She’s Alive! She’s Alive! On Frankenstein, Monkey Cage and Trying To Avoid the All-Male Panel

Written while my son was distracting me with things he’d built in Minecraft, so expect strange spelling.

Our latest Infinite Monkey Cage podcast is about Frankenstein. It is 200 years since the teenager Mary Godwin (Shelley) imagined the story of a man obsessed with reanimating life. It has become a modern folk tale. It raises deep scientific and philosophical questions. It is one of the most important works in terms of inspiring the horror genre. Shelley is, with Austen, Eliot and the Brontés, one of the pioneer figures of female fiction writers. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, though Shelley would never know her, as she died of puerperal shortly after she was born. With that background, it is perhaps ironic that our panel for the Frankenstein show is the only all-male panel of the series.
It was not meant to be an all-male panel, but unfortunately we had a guest drop out a few days before recording. Brian shares a hair stylist with Noel Fielding and, while sharing tinting advice, he persuaded Noel to join us.

When the show became available, I tweeted a link and went on to tweet that I was sorry this had become an all-male panel. This seemed to affront some readers. Why did I feel it necessary to tweet that? Isn’t the whole thing in danger of being tokenism?

Firstly, if it was tokenism, then it wouldn’t have been an all-male panel, as we would have just found any old woman to take over from our departed guest.

Why did I feel the need to tweet the apology? Well, it wasn’t really an apology, it was just a point of information. Also, I would always prefer that our show was not all men. I know we’re not very manly men, but we are still men, even if some men would probably challenge us on that and ask us to leave the XY group.

Social media is not always a bringer of education, getting tangled up in vivid abuse and misspelt aggression, but from my own experience, I think it really helped highlight a frequent shortfall in the mixture of sexes on panels, whether at conventions or on TV and radio. With live shows, I had been reasonably attentive, this was not out of some empancipatory zeal so much as the fact that I found performers like Josie Long, Joanna Neary, Isy Suttie and Danielle Ward very entertaining.

On Monkey Cage, we had been less observant. In one series, the only female guest was Helen Arney, and she only came on to sing a song at the end. From about that time, we were compelled to be a little less Garrick Club. When I say compelled, I do not mean from a memo sent down from head office, but from a clear sense that we were failing where we didn’t need to.

There was no shortage of female scientists who were adept at expressing their ideas on the radio. As I got further into the scientific world, it became blindingly apparent that we had to strive to battle the cobwebbed cliché that scientists was a male pursuit, preferably males who had escaped from a 1920s Punch cartoon.

We do not always succeed. We also have a problem with the breakdown of sexes by percentage because there are two hosts, both male, and though I think we should strive for equality, that striving abruptly stops if it means me giving up one of my favourite jobs. Yes, I selfishly covert my chair.

I hope we continue to improve. I think we will. Once you start putting the effort in to look, it becomes easier, just like finding the number 23, eh discordians? We have still only had one all female panel, but I think we’ll soon have another. It’s worth pointing out that everyone behind the scenes on Monkey Cage is female including our producer and the show would not exists without her, we see it as a team of three.

We never put someone on just to ensure the end of series quota reaches industry standards, they are always chosen because they will be interesting and/or funny. Similarly, with Robin and Josie’s Book Shambles, since we returned, we have attempted to keep it a 50/50 balance, and it hasn’t been difficult.

It’s not as if any of us have to throw ourselves in front of a horse, it just requires a bit more work and rethinking the stereotypes that solidified in your mind when you were young and a diet of On the Buses may have damaged your cortex.

I don’t know why anyone should get angry about it, but they do. I blame the weakling Y chromosome, it must have made our faltering male brains susceptible to neophobia.

New Horror anthology w/ stories by Josie Long, Stewart Lee, Alice Lowe, James Acaster, Isy Suttie and is available now

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is HERE

 

 

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5 Responses to She’s Alive! She’s Alive! On Frankenstein, Monkey Cage and Trying To Avoid the All-Male Panel

  1. darrenstephenssanm says:

    Admirable.

    And nice Erisian drop-in there too. Hail Eris!

  2. fifilab says:

    Love Monkey Cage – they are all very good and the stand out ones for me are always when they hit that sweet spot of passion, information and entertainment – even if I understand only 3% of some of them.

  3. I did think as I was listening that it was unusually for an all male panel and wondered if someone had dropped out. A related question. How much of the production staff is woman? As often I think this is just as important but not thought off.

    Also in my really bad opinion I think monkay cage would be better with out the extra comedian as you and Brian do an excellent job keeping things on track. The exception being Sara Pascoe on the male/female stuff as she has obviously done the research there.

  4. cait says:

    On a serious note… as a female in her early twenties about to start a PhD, I didn’t have a huge amount of exposure to female lecturers/researchers during my undergrad degree, and it honestly never occurred to me that academia was a path open to me (perhaps because I couldn’t picture myself in that kind of role – failing on my part/lack of relatable role models in my uni environment?). It really can’t be underestimated how much programmes like Monkey Cage/Life Scientific can have an influence on younger listeners. I’ve been an avid listener to both since I was at school, and always thought how amazing it would be to work in science, but being able to listen to women speak and debate their work, and the sense of empowerment that that gave me definitely had more influence on my decision to pursue a PhD (and even consider that it was an option!) than any encouragement from my university ever did.

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