Sunday, May 01, 2011

Diane Rehm's gender imbalance (Ann, Ava and C.I.)

Diane Rehm hosts her own two hour, Monday through Friday, NPR radio program entitled The Diane Rehm Show and has been doing so since 1979 (until 1984, the title of the program was Kaleidoscope). Her work away from the show, she's always quick to note includes many women-themed events. Women of Washington, for example, gets worked into her book Finding My Voice. March 2010, she took part in the University of Akron's Women's Studies Program by being one of the speakers. The same month, she took part in the National Archives Celebrates Women's History Month. We could continue. She's got a long list of events to be proud of. However, her chief role is that as radio host and it's there that she's failing.

diane rehm

Listing off the show's credits on air ("Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors and Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth") may impress unless you've listened to the actual show. If you do listen, you'll notice that each broadcast day, one of her guests, she's fond of saying, is always you. That's homey but it doesn't change the fact that people actually sitting in front of the microphone are predominately male.

A woman who moved over to radio from dispatch should know a thing or two about obstacles to women. And a woman who's fond of showing up at events celebrating women's accomplishments should be willing to celebrate women.

If this were 1951, the two preceding sentences might seem controversial. But it's 2011, and there's nothing controversial about parity or equality. In the United States, women are said to make up 50.1% of the population. Equality should have arrived.

But it hasn't and one of the reasons is that women are forever overlooked while men are forever overbooked on the various gas bag programs. Men pontificate and women listen.

'If only we had women in charge of programs, then we'd get some parity and equality.'

That thought, actually, was one of the primary things pushing National Public Radio. NPR was created (true of PBS as well) to provide the voices that were not getting air time on corporate media. And in its early days (NPR began broadcasting in 1970), National Public Radio was one of the few broadcast outlets where women could advance.

A number of NPR women with prime real estate on the public airwaves got their start at NPR in the 70s. So you might have thought these women would work to pull up other women. You would be wrong. For example, Terry Gross is one of those seventies women and the host of Fresh Air. That's the program, for the uninformed, made it through 2010 with women making up only 18.546% of the guests.

In the early seventies, that would have led to a call for a sit-in at the offices of NPR. Today, people just shrug. And NPR's ombudsperson, Alicia Shepherd, plays dumb and cute and insists that she can't track the guests on Fresh Air because it's not a NPR show. (As we've noted, when NPR slaps a copyright on it, it becomes a NPR program. If that's confusing to Alicia, she can consult with one of the CPB's attorneys. We have.)

April kicked off the first of a six month study we're doing on The Diane Rehm Show to determine the gender equation on her show. The results weren't encouraging. Terry Gross is a Queen Bee who never gives back to the community so her lack of awareness -- or concern -- wasn't surprising. But Diane does fancy herself a friend of other women.

Diane needs to work at her friendship skills. For the month of April, women made up 34.48% of her guests.

When women were on they were chiefly journalists, biographers or artists. And listening all month long, it was really disturbing to realize how many of the people brought in to talk about the economy or issues of war and conflict were men. Are there no female economists in the United States?

This is the first of five months we're studying. Possibly, future months will see an improvement? If so, The Diane Rehm Show will be the exception.

Past studies have demonstrated that programs and outlets will happily attempt to derail studies, beg you to drop the study, encourage you to alter the study or include their airy 'plans' for the future (for instance, when studying the huge gender imbalance at The Nation, we were lobbyied repeatedly about all these big changes that were going to take place yet years later they still haven't done what they swore was about to take place). They're just not happy addressing the actual problem.

Of all the programs and outlets we've covered thus far (as well as the ones we have on a list for future coverage), The Diane Rehm Show is the only one that we think could improve. That's because Diane wants to be a friend to women. If she can turn that desire into action, she'll be the exception to the rule.

But equally true is that, in 2010, we did a study of her show and found 232 guests booked of which only 30.17% were women.

Free will means you write your own history. We've got five more months to find out what Diane's will be.

The figures:

April 1st, 5 men, 1 woman. April 4th, 5 men, 1 woman. April 5th, 3 men and 3 women. April 6th, 4 men and 2 women. April 7th, 3 men, 2 women. April 8th, 3 men, 3 women. April 11th, 2 men, 2 women. April 12th, 2 men, 2 women. April 13th, 5 women (no men). April 14th, 5 men, 1 woman. April 15th, 4 men, 2 women. April 18th, 5 men, 2 women. April 19th, 2 men, 2 women. April 20th, 5 men, 2 women. April 21st, 6 men, 2 women. April 22nd, 4 men, 2 women. April 25th, 2 men (no women). April 26th, 4 men, 1 woman. April 27th, 4 men, 3 women. April 28th, 4 men. April 29th, 4 men, 2 women.
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