Study: ‘Shark Week’ Features Too Many White Guys Named ‘Mike’

Matt Philbin | December 7, 2022
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Just when you think this nation has turned a corner on its long history of excluding, marginalizing and discriminating against, well, everybody, a new crime comes to light. And this one should cover us in shame and bury once and for all the illusion of “American exceptionalism.”

I speak of course of the shocking dearth of women on Discovery’s annual “Shark Week.” I don’t mean women shark-attack victims. (They’re probably over-represented, given the patriarchy’s fetishization of violence against women and it’s interest in presenting them as victims.) No, I mean women shark experts.

According to Daniel Wu at The Washington Post (motto: “Democracy Dies Skinny Dipping Drunk at a Night-time Beach Party”), a recent study of hundreds of Shark Week episodes going back to 1988 lays out the extent of the problem. Let’s just say the forces of diversity, equity and inclusion are gonna need a bigger boat.

Shark week programming “overwhelmingly featured White men as experts,” writes Wu. He quotes one of the study’s co authors, saying, “When there are hundreds of people of color interested who work in this field, [and] when my field is more than half women, maybe it’s not an accident anymore that they’re only featuring White men.” That’s right. This was no demography accident!

You might think chicks don’t dig chum, but that’s just not the case. Wu said “more than half of the members of the American Elasmobranch Society, an academic group supporting the study of sharks and other fish [as if you didn’t know that], are women, but over 70 percent of the group’s leadership positions have been held by men. Women in marine sciences can also face a misogynistic culture, marine biologist Catherine Macdonald wrote in Scientific American in 2020.”

Related: But What About ‘Pat?’ SNL Says it has ‘First Nonbinary Cast Member’

Indeed, one of the disheartening things they discovered was that “there were more White experts and commentators named ‘Mike’ than women." Now, dear reader, you’re trying to picture a venn diagram of this finding: How many of the Mikes were white? Is there a subset of nonwhite Mikes, and if so, how did their number compare with the number of women?  

Those certainly are pressing questions, and I’m certain that you can follow a couple of links and settle them yourself. I must move on to an even more disheartening fact the study uncovered: all those white guys named “Mike” “emphasized negative messages about sharks, lacked useful messaging about shark conservation,” Wu says.

And really, isn’t that just like white men? Especially that freakin' Mike guy.

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