University Challenge to have "gender-neutral" questions

Sam Warner
Photo credit: BBC

From Digital Spy

University Challenge is working towards more "gender-neutral" questions after viewer complaints.

The programme has come under fire in the past for featuring more questions about the achievements of famous men than women.

And while the show's executive producer said that questions were written by both genders, he admitted that they are aiming to be more neutral.

Photo credit: BBC

Peter Gwyn explained to the Radio Times of responding to a viewer point about the lack of women: "We agreed and decided to rectify it. And we will always do everything we can to encourage more women to take part as contestants."

He also noted that there were "numerous balances" that they try to achieve when framing questions, including arts, sciences, contemporary and historical themes, adding that gender balance was of "great importance".

"Perhaps 'gender-neutrality' is what we aim for," he added. "We try to ensure that when hearing a question, we don't have any sense of whether it was written by a man or a woman, just as questions should never sound as if they are directed more at men than women.

Photo credit: BBC

"We believe very strongly that the more representative, inclusive and diverse we can make the programme, the better and more interesting it will be."

The show has faced criticism over the lack of female contestants over the years, and most recently host Jeremy Paxman took a dig at the all-male team at St Hugh's College, Oxford, despite the fact it was founded as a women's college.

Previous female contestants have also spoken out about the hostility they have faced online, while 2015-16 winning team captain Hannah Rose Woods has argued there is a "confidence gap" between men and women that makes the latter less likely to apply.

Photo credit: BBC

"'General knowledge' has deeply gendered connotations – if you grow up being told that something isn't 'for' someone like you, it's hard not to internalise that logic," she said.

2018 winner Rosie McKeown added: "I think there may also be an issue with women underestimating themselves and being hesitant to try out for the show. I hope that will change soon."

University Challenge airs on BBC Two.

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