In her new installation at the Winkleman Gallery, Jennifer Dalton picks apart the lack of female guests on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, among other programs. (Image courtesy of Dalton and the Winkleman Gallery.)
Jennifer Dalton’s latest exhibit began with an inkling. She was watching the Daily Show, in which some male guest was expounding at length about something when she realized she couldn’t remember the last time a woman had sat in that place. “I thought it was me, that I was just looking for that,” she says. “Then I went into the archives and I was like, ‘No fucking way.’” Dalton counted up all of the guests listed on the program’s online archives for all of 2010. During this time, 79% of the Daily Show‘s guests were men and only 21% were women.*
She then went and performed the same exercise on a bunch of her other favorite programs. All of them featured an overwhelming majority of male guests. The Colbert Report had a guest line-up that was 82.5% male. Charlie Rose came in at 80%. Bill Maher had 74%. And Rachel Maddow — Rachel effing Maddow! — featured dudes 80.5% of the time. Public radio fared somewhat better: Leonard Lopate‘s guests were male 66% of the time, while Brian Lehrer came in at 68%. Fresh Air, however, which is hosted by a woman, checks in with a low lady-guest ratio. More than 79% of Terry Gross’s guests are male. (Bands and other groups were counted as single guests, hence the fractionals.)
“My gut is that it’s entropy,” says Dalton. “It makes me think that people are lazy. Like they’re just reblogging the same stuff.” The artist, who has previously charted the ways in which female cultural figures have been visually portrayed in the New Yorker (hint: cheesecake), has used this research to create new works for her latest solo show at the Winkleman Gallery. The central piece (shown at right) is devoted to the Daily Show, the program that spurred Dalton’s recent quest. In it, she has organized the guests by subject areas (authors, athletes, etc.) and placed the men in gold frames and the women in silver ones. The colors say it all.
Dalton says the piece was born of equal parts rage and glee. “These are heroes of mine and I think they’re doing really important work,” she explains of figures such as Stewart and Colbert. “But I just end up confused. It’s like are you with me or against me? I think of you as on my team, but maybe you don’t think of me as on your team?” She hopes that her work might get someone in some aspect of the media business to think a little bit more critically about what they do: “I would just love for these producers to be like, ‘Here’s a pile of women we rejected. Did we reject them too quickly?’” In order to do that, some of these programs might have to start by hiring a few more.
Jennifer Dalton: Cool Guys Like You opens today, at the Winkleman Gallery, in Chelsea.
*Update: Made a small correction to the Daily Show figures above. I previously had them as 78/22 male/female. The correct figures are actually 79/21.
**Further Super Duper Important Update (9/12 at 8:50pm): Some of the discussions I’ve seen on the internet about this piece suggest that Stewart’s male/female ratios are skewed towards men because he interviews so many political figures and most politicians are men. That is not the case. According to Dalton: only 18% of Daily Show guests are political figures. Of those 25 guests, only one was a woman (for a male/female ratio of 96/4). Just so you can draw some sort of comparison, the 111th Congress, which was in session when Dalton created the piece, was 17% female.
It’s actually authors and actors that make up the majority of Stewart’s guests — not political figures, as is frequently assumed. Together, these two arts-related categories make up 63% of the Daily Show‘s guests. And within these, the male-female breakouts remain nothing short of depressing. Of all the authors featured on the program in 2010, only 25% were female. Of all the actors, only 33% were women. In several categories (chefs, military figures, and filmmakers), the line-up was 100% male. Though, to be fair, he only featured one chef. What does this mean? It means that culture, as viewed through the Daily Show lens (as much as I love many parts of it), is heavily male. And don’t make me go to the gallery to count the minorities. ‘Cuz I’m sure that area is probably a hot mess, too.