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Throughout my degree I have worked as a sales assistant at a bakery, and I love it. I love the people I work with, I love laughing with customers, and I (really) love free bread. But there’s one aspect of work that always bursts my bubble. Our stereo is usually set to Nova FM – one of the main popular radio stations in Brisbane – and every shift it makes me hate my job a little. It’s not just that there is a severe lack of local programming. It’s not just that I tire of hearing Christina Aguilera “feel this moment” four times in three hours. What really gets under my skin is the glorification of male buffoonery – the “boys will be boys” attitude – that these shows not only perpetuate, but rely on.
There is a significant underrepresentation of women in the main breakfast/drive home/prime time slots on mainstream radio channels, and the women who do feature are usually outnumbered. Often it seems that the only purpose of a female co-host is to pull the “blokes” back into line when they (inevitably) become too vulgar. The lone female is frequently the butt of jokes – laughed at, illegitimatised and represented as inferior. And she puts up with it, chuckles along and endorses her position as the pretty-but-unnecessary sidekick to her male counterparts.
Repeat perpetrators of this gender division are Kyle Sandilands and Jackie-O. In 2009, Kyle questioned a fourteen year old rape victim about her sexual history on air. In the same year, Jackie-O was forced into a weight loss challenge when Kyle decided she was “too fat” after giving birth. Sandilands also threatened and disparaged a female journalist in 2011 who wrote a bad review of their show, while Jackie –O meekly attempted to placate her co-host between fits of giggles. These incidents caused public outcry, and saw Sandilands receive a couple of slap-on-the-wrist suspension from 2DayFM. But Kyle and Jackie-O are still on air in the breakfast radio slot. They still attract one of the largest morning listenerships in Australia. Kyle still bullies, Jackie-O still submits – the station and their listeners still permit this “boy being a boy”.
What message does this send? Men learn that it is okay to push the boundaries: that making inappropriate comments about someone’s race, gender or sexuality will ultimately be forgiven. By contrast, young women are taught to tamp down assertive behaviour and to diminish themselves to please their male counterparts.
Undoubtedly, mainstream radio is not isolated in its representation of gender disparity. Sexist messages on the air reflect a long line of permissive attitudes toward problematic male behaviour everywhere in Western culture. What better example than the recent waves of support thrown behind the two footballers from Steubenville, who repeatedly raped and humiliated a drunk teenage girl?
The point is that radio doesn’t have to be this way. Look no further than Triple J: a station that features positive male presenters who are entertaining without being offensive and (gasp!) female hosts DJ-ing prime time shows solo. While Triple J’s popularity is increasing, stations like NOVA still dominate the market. These are the shows that are cross-promoted on television; that are blasted in shopping centres; that are absorbed by children in the back of their parent’s car.
For once I would like to hear a mainstream radio show with equality between male and female presenters. Not just for the sake of my sanity levels at work, but for that of the young men and women who tune in daily. “Boys will be boys” does not justify belligerent behaviour – it is time that mainstream radio stopped telling us so.