On 8th November students from The University of Reading announced they were boycotting popular BBC quiz show, University Challenge, over complaints that host, Jeremy Paxman, had made sexist and misogynistic comments.
This outrage stems from a remark Paxman made a year and a half ago to the University of Reading team who were competing against Imperial College London. The Students’ Union have stated that they do not wish to discuss the details of what was said due to a confidentiality agreement. According to Paxman, whilst recording had been interrupted due to a technical fault, he attempted to fill the silence by asking the team about the mascot sitting at their desk. Their response was that it was a “hand knitted Jeremy Paxman doll” and Paxman proceeded to ask them “whether they took it to bed with them.”
Though no complaint was made at the time, the University of Reading team were deeply offended by this comment. Students felt that their concerns were not taken seriously and thus, their Students’ Union voted 120 to 105 in favour of removing their team from the show. Paxman responded by saying he is “baffled at why it has become an issue a year and a half later.” Although ITV assured students they would inform Paxman of the offence he had caused, there was no formal apology issued or any consolation offered to the contestants.
Niall Hamilton, Reading Students’ Union’s Education Officer, was unsatisfied with the response from ITV. He wrote in a blog post “In such a historical and respected institution as University Challenge, these forms of oppression should not be taken lightly. Serious investigations and repercussions must be made to ensure women feel comfortable participating in University Challenge.”
His comment brings to light the issue of the gender imbalance of the show, as there is a considerably larger amount of male contestants over females, which even Paxman has commented on himself. A large issue has been the media abuse female contestants have faced online, resulting in them feeling uncomfortable in taking part. Hamilton added that the Students’ Union should not be in a position “to promote and encourage students to participate in an institution with a serious lack of regard for the equality and accessibility of women on their show”
However, although a boycott was issued by the University of Reading, they have decided that they will in fact be entering a team into the contest. This is decision is in light of agreements being reached that the best way to encourage women participation is by taking part, rather than avoiding the show. They hope that the prejudice against female participants will diminish and the gender imbalance will be rectified.
According to a University Challenge spokesperson, the producers spoke to the contestants last year about the issue of the comment and Reading’s team indicated that they were satisfied by the response. Despite the disagreement of whether the issue was settled at the time of the occasion or not, a University Challenge spokesperson has said that they are “pleased that Reading University continue to apply for the show”.