As most “Alas” readers already know, last week I was a guest on Janeane Garofalo’s radio show “The Majority Report.” It was the first of their “blog wars” segments, in which left and right wing bloggers debate this or that issue. I debated the female-male wage gap with a libertarian blogger, Megan McArdle of janegalt.net.
Janeane Garofalo was smart, funny, charming and surprisingly teeny-weeny (not only thin but very short). People somehow seem bigger on screen. Size aside, she looked and sounded a lot like she looks and sounds in her movies. Megan was likewise (and as I expected) smart, funny, and charming.
Anyhow, about the debate. Megan and I had agreed ahead of time that we’d keep it civil, and we succeeded in that. There were a couple of points Megan made that I regret not addressing, and I should have been more aggressive about grabbing air time, but on the whole I think I did pretty well. It was too short, though – Megan and I barely scratched the surface of the wage gap issue, frankly. (Of course, I didn’t say anything that I haven’t said on my blog.)
If you’re interested, the entire show can be downloaded in .mpg format here (thanks to Alas reader Jimmy Ho for the link). My segment starts 13 minutes and 45 seconds into the recording, although I myself don’t start speaking until about 20:20.
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That stuff aside, some feminists have criticized my decision to appear on Air America at all, and also what I did while on the air. Here is what’s being questioned, to the best of my understanding:
- Should I, a male feminist, have agreed to appear on a radio show arguing for feminism? Should I have refused, asking them to find a female feminist blogger to appear instead of me?
- Should I have used my time on the air to criticize The Majority Report for using a man as their sole “feminist blogger” in this series; or for not having more female bloggers in general?
There was also some question of how my invitation came about – did they invite me and then ask me to suggest topics I could talk on (in which case, they invited me as a blogger, not me as a feminist), or did they invite me specifically to talk about feminism?
I’ve been thinking seriously about these criticisms. As a male feminist, there are always questions of what it’s right for me to do as a feminist. I’ve never held a position in any feminist organization, and don’t plan to; the leadership of the formal feminist movement should always be female.
On the other hand, I don’t agree that men, as individual feminists, shouldn’t speak in public or in the media. On the contrary; I think we need more male feminists appearing in the media, to help move away from the false belief that feminist issues are issues of concern only to women.
For me, the problem with talk shows is that there are too few women speaking, period. I want to see women in the media discussing the war in Iraq, the economy, the upcoming election, Kerry’s record in Vietnam, and every other “non-feminist” issue under the sun; I have nothing against women being called upon by the media to discuss feminism, but that shouldn’t be all they’re called upon to discuss. But it seems to me that, although virtually all the feminists I see in the media are women, when you consider all issues (rather than just feminist issues) 85% of the sources interviewed are men.
So: Here’s what happened.
A producer of “Majority Report” emailed me out-of-the-blue, saying that Natasha of Pacific Views (who is a feminist) had recommended me as someone “good to talk about women’s rights or some other topic versus someone like Eve Tushnet or Sara of Diotoma.” He also asked me to suggest other right-wing bloggers who might be good for their show.
I made a big screw-up at this point, one I didn’t notice until I reread the producer’s email earlier today. My only excuse is that I’m a big fan of Janeane Garofalo’s, so in my excitement I focused on the thrilling part (e.g., “I’m gonna be on Janeane’s show!”) rather than reading the whole email carefully.
Here’s my screw-up: In describing the show, the producer wrote that “Every week, we have a segment with Bill Scher from Liberal Oasis. We also feature regular spots with Atrios and Kos.” I managed to overlook what should have been glaring: all three of the regularly appearing bloggers on Majority Report are men. (More on this below).
I emailed back that I’d be happy to discuss specific feminist issues (two I suggested were the wage gap and the defunding of the UN population fund), and I also suggested that I could discuss same-sex marriage. I suggested other right-wing bloggers (mostly women) I thought were well-informed on these sorts of topics.
Later on, I emailed asking who the other bloggers appearing in the week-long “blog wars” would be, but I didn’t get a response.
So why did I agree to appear on the show?
- I think that there should be, if anything, more men speaking out in favor of feminism in the media. That’s the primary reason I didn’t (and don’t) refuse to appear in public as a male feminist.
- In addition, the show itself is headlined by an eloquent woman who is open enough about her feminism to appear on the cover of Ms in a “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt. So it’s not like “Majority Report” is in danger of being a female-feminist-free zone.
- In addition, my impression is Janeane has the power to reject guests she doesn’t want on her show. If she thinks a male feminist is an acceptable “Majority Report” guest, then I should assume that she’s capable, as a feminist, of making that decision.
Why didn’t I criticize the show while I was on the air? Two reasons. First, at the time, my criticisms of the show were not yet formed. Secondly, I was (and am) interested in keeping friendly lines of communication open, if possible. “Majority Report” is not the enemy; on the contrary, it’s one of the very few shows headed by a feminist on the airwaves. Criticizing them on the air might have felt to the producer and to Janeane that I was blindsiding them; I’d rather cooperate with the show and try to open a dialog backstage.
Of course, it’s easier for them to ignore my “backstage” criticisms than it would have been for them to ignore a live, on-air criticism. So maybe my decision was mistaken; still, I prefer to attempt to do things the nice way, especially when dealing with allies.
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So now what? Earlier today, I finally figured out which bloggers appeared on “Majority Report’s” blog wars segment last week. Here’s the list:
August 16: Myself vs. Megan McArdle
August 17: Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos vs. John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics.
August 18: Atrios of Eschaton vs. James Joyner of Outside the Beltway
August 19: Mary of Pacific Views vs. Robert Garcia Tagorda of Priorities & Frivolities.
August 20: Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis vs. Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy.
Eight men, two women. Ouch.
So I sent the producer I’ve been dealing with an email suggesting that there could have been 50% female representation.
Then I reread his first email to me, and noticed that of the three regularly appearing bloggers on “Majority Report,” three are men. Again, ouch. I sent another email:
> Every week, we have a segment with Bill Scher
> from Liberal Oasis. We also feature regular spots with Atrios and Kos.
That’s three male bloggers who you feature regularly. Have you ever considered featuring a regular spot with a female blogger?
Understand: I say this in total appreciation of the fact that “Majority Report” is one of the very few places where I can regularly hear a strong, female, feminist voice on the airwaves. I appreciate and admire what “Majority Report” accomplishes, and I’m not accusing you or anyone else on MJ of being anti-feminist or sexist. But I am asking you to consider if you could do better in terms of giving female and male bloggers equal consideration.
I’d be happy to furnish you with a list of eloquent female bloggers to consider, if you’d like.
So that’s where it stands. I hope that the “Majority Report” will take what I’m saying seriously and find a way to include more female bloggers in their segments which include bloggers; but it’s also possible they’ll blow me off. We’ll see how it goes.
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In retrospect, would I do anything differently, knowing what I know now?
- I should have pressed them about what female bloggers, aside from Megan, they were inviting. In light of how few women were included in the “blog wars,” I should have pressed them to choose a female blogger, instead of me.
- I still wouldn’t have criticized them on the air. They are allies, and allies shouldn’t blindside allies.
- I do wish I had used my precious few moments of off-air time with Janeane to ask her to use her position to champion putting more female bloggers on the air, though. That’s the thing I could have done that might have made the most real difference, and I blew it.