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Steve Paikin’s sexist blog lands him in the hot seat by Andrea Houston

Apr 6, 2014

TVO host Steve Paikin’s blog reveals his sexist stripes

Source: NOW Magazine

Maureen Lynett was incensed when she read Steve Paikin’s blog post.

The TVOntario host’s March 16 thoughts on the lack of female guests on his show, The Agenda, started a firestorm on Twitter.

Lynett, one of three women who founded No Casino Toronto, says her experience with Paikin’s producers contradicts his claim that it’s difficult to find women to come on his show. Even though the grassroots group reached out “repeatedly,” she says, none of the three were invited on the show last year to discuss the issue. Instead, the panel assembled was mostly male.

In his blog, Paikin says his team regularly tries to find the most informed and articulate guests, and the goal is always to have gender parity. Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way.

Paikin listed the excuses women give when declining an offer to come on The Agenda and even suggested that “women’s DNA” makes them harder to book. But he says the main reason for their absence is that so many of the top pundits just happen to be men.

Then the blog took a sexist turn.

“No man will ever say, ‘Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids,’” Paikin wrote. “The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show. Women use that excuse on us all the time.

“No man will say, ‘Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.’ I’m serious. We get that as an excuse for not coming on. But only from women.”

Paikin was quickly inundated with women’s angry and sarcastic responses to what many called his patronizing tone. Some said the show should provide childcare and seek out guests outside the usual ivory tower of academia and circles of lawyers and economists. Look for guests with lived experience, one tweet suggested.

After she read the blog, Lynett emailed TVOntario looking for answers. “The experience that No Casino Toronto had makes a lie out of everything in Steve Paikin’s blog,” she says.

After getting no response from TVO, she posted her email publicly on Facebook, fuelling a new eruption of Twitter outrage.

Finally, TVO associate producer Elamin Abdelmahmoud agreed to meet with Lynett, who wanted to know why none of the three No Casino Toronto founders were included on The Agenda panel. Lynett says he told her he couldn’t answer since he hadn’t assembled the panel.

The Agenda has been on the air for eight years.

Feminist writer Emma Woolley, who appeared on the January 6, 2012, show to discuss mental health, says the wording and tone in Paikin’s post is a problem. Childcare is not an excuse; it’s a legitimate reason for not having time to appear on a show.

“So women have to take care of their kids? You mean they won’t drop everything to be on TV?” she says.

Complaining that there aren’t enough women on the show is the wrong approach. She says Paikin fails to address the sociocultural and economic reasons women can’t be on the show.

In all fairness, The Agenda is certainly not alone in the Canadian media landscape in having an over-representation of men. The opinion pages in most Canadian daily newspapers are notoriously male-dominated and almost exclusively white. Most TV pundits are white men.

“And there’s a reason for that: it’s systemic,” says Sheila Sampath, editorial director of Shameless Magazine and a former guest on The Agenda.

Show executive producer Dan Dunsky says viewers frequently complain about the noticeable lack of diversity, and it’s often discussed in editorial meetings.

In fact, a recent viewer’s email about The Agenda’s recurring “all white men” panels is what triggered Paikin’s original blog post.

Paikin regrets his word choices. Dunsky says Paikin “admits he used some very inelegant language, and he didn’t do the topic justice.”  

“The issue is a serious one. Unfortunately, because of a few ill-chosen words,” Dunsky says, “he’s taking his lumps for it.”

The Agenda’s production team and Paikin now see that those words represent the show and that “became the story.”

Dunsky thinks Twitter may have been a factor in the debate’s going off the rails.

“There’s a really interesting discussion to be had about what social media is and is not good for, and how certain issues get framed using social media,” he says.

The Agenda followed up on Paikin’s blog with an all-women televised panel on the issue that they called Beyond The Binders, which quickly veered off into a debate about gender quotas — a slot no woman wants to be called on to fill.

Sampath feels The Agenda just maintains the “white, male-dominated, cis and hetrosexual” media status quo, then blames social media for the outrage when people call the show out.

(“Cis” is a term used to describe a “gender-normative” experience where an individual’s gender identity lines up with the sex assigned at birth.)

Last year Sampath appeared on The Agenda in a panel on Feminism’s Future, an experience she calls disappointing and eye-opening.

“The Agenda is not a show for me. People like me are not represented,” she says. “It is a show for white men with liberal, centrist politics. Why is it on us to fix that?”

© NOW Magazine