DIVA Broadcaster Of The Year Sandi Toksvig discusses misogyny and sexual harassment in new podcast series


QI and Great British Bake Off host Sandi Toksvig has spoken out about misogyny and the sexual harassment of female comedians with Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in a brand new podcast series.

During her episode, Sandi opens up about the challenges she’s overcome in her career and private life – conquering the male-dominated comedy world to become the first female host of a major panel show and a self-appointed “national Trevor.”  

The British comedian and DIVA favourite is the first guest on Gillard’s new podcast series, A Podcast Of One’s Own, which she hosts in her role as Chair of the Global Institute For Women’s Leadership at King’s College London.

Gillard became well-known internationally for her “Misogyny Speech” in 2012, when, as Australian Prime Minister, she famously called out the then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, on his sexist behaviour and comments towards her leadership.

Through the new podcast series, she wants to expose injustices women still face, and highlight what needs to be done to further gender equality and women’s representation in leadership roles.

In this first instalment, Gillard and Toksvig discuss a range of issues – from unequal treatment at school (Julia was made to study laundry, sewing and cooking) – to sexual harassment of women comedians and Sandi’s decision to come out in the mid-1990s; the first lesbian in the public eye to do so.

For Toksvig, a feminist for as long as she can remember, the fight against sexism began at a very young age: 

“At school I led a strike when I was six because I thought the boys had been allowed out to play in the rain and the girls hadn’t”.

She also recalls how her the difference in her parents’ roles made an early impression on her:

“I remember watching my father going off to work and watching what my mother did, and thinking, ‘There she is in the house – that looks really rubbish; I don’t want to do what she’s doing.’” 

On graduating from Cambridge University, where she performed in amateur dramatics alongside Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, she embarked on a career in children’s television before hitting the comedy scene in the 1980s.

There she was met with a world of deep-seated and routine sexism and misogyny:

“In the first major comedy club in London, there wasn’t even a toilet just a sink in the corner of the dressing room. It had never occurred to them that a woman might turn up … I had to queue with the public.” 

“I witnessed enough young women whose careers were either going to be promoted or not promoted because they would or would not put up with certain behaviours … we lost a lot of great early talent.”

Toksvig acknowledges that progress has been made since then, but questions whether the #MeToo campaign has had enough impact in a world where consternation at sexual harassment is often met with, “Can’t you take a joke?”.

Toksvig goes on to discuss the slow progress of women’s representation on panel shows, where she feels decisions by those in power held women back from the spotlight:

“Nobody even tried to hide it, they just weren’t having it that a woman could do this kind of show.”

On the upside she comments on the warmth and support she’s received from audiences throughout her career, sometimes in contrast to the programme decision-makers, and is hopeful that the precedent she has set as host of QI is resulting in more balanced line-ups.

A lifelong campaigner for LGBTQI rights including gay marriage, Toksvig also talks to Julia about the challenges she faced as a result of her sexuality.

She was almost thrown out of her university college – “This year they’re giving me a fellowship to say sorry” and was dropped as a presenter. She talks about how scary it was when she first came out: “I was unaware of another lesbian in British public life… people wanted to kill me, I had to have police protection.” 

Yet on LGBTQI rights she believes great progress has been made:

“It’s happened so dramatically and so thrillingly and that is why I continue to believe in great change.”

Want it now? Click here to listen on Spotify

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