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Sexism spotting

Where are all the (funny) women?

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This is a guest post from the charming Claire Marie Slight, a digital/social media PR and freelance writer.

There's a new reality series on ITV at the moment; a talent show with a twist. Called Show Me the Funny, it's a search for the best comedian around; ten contestants battle it out to be crowned 'the funniest', and be in with a chance of winning rather a nice lot of money and their own nationwide tour. Sounds interesting, so far - although there's one major gripe I have with it: only two of the comedians are women.

Coincidence, maybe - just the luck of the draw? Perhaps. Or, on the other hand, maybe not. You see, in our fight for equal rights and opportunities, the plight of comediennes seems to have been almost entirely overlooked.

Take a moment to name ten comedians, and you'll most likely find that most are men. Why? Primarily it must be because we see more male comedians around - they're getting far more attention, and recognition, than their female counterparts. When Laura Solon won the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2005, she was only the second woman to have done so in three decades; and only two women have ever won the "Best Stand-Up" category in the history of the British Comedy Awards. Yet - and this is where it gets interesting - when the public were allowed to vote for the People's Choice Award for King or Queen of Comedy for the first time last year, Miranda Hart was a runaway success, with an overwhelming number of votes. Clearly, it can't just be that women 'aren't as funny', then - as men such as Christopher Hitchens have been quick to suggest in the past.

The truth is that women have been overlooked on the comedy scene far too much for too long; they just don't get the chance to appear on primetime TV, and so we just don't get to hear about them as much. Over ten series of Mock the Week, there have been 422 panel appearances from male comedians compared to 45 from women - that's almost ten times as many. Men were also four times as likely to be a guest on the Have I Got News for You panel as women in 2010. Clearly, then, there's a bit of a problem there.

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It's not just the lack of comediennes on TV which is an issue; it's also how the ones we do hear about are portrayed. Google Gina Yashere and the first article doesn't focus on her comedy, but on her recent weight loss; do the same for Sarah Millican and you'll come across a Telegraph article introducing her as "no conventional beauty". And don't even get me started on the press about Miranda's appearance. Would you get the same thing searching for Michael McIntyre, or Russell Howard?

So why does this prejudice still exist? There's a school of thought that suggests it's because comedians have to prove themselves through stand-up circuits, and women find the tough competitiveness really hard - supposedly it's in our biological wiring. The same school of thought would say that American comediennes have enjoyed much more success because they don't have to do as much stand-up; they're given more opportunities to feature in TV shows from the outset. 

Convinced by this argument or not, the fact remains that there are many amazing comediennes out there - and that, right now, the media's just not giving them a chance to show how funny they can be.

Do you agree? Do you think sexism still exists for female comediennes and what could - and should - be done about it?

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Posted by Emma Cossey on August 15, 2011

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