Why there aren’t any female shock jocks

'Shock jock' ... Ray Hadley.

'Shock jock' ... Ray Hadley.

A successful woman whom I greatly respect and admire once gave me some advice about working in radio.  To get listeners she said “You want men to want to f* you and women to want to be you”. I admit I took a step backwards.  While I appreciated her candor, I just couldn’t follow her suggestion.

Perhaps her motto offers an interesting insight into why there aren’t many women on the radio.  A job description like that is rather narrow and hard to achieve.  If we flip it for male radio announcers - women wanting to shag them, men wanting to be them - I’d argue it doesn’t apply (sorry boys I love many of you but not in that way).   But my mentor’s theory doesn’t come close to throwing light on the reasons behind the success of shock jocks.  Few would fantasize about doing or being Alan Jones and his ilk.  (Sorry, I shouldn’t have made you think about that.) 

But here’s my point. While the power of the shock jocks is waning and their style is sounding rather old fashioned, the fact is, their belligerent voices still blare from many radios.  Their influence is still strong.  

So where are the female shock jocks?

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We have Jackie O who aids and abets Kyle Sandilands.  Yet she either stays silent or giggles when he’s being offensive, letting him do the dirty work.  So she’s not really a shock jock.  

Women rarely get to rant and rave on the radio. Yesterday Ray Hadley accused Tracey Spicer of tweeting against him. Tracey occasionally fills in on 2UE but had to talk back on twitter and via her lawyer.

Even in the land of the free, there are few female equivalents to Rush Limbaugh.  Rush is the number one shock jock in the US and is now world renowned for calling a young activist who supported insurance coverage for contraceptives a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’. Laura Ingraham is popular – she’s a radio host who recently accused Lena Dunham of objectifying women in her pro-Obama ad. 

Interestingly though, the bits of Laura Ingraham’s show I’ve heard reveal she’s doesn’t deserve the shock jock title.  On air, she uses humour, lets her callers talk far too much and admits faults such as impatience. Ingraham even changed her mind about homosexuals after her brother came out.  Surely, admitting you’re wrong is against the commandments of the golden microphone.

Another Laura (Schlessinger) was popular in the States.  She got away with calling homosexuals ‘deviant’ but was dropped after saying ‘nigger’.  Dr Schlessinger can now be found on satellite radio telling women why they attract slime balls and advising them how to deal with 3 year olds’ tantrums.  Hardly shocking or jocking.   Laura Schlessinger broadcasts in front of a poster ‘I nag you listen’.  By doing so she reveals why women aren’t in the shock jock club.  If women railed against ‘idiots’, ‘morons’ and ‘goons’ they’d no doubt be dismissed as ‘shrieking nagging and and complaining’.

I don’t buy the accepted wisdom among radio executives that people don’t like listening to the voices of women.  While the staccato, repetitive style and high pitch of the shock jock could possibly be even more grating in a higher female voice, I doubt it.

Shock jocks are by nature bullies who champion mates and attack and ridicule those who disagree with them.  They are, or pretend to be, alpha males. That puts women at a disadvantage.  Yet, movies and popular media often remind us that women are meant to be better at bullying with words.  If that conventional wisdom is correct we should be better qualified.  Perhaps the truth is that women are more likely to use words as communication rather than weaponry.

Shock jocks need to work in a world of black and white. There’s no grey.  Perhaps women live too much in the middle; primed to seeing or accepting alternative points of view. 

Shock jocks have to be rather narcissistic or at least mega cocky.  It takes a particular personality type to be able to label most of the world’s scientists as complete liars.  I know some confident women, but few with that level of gall.  Shock jocks can’t show self-doubt, they have to believe in their own rants and maintain a level of outrage. Women are more likely to listen to that voice in their head that self-censors.  What’s more, we recognize self-doubt is not always a personality defect.

For some reason, shock jocks are always conservative. Perhaps progressives are just too damn nice.  (I'm aware that bleeding hearts or luvies is currently the preferred insult for lefties).  But we have conservative clever women who are great communicators.  Amanda Vanstone is now hosting Radio National’s Counterpoint but I doubt she’ll rant as she’s too damn reasonable, responsible and clever.

She’s also not afraid of the future.  Many hard right conservatives rally against change and offer a safe harbor of sameness.  They know when people are satisfied and optimistic they listen less. The Financial Review investigated 2BG’s ratings and found they went up when the carbon tax was announced and were highest when the anti-tax protestors in Canberra held up the ‘ditch the witch’ banners.  They fell away when the sky didn’t fall in and Whyalla stayed standing.  

Much has been written about Tony Abbott’s sexism as an explanation of why he attracts more male voters than female.  But I see another influence. Abbott is great at ripping things apart – the republic vote, the belief in a carbon tax, possibly the Government – but can he build with consensus? Shock jocks like to pull apart, women prefer people who want to build.  

But maybe women are too conciliatory. Taught to be too nice.  Too conditioned to build bridges rather than yell like the troll threatening to block the Billy Goats Gruff.  Is this the reason why we don’t have women on the radio rallying against feminazis, bleeding hearts and the luvvies?

Or how about a progressive female shock jock? Helen Razer and Catherine Deveny could rail against sexism, racism and inequality.  They’re just not asked.  It would be interesting to hear and to see whether people would listen.

Maybe when it comes to shock jocks we don’t want equality.  After all, I feel the shock jock thing is getting old and tired.  In the US a Facebook campaign titled ‘Flush Rush’ helped reduce Limbaugh’s advertisers and listeners. The campaign against Alan Jones is still playing out but seems to be holding firm. The younger blokes coming up behind Jones seem less rabid, more conciliatory, less shock, mock and jock.  Paul Murray regularly calls for the sacking of footballers who hit their girlfriends and yesterday Jason Morrison couldn’t even rally against double-barrel surnames and Ben Fordham asked new State MP Alex Greenwich how bad homophobia gets. Perhaps the shock jocks will go the way of the dinosaurs - extinct after an asteroid caused rapid climate change.  No chaff bags required.

Now that would be karma.

15 comments

  • Isn't it a prerequisite to be an idiotic, small minded buffoon?
    Have been convinced that's really a specialist male role. And, hopefully this is not a growing industry as society gets sick of the harassment, bullying and general BS put about by these f'tards...

    Commenter
    Davros
    Date and time
    October 30, 2012, 8:16AM
    • I did take note of the fact that they are all right wing. Can you replace man with right wing and rewrite the article in time for the election. Heard the Mad Monk speak? If he has offered just 1 sensible policy solution to a problem I havent heard it

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 11:37AM
  • Wow. Personally I would be proud that my gender isn't counted among these belligerent, right-wing bigots. But yes, I agree, there would appear to be an obvious gap in the market - and women can certainly be just as obnoxious and offensive as men. It might be because the industry itself is sexist (as would appear to be the case if Tracey Spicer's opinion piece last week is anything to go by).

    Or maybe it's just because the demographic that shock jocks appeal to is so utterly backwards, and so incredibly scared of change that they still belong in that 1950's mindset - and how can a woman be seen and not heard when she's on the radio?

    Commenter
    Cranky
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    October 30, 2012, 9:18AM
    • I do so miss Helen Razer and Marieke Hardy on triple J. Would love to have either of these amazing women back on air.

      Commenter
      om
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 9:23AM
      • No, I don't think so.

        Commenter
        TJ
        Date and time
        October 30, 2012, 12:43PM
    • What I don't get is why the public still listen to those Sydney shock jocks. Are they stupid?
      The real issue is not why there aren't female shock jocks, it's what you alluded to in your story: that radio managers have this primitive idea that female program hosts and newsreaders aren't popular and that they put listeners off. Which is massively sexist and simply untrue.
      3AW made a brave move and gave Caroline Wilson her own afternoon show years ago and she did a great job, but there was still this sense that, 'we're giving the little lady her own spot as a favour and as soon as she leaves, we'll go back to all-male programming'. Which turned out to be the case.
      Since then, it's been blokes, blokes, blokes. And it's not good enough.

      Commenter
      Matilda
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 9:41AM
      • Fi Fi Box is one of my favourite radio hosts. And then they paired her up with an immature buffoon and now she spends all her air time trying to drag the tone of the show upwards. Such a waste of talent. Jackie O is another favourite of mine. Her chemistry with THE Buffoon works. More female radio hosts please, they relate to me and I love to be inspired by them.

        Commenter
        Rachael
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        October 30, 2012, 1:22PM
    • All possible female candidates are already gainfully employed - in the ranks of the Coalition (Ms Bishop, you have another career calling)

      Commenter
      Go Blues
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 10:05AM
      • Surely Prue McSween or whatever her name is fits the profile? Miranda Devine? The erstwhile bogans from The Circle?

        Commenter
        graeme
        Location
        newtown
        Date and time
        October 30, 2012, 10:10AM
        • I reckon Janet Albrechtsen could give conservative shock-jocking a decent go, though at least with a bit more intellect than the current crop of aging men displays. I think you give Vanstone too much credit for being reasonable and responsible -- see her recent Fairfax anti-PM rant. No worse than those by the rest of Fairfax's 'balance' team, but no better either. Both Albrechtsen and Vanstone seem like good examples of black vs white world-views to me.

          I think it's explained at least as much by demographics and politics as by sex: that commercial radio operators (and listeners) accept that male verbal aggression but not female verbal aggression has a place on the air doesn't necessarily mean that women aren't capable of verbal aggression. It does say a lot about commercial radio operators, and listeners, and perhaps about the rest of us too in that they're still commercially viable while doing that. Nor is it only evidence that women 'prefer people who want to build'; the simpler explanation is that it's evidence for what kind of people conservative organisations will employ.

          You raise an interesting point about progressive women commentators - there are some just as capable of belligerence as the conservative men we (I) love to hate, though they are never 'elevated' to the major commercial networks, and I think never explicitly tasked with professional outburst-y-ness in the way that Hadley seems to be. Same vehemence, different politics. (Different thoughtfulness? I think so, but I could be biased by my own politics.) I agree it is past time we had Razer (who is now the most thoughtful, least reactionary social commentator on Twitter, I reckon) and Hardy on radio again, although presumably they also have some say in whether that's going to happen.

          Commenter
          David
          Date and time
          October 30, 2012, 10:53AM

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