A little while back, I posted an article featuring the “10 Most Popular The Moth Stories of All Time.” While these talks are entertaining and inspiring, many readers justifiably commented that ten out of ten were male. By any measure, is that acceptable? The short answer is NO!
One way this could happen is if The Moth only featured male speakers. To figure out if that were the case, I counted the gender of each speaker. Of the 216 videos posted, 37% (80 videos) are of female speakers. By sheer averages, with all else being equal, one would expect at least three or four of the most popular videos to feature women. (Note: It did seem that the male/female mix has become a bit more balanced over time. Since older videos tend to have more views since they have been around longer, this explains some but not all of the discrepancy.)
To see if The Moth is an aberration, I next looked at TED Talks. As I write this, 3 of the 10 most viewed on YouTube feature women – Amy Cuddy, Cameron Russell, and Pamela Meyer. Does that make sense? For an apples to apples comparison, I sorted TED Talks on YouTube from oldest to newest and classified speakers by gender for the first 216 and found 19% (40 videos) feature female speakers. So, expecting at least 20%, the TED top 10 statistic of 30% female seems to make sense. Moreover, it refutes a possible theory that male talks are more viral than female talks.
Of course, it remains odd that women are underrepresented in The Moth and in TED Talks. The root cause could be manifold including gender-self-selection for public speaking (Do men tend to ‘put themselves out there’ more than women?) or gender-bias in selection. One would have to see the applicant data to figure this out. Research conducted by David Brooks on the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking – whose winners are nearly always male – provides some insight. David found that relatively few women enter the contest to begin with suggesting that gender-self-selection has a bigger impact than gender-bias. This likely explains what is going on with TED. As a TEDx organizer, I can confirm that it was much harder to find women and minority speakers as compared to caucasian males. I have to believe many PhD theses could be written on the nature/genetic and nurture/cultural influences behind this phenomenon.
While I remain somewhat puzzled as to why women remain under-represented in the most popular The Moth stories, perhaps I can help a little by sharing the 5 most popular The Moth Stories featuring women speakers. Happily, the first video, featuring Kimberly Reed, has cracked the top-ten most viewed as #9 overall.
#1 The Moth Presents Kimberly Reed: Life Flight
#2 The Moth Presents Elna Baker: Yes Means Yes?
#3 The Moth Presents Ophira Eisenberg: The Accident
#4 The Moth Presents Starlee Kine: Radical Honesty
#5 The Moth Presents Jenifer Hixson: Where There’s Smoke