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Female contestants on University Challenge targeted

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Summary of story from The Independent, September 7, 2011

Female contestants on the BBC quiz programme University Challenge are being targeted by online hate campaigns.

Contestant selection is based on rigorous tests of their general knowledge, but many female students have found themselves the targets of online criticism, ranging from what they wear to their mannerisms and how they speak.

Marine Debray, who appeared on the show, described “a pretty awful experience” after her episode was broadcast.

“I got lots of friend requests on Facebook, loads of emails and had to turn up my privacy settings so that I couldn’t be found online. There was a guy who made a photo album of me intercut with photos of a penis.

“But my mentality was that it’ll be over in five days and then they’ll have someone new to latch on to – which turned out to be true.”

She added: “We all know what happens when you go on national TV. But people seemed to think that because I wasn’t this nerdy male then I shouldn’t be on there.

“Look at how [former contestant] Gail Trimble was asked to pose for Nuts. Just because a woman’s smart doesn’t mean that she has to show you her boobs.”

A member of the 2010 winning team from Emmanuel College, Cambridge,  Jenny Harris felt the show’s audience was biased against female contestants.

“People can get almost a personal outrage if University Challenge women do not meet their standards of attractiveness, or nastily personal comments if they do.

“An aspect of it is the idea that women shouldn’t be showing off how clever they are, where this is more OK for boys.

[Due to] the fact that there are fewer women in pretty much every match, it looks like a male-dominated environment and is judged by the standards of one.”

A spokesperson for ITV Studios, who make the programme, said “We are aware that some of our contestants are the subject of unwanted attention.

“They are fully briefed in advance of broadcast and provided with a number that we encourage them to call in these situations. There is a system in place to deal with such events.”

  1. vicki wharton says:

    This completely echoes what we were saying to Dan re the Rape Page on Face Book thread re the effects of on line hate mail – the postings may be on line, but the damage is done to real people, in reality. It’s time that FaceBook and on line media started taking their responsibilities not to publish hate mail seriously as it is creating an environment that is hostile to women taking part in the same way that CiF does.

  2. vicki wharton says:

    Here’s a complaint I sent to BBC News about the coverage they gave this story on today’s (Friday) programme:

    On today’s Breakfast show you had a feature on the sexist abuse that female contestants on University Challenge are subject to. As well as interviewing one of the contestants, you interviewed a female business woman who’s main response was give as good as you get back and that will solve it. It doesn’t which is why discrimination on the basis of gender is against the law and I would like to know why the BBC, whenever news features that concern gender discrimination such as today’s programme, do not interview one of the anti discrimination authorities such as Object or Fawcett Society rather than rent a comment. What knowledge has this business woman about gender discrimination or its effects? I noticed that when Lowri Turner made a comment about sexism on Sunday’s Live programme with Suzannah Read, that was also ignored and glanced over. Are the editors pro sexism?

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