A tweet caught my eye the other day: apparently in London’s National Gallery there are only around 20 works of art by female artists in its entire collection, plus four additional pieces currently on loan. To add insult to injury, according to the website, amongst the top 30 “must see” paintings, none are by women.
This is depressing, but not surprising – the National Gallery tends to be all about the classics. I usually avoid the place – so many horses, so many bleeding martyrs – but I do love the fabulous mosaics in the entrance hall and they’ve got a nice little collection of Impressionist works courtesy of the Courtauld at the moment. Plus it’s free, which is always a bonus.
Personally, I don’t worry too much about the National Gallery’s gender bias. I live in London and there are umpteen other galleries that I can visit where women’s work is much more visible. My favourite at the moment is a room at Tate Modern featuring the photos of Catherine Opie, entitled 700 Nimes Road.
It’s a collection of 50 photographs taken in Elizabeth Taylor’s home just before and after she died. The fascinating thing about these pictures is just how mundane Taylor’s domestic life actually was.
On a side table, for example, in amongst the framed photos of Michael Jackson and ugly heart-shaped jewellery boxes is a “guide to using your TV remote control”. After all, old age makes no exceptions, even for a Hollywood star.
Anyway, back to the National: most of its collection derives from a time when women didn’t paint – they were too busy dying in childbirth. We’re talking about an era when folk were either rich or poor and the middle classes didn’t exist.
If you wanted to be a painter you needed to belong to a guild, and before that you had to be an apprentice, which could take up to 30 years and women were excluded – it was as simple as that.
Later, when we got richer and developed a middle class society, even nice girls were allowed to go to art school and today the painting field is a lot more even.
So while I can stomach the National Gallery’s male-to-female ratio, what is harder to swallow is the outrageous ratio of male to female comics fronting travel shows on the telly.
This has been a bugbear of mine for over a decade when some of the cast of the TV series Grumpy Old Men were gifted a show called Three Men in a Boat. Eagerly, I awaited the female version, having obviously volunteered to take an oar myself, but to no avail.
Since then there have been umpteen travel shows hosted by male comics, dozens of whom have either trotted around the globe alone or in comedy pairs, some like Russell Howard and Romesh Ranganathan with their mums, and others like Jack Whitehall with his Dad.
In stark contrast, representing all female comics doing travel shows recently is Sue Perkins – and no, Joanna Lumley doesn’t count by the way, because she’s an actress (albeit hilarious), not a grubby stand up. There’s a difference.
Before we go any further, may I just say Perkins is adored – she should be doing travel programmes, she is ace at travel programmes, don’t take the travel programmes off Sue ... just give some more to other women.
Again on Twitter, regarding this topic, the comic London Hughes commented that last year Whoopi Goldberg agreed to do a travel show with her but “no TV company wanted it”.
The travel programme disparity baton was then picked up by another female comic, Tiffany Stevenson, who admitted to having a telly idea featuring herself and Meera Syal travelling to Frida Kahlo’s Blue House rejected by the execs, which confuses me, because it’s obviously a great idea. Tiff then went on to list a pretty exhaustive number of male comics whose travelling dreams have come true.
As the day progressed, more and more women comics joined in the thread – none of our ideas over the past ten years it seems were ever good enough. Even Katy Brand’s Chaucer-inspired trip, travelling in the footsteps of the Wife of Bath, was poo-pooed.
The great thing about this brief little Twitter storm was that I realised it wasn’t just me whose travel pitches had been rejected – loads of us were in the same boat (albeit not on telly). But why? It’s 2019, we’re allowed out, we’ve got our own passports and some of us can actually drive – although, as Shappi Khorsandi neatly quipped: “Female road-trips are only fun if they drive off a cliff in the end #thelmaandlouise.”
Hopefully this will be the year that sees a bit more parity between the sexes when it comes to comics having adventures.
However, failing a telly commission, and whilst I’m waiting for my invitation to visit The Real Marigold Hotel, I have offered to hire a coach, fill it with female comics, take us all to Clacton for the day and film it on my iPhone.
Not while I’m driving, of course.
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