BBC Radio launched the show Woman’s Hour. The program was meant to cover topics like housekeeping and childcare, but soon became a platform where politics, women’s citizenship and taboo subjects like menopause were being discussed. Today, you can tune in with radiOrakel, the world’s first feminist radio station. RadiOrakel is based in Norway and invites both women interviewers and interviewees. It also makes sure that at least 50% of the music aired is made by women artists.