expertise & experts

If you haven’t seen the storm over Steve Paikin’s post on the blog for the TVO show “The Agenda”, go and check it out (here)

here are a few of my favourite responses:

…and here are a couple of my responses,

But i do think there are some serious issues here, of course, beyond the blatant sexism of the post.  I don’t doubt women turn it down more often than men, as a group (though if i was a person who had been on The Agenda, i would be pretty pissed off at that blog post, I mean, more pissed off).   So let us ask questions like,

what is an expert?

how is expertise used in media?

how does one become an expert?

what’s the difference between an expert, a pundit, and other kinds of guests that media are looking for?

what’s the place of race in this discussion about representation? (oh, i know! so predictable of me! but yes, it’s not irrelevant)

If it is true that women are more likely than men to claim lack of expertise, what does that mean? Should women then be encouraged to claim expertise? Is there a way of changing the framing of these things that might

a. bring in a more representative group and  b. make the show itself different, better, more helpful?

For many university professors, the idea of being able to contribute to a more accurate representation of a situation – whether that means getting technical details correct, or expanding the frame of options – is very exciting.  I know that of the people who do media in my institution, more are men.   My institution doesn’t have a women like Ottawa’s Carissima Mathen, who does lots of media and does it well.  There are many men, and many women, in my institution, who do almost no media.  And Paikin’s show requires bantering on TV.  That might not be everyone’s strong suit and I think there are good reasons that women might think that it’s risky, professionally, to do that if you feel unprepared.  I think it’s fair to speculate that the risks might be greater, as a woman.

At any rate, my own experience is mainly with radio, and I have to say that I probably put pressure on the producers who call me.  I have questions.  I want to make sure that I have the information and expertise that they want, and that I can do what they want – both that I have the knowledge, and that it’s not the kind of set up that I need to avoid.  Hats off to Beza Seife at CBC Radio and Britt Aharaoni at Newstalk 1010 (yes.  I went on talk radio and talked about racism and sexism.  It was fun and a good experience, honestly). who increased my ability to do the job they asked me to do.  Also to a number of print journalists – all these folks tolerate my excitement about the issue, my inability to sound bite, and my anxiety about public exposure.   I’m not saying everyone’s like me.  I’m just saying that this issue, like all the “lean in” issues, deserves more attention than just “women won’t do it because they aren’t aggressive and confident enough – let’s make them aggressive and confident so they’ll fit the box.”

(1) More attention about the ways  that these kinds of media shows shape understandings and how they educate – are these good things? Do they further the cause of justice and truth and fairness, or whatever cause we’re owning at the moment? or are they things we have to do because otherwise there’s no female representation?  Furthermore, are there things we can do in the way that we participate which address or ameliorate the problem of low female representation (maybe a mild something along these lines? There’s some real value in these efforts to broaden the community


(2) about gendered expectations and tropes, about conversational styles, about what it is that burdens more women than men in a way that results in more women being not interested in pursuing or accepting (certain types of?) media invites.

Oh, and the need to make sure we all get our cheeks swabbed by our institutional media unit to check for that pesky DNA marker.

* more seriously, I love it when people call me and want to talk to me about something that they think I might understand better than them, because it’s my area of work.  Because I like my work! My area of work is not being on TV though, and I don’t know anything about that really.  The Media Trainings I have attended are all really interesting and motivating to start and then at some point I start to think, what? I have to find a “hook” in my work? I have to “pitch” my work through some existing known thing that people are interested in? But that might completely miss the point of my work.  And turn it into something else – maybe even the opposite of what I want to say.  And if the point of my work is to say that simple thing X has really complicated causes, or consequences, how can I simplify that without changing the message? If media formats can’t accept that, does my work have to change or appear in some form that I don’t recognize?  Why would I do that?  I am still trying to find a plkace to work through the dilemma of knowing that the stuff I do know about and think about is important enough to deserve a wider audience, but in order to get that wider audience, I have to package the stuff in a form that (it seems to me) subtly changes the contents.






2 thoughts on “expertise & experts”

  1. Agree with your thoughts on this, but am also wondering about the “childcare excuse” accusation. Professional women are not parents at the same rate as other women, but lots of us are. We often have children later than other women, so when we get to be somewhat senior in our work, our children are often still quite young. Many of us think that parenting is kind of important work. I can see that oversized egos like Steve Paikin would imagine themselves to be more important than someone’s child, but that is his problem, not ours. How about changing the format to accommodate women’s working days? Taping is not a dirty word in radio, why should they not be able to do some interviews at times that work for experts with parenting obligations?

    1. Totally agree, Jula. I think that the other issue is that having childcare responsibilities means tight days. If i have only 8 hours a day to play with, then last minute requests are hard to schedule in. We can think about gendered divisions of labour in academic contexts as well. Plus, if I get shellacked in the panel discussion, do I really want my kid in the green room watching that? Well, I mean, of course I do (learning!) but still. Re the ego question, I think it’s a live one. I have another set of comments on “what was he thinking” but i didn’t think they were worth another post…so i’ll paste them here:
      I originally did think it was link bait, and I still think it is but not primarily. Did you see the stuff about the “indians” at the JAM party? (that’s John A MacDonald, in case you don’t feel like you’re on nickname terms w. him).

      So my guess would be that he probably really does think that he’s smarter than everyone else and that people should be more like him. He needs to try to reason with (or lecture to) all the silly ranters on the internet who are unfair to people like the “indians” in the above story, who are “trying” and to himself and his producers (also “trying”) and that it is everyone’s job to recognize the “trying” as critically important and rendering immunity from critique. That “we are trying so now you have to help” dialogue is a very tricky one. I think if one is trying and failing to reach people, self reflection should come first. His approach appears to avoid that altogether. He didn’t, for instance, compare with other shows to see whether e.g. there is a difference between tv and radio, between US and Canada, between shows with single guests vs. group format – all of which might have produced interesting data. Instead, as he says, he “demanded answers” – FROM THE WOMEN WHO WERE NOT ON HIS SHOW.

      I’d say, tin ear. I think he probably had an internal dialogue like this:
      “I should write that they say that they need to fix their roots” “but then people will say that it’s sexist” “but I cannot be stopped from telling this truth because i might be accused of being sexist” “It is both funny and true and it clearly indicates the difference between women and men, therefore I’m using it.” “and maybe if i throw in this DNA bullshit women will pay attention and solve this problem”
      [and here thinking stops, so any reflection on why women might say that, if they say it because it’s true, and if so, whether that might legitimately matter for a woman with a professional image to maintain, given the context is avoided. Any reflection on whether this is how women say, “No, leave me alone” or even “piss off, I hate your show” is avoided. And helpfully, any reflection on his own role in the whole thing is avoided. and countless other reflections, really]

      if he thought “i shall masquerade as a sexist to make link bait in my blog” then he needs to get off public television and onto a network.

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