Clarkson and the Top Gear boys strike again.

// 27 July 2009

I’ve just sent off an extremely irritated complaint to the BBC about Top Gear. I love driving and usually enjoy the show – I do think the team are fun to watch and Clarkson does generally keep his right-wing dickishness in check – but the sexism and blatant disregard for the existence of female drivers and viewers in the last two episodes forced me to switch off.

On July 19, James May and Jeremy Clarkson joked about how embarrassing it is to be sat in the back of the car while a woman is driving, with May claiming that the woman’s attitude would be ‘you’ve given me the kids, now get in the back’, or something to that effect. Nice. As I explained to the BBC, the joke is based on the assumption that most of the people watching are men who will sympathise with this, and is made at the expense of female viewers and drivers.

Then, in last night’s episode, James May was assigned a glamour model as a co-driver in a classic cars rally. She was portrayed as being stupid and incapable of driving, there were a number of shots of her body and breasts designed to titillate the male viewer (the Top Gear website is full of comments banging on about how hot she was) and her breasts ‘got in the way’ of James May as he leaned over, which he felt the need to comment on. I stomped off out of the room at this point, and my boyfriend joined me. It pisses both of us off that the show goes out of its way to alienate female viewers and drivers.

In addition to this sexism, Richard Hamilton was assigned a man with dwarfism as his co-driver in order to create a cheap joke about his inability to see over the dashboard. Crass and offensive to say the least. Clarkson was assigned a man who would make an ideal co-driver, but who couldn’t speak English. No funny there, just embarrassment at the classic English assumption that everyone should be able to speak our language.

No doubt Clarkson and the team will take great pride in the fact that they’ve offended yet another whining member of the PC brigade who doesn’t fit in with their stereotype of the normal driver, but the BBC should bloody well start taking notice. As Top Gear is the only driving show on the BBC, and women make up half of license fee payers, it has a duty to ensure that women are not alienated by the content and banter on the show. Pushing women to the front of the studio audience but giving the all clear to features which pander to straight male viewers and to jokes made at the expense of female drivers does not constitute a real recognition of the fact that women do actually enjoy cars and driving. (And I suppose it hasn’t occurred to them that not all men are straight, and not all find sexism funny, especially when they watch the show with their female partners and friends.)

The BBC should respond to my complaint in the next ten days, but I can’t say I’m very hopeful that anything will change. In the meantime, Clarkson has been making headlines for calling Gordon Brown a cunt in part of the show which was not broadcast. Excuse me while I smack my head against this brick wall.

Comments From You

Kristin // Posted 27 July 2009 at 11:54 am

I completely agree. But what are all those laughing women doing in the audience?! Are they paid? Had lobotomies? What?

Karen // Posted 27 July 2009 at 11:59 am

I gave up on this programme years ago. I used to love it when it showed proper events like the pirelli classic marathon. Just an interesting fact I’d like to share though ladies. The Mini was an absolute legend in rallying in the sixties, embarassing far bigger cars. So who had the first major rally victory in a Mini? Paddy Hopkirk? Timo Makinen? Nope! In 1962 Pat Moss (yep Stirlings sister) won the Monte Carlo Rally’s Ladies prize (another argument). Horror of Horrors: a woman got the first major Mini victory (often conveniently forgotten). So if Top Gear can now please tell us again that motoring isn’t for girls, I would like to laugh in their face, just like they have to us in this latest episode. I will be complaining to the BBC too. Fed up with telly being such an unsafe environment.

Karen // Posted 27 July 2009 at 12:16 pm

Just to let you know that complaints can be sent by typing a search of ‘BBC complaints’ and then following the instructions. I have just voiced my opinions so if I get a reply, I’ll share it.

Juliet // Posted 27 July 2009 at 12:54 pm

I’ve just had a look at some of the crass comments on the Top Gear website. “the dwarf”. How funny that was, how sensitive he is about his “dwarfness”. Madison’s breasts, blah blah. Some comedic person has even given his “on screen” name as Felipe Massa, who is at this moment lying in a coma in Intensive Care.

Do the BBC really want to be making tv programmes that pander to people like this? i.e the very lowest of the low common denominator.

Bloke // Posted 27 July 2009 at 2:17 pm

What is wrong with making the show geared towards men when that most likely is their target audience. Thats how TV works. Dare I say that they make show that a steared towards a womens point of view as well.

As for the comments in question, the all male cast reflect and make fun of long standing common social stereotypes. This is the kind of humour to be expected especially when the entire show is hosted by overgrown boys and the fact is, it appeals!

Do you send complaints to the BBC after every stand up comedian?

Alyson // Posted 27 July 2009 at 2:39 pm

Good luck getting an apology out of the BBC. I’ve complained to them twice recently about really quite disgusting anti-trans statements made in their entertainment programmes, and both times I’ve been fobbed off with, essentially, “this is what we believe our audience thinks, so we’re fine with our entertainers saying it.”

Not to mention the widely publicised failures around Chris Moyles and Fairytale of New York.

In other words, “to educate, inform and entertain” has been trumped by, “if we believe the average viewer is a homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic arsewipe, we will say things that will tickle them in just the right way; and if you’re offended, you don’t matter because you’re not in our target audience.”

I’ve given up on the BBC. Outside of extraordinarily rare specialist programming, minority populations may as well not exist to them, unless we can form the punchline to a high-larious routine.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 27 July 2009 at 2:50 pm

Top Gear is not a programme about driving instead it is about promoting women-hating and male contempt for women. As Laura Woodhouse correctly points out, not all men engage in misogynstic cheap jokes about women’s bodies, but this programme certainly promotes the myth ‘it is acceptable and normal for men to demonstrate their contempt for women.’

I recall Clarkson being ‘offended’ on previous occasions when he claimed his misogynstic comments were taken out of context. Clarkson obviously believes he is ‘above criticism’ but it is acceptable for him to sexually insult women. Clarkson also used a sexually denigrating insult when he called Gordon a c….’ The use of this term is not only insulting to all women it is also commonly used to insult men because referring to men as c… means they are ‘women’ not men and the greatest insult a man can use against other man is to call him a woman or a c…..

I will be sending my email of complaint to the BBC and informing them that contrary to their misogynstic perception, women indeed comprise 55% of the UK population which means men are a minority.

Laura // Posted 27 July 2009 at 3:05 pm

@ Bloke,

Well done for spectacularly missing the point. Top Gear is a programme about cars and driving; cars and driving are not the sole preserve of straight men, therefore it shouldn’t assume that all its viewers are straight men. I went on an Audi R8 driving experience recently and guess what? Women easily made up half of the people driving super cars on that day. It’s ridiculous and offensive that the only driving show on the BBC patronises and ignores us.

Bloke // Posted 27 July 2009 at 3:34 pm

I’m not saying anyone here is wrong but I believe you also missed my point.

To me it seem that many of the jokes that you refer to are an ironic statement to both the sense of humour and lifestyle of poeple living in this country.

Many of you have already said it yourselves that the show will sacrifice its diginity for cheap laughs and so I highly dought they are singling women out in some sort of hatred campaign.

As said before, stand up comedians use this same type of humour by pitying the standards and social ideas. I suppose it is down to personal view and opinion to whether you want to take offence to something that was said in a different context.

Each to their own.

Laura // Posted 27 July 2009 at 3:56 pm

@Bloke,

No, I don’t think Top Gear are singling women out on a hatred campaign (I wouldn’t go so far as Jennifer Drew in my criticism), but they are ignoring the fact that we exist as drivers and viewers. I see absolutely no evidence of them trying to ironically critique social stereotypes; they just reinforce them for the benefit of their presumed straight male audience and at the expense of the people – like women – who have to deal with the consequences of these stereotypes on a daily basis (like constantly having to ‘prove’ that we can drive well, because the stereotype is that women can’t drive).

Saranga // Posted 27 July 2009 at 4:00 pm

@ Bloke: Just to throw my 2 pence in.. You can make a show man-friendly without denigrating women and minorities. If the creators of top gear think that this isn’t possible then I reckon they must have a pretty low opinion of men.

I also don’t reckon it matters whether they are singling out women or not..sexism is sexism and should be called out, no matter if it is deliberate or not, and no matter if it part of a wide standing tradition or not.

Lynette // Posted 27 July 2009 at 5:06 pm

Dear Bloke,

Please don’t use that sad, tired, old, completely and utterly worn out “ironic” excuse. You may not realise, but it just don’t wash any more. Like Top Gear’s idea of wit.

And no, I for one do not send complaints to the BBC after every programme featuring stand-up comedians. I need time to have a life. And I don’t want to end up on anti-depressants.

A different bloke // Posted 27 July 2009 at 6:33 pm

yer i see points hear… but dont guys deserve a guilty plesure on a sunday, like a guys club.

its not singling out women.

think about chat shows, there is some aimed at women (loose women) where they basicly chat about what women like, and there is ones for men…

maybe the case hear isn’t that Top Gear is forgeting about women but simply its a show aimed at men and there should be one aimed at women…

maybe someone should write to the BBC with the aim of them making a womenly aimed car show where they chat about ‘aledgly’ bad male drivers who think they are great and can park cars etc…

i DO see your point and i DO maybe agree but it is a programme aimed at men hosted buy peter pan type men… and i love it!

Karen // Posted 27 July 2009 at 6:34 pm

Bloke, as a woman who knows more about cars than most men (BTEC national diploma Motor vehicle engineering etc.), self confessed Mini Maniac and petrol head, why should I have to be ignored by the BBC just because apparently car shows are for air-headed dodos that cant live without seeing people taking the piss out of women/dwarves etc. or massive mammaries for just one show? It’s everywhere! Old Top Gear was watchable because it was a motoring show concentrating not on the pranks and piss takes but, get this, MOTOR CARS and I loved it. Yes, there was the odd slip of mysogonism from the likes of Tony Mason but he was a saint in comparison to what we’ve got now. No I dont complain straight after stand-ups either because I’m a feminist with, get this #2, a sense of humour that can detect when somethings funny and when it crosses the line.

Also, sorry Lynette but I was on anti-depressant since age 13 to 28 (last year) and it wasn’t caused by complaining too much (I didn’t complain enough if anything!). You probably didn’t mean that as it sounded but depression doesn’t come from complaining. No offence meant, just wanted to point that out.

Kate Grace // Posted 27 July 2009 at 7:44 pm

‘A Different Bloke’ – Hmm so we are supposed to watch and enjoy ‘Loose Women?’ are we? I know I’m not alone when I say I have no interest in what they talk about on that show. I find it boring, predictable and totally lacking in wit or depth. Actually, I’m not a fan of TG either, but I really fail to see why we have to have this gender divide with regard to TV programmes.

I tend to enjoy those ‘laddish’ shows like Mock the Week, Have I got News for You, 8 out of 10 Cats, etc, because, whilst I acknowledge their sexist elements (pointed out elsewhere on this site) I like the humour, the different viewpoints, and the paciness. When I said to my boyfriend and (male) housemate: ‘Have you ever noticed that these programmes always have a male host, male team captains and token women guests?’ they both rolled their eyes and said that I was doing my usual ‘feminist conspiracy theorising’. Actually, I was making a straightforward observation based on physical evidence!

Why can’t we have better female representation on TV? In the Guardian recently, Victoria Coren called for more funny older women to appear in the public eye. It would certainly even the balance. When people start thinking that programmes like Loose Women are sufficient for ‘the female audience,’ we’re in deep sh*t.

Re. Top Gear- as I’ve said, I myself don’t like it, but I do empathise with any woman who does have an interest in cars and racing, who has to endure the rampant misogyny evident in almost every episode- of course viewers of any gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic background should be able to watch the action without feeling personally insulted. I occasionally feel lthis way watching the shows I’ve mentioned above, but I stick with them because I appreciate the format and the ideas (if not always the ways in which they are expressed), which I’m sure is the same for female fans of TG.

Lynette // Posted 27 July 2009 at 8:12 pm

Karen, you’re right, I no way meant to imply that having to take anti-depressants was due to too much (or too little) complaining. I meant (and…geez, me being naive here) all the general everyday stress and mental and physical health problem-inducing shit that basically any female with half a brain has to wade through. In a nutshell. Thought it would be obvious. But hey, shoulda known better. First and last post here.

Feel free to have a go at me btw and not the likes of “a different bloke”. I know, I know, we have to be aware of the attitudes out there…

Rob M // Posted 27 July 2009 at 8:28 pm

As Top Gear is the only driving show on the BBC, and women make up half of license fee payers, it has a duty to ensure that women are not alienated by the content and banter on the show.

The make up of license fee payers is irrelevant. And the idea that the BBC has to please everyone with everything is invalid.

Quite aside from political concerns, people complain that new ‘Top Gear’ should be forced to be like old ‘Top Gear’ – suggesting the BBC has ‘a duty’ to make ‘Top Gear’ a perfunctory consumer guidance show. It doesn’t. The argument is balls.

‘Top Gear’ is now, successfully resurrected after it previously died upon it’s Tiff Needell and Quentin Wilson shaped arse, The Jeremy Clarkson Show. It’s not a consumer guidance show, no. It’s an entertainment show, Clarkson style. Which does mean it’s tinged with plenty of cunty bollocks, and it does stray over the line (but more often on ‘speeding is awesome!’ lines, for me, rather than anything else.)

I abhore the Al Murray ‘irony’ non-excuse more than many, but I think regarding the glamour model, you can make a decent case that it was ‘just a joke’. It was a ludicrious stereotype, but I don’t think you could honestly say it was extending it to women, and even in ‘blonde glamour model’ terms, you’d have trouble arguing that it was hateful and stereotype-believing rather than a tongue in cheek spoof. Skirted the lines, certainly, but a complaint on this issue absolutely shouldn’t be expected to promote radical change in their editorial policy.

I actually think the ‘there’s nothing more pathetic than a man in the back of a car’ comment last week was worse, because it was low-key and seemed genuine. However,

As I explained to the BBC, the joke is based on the assumption that most of the people watching are men who will sympathise with this, and is made at the expense of female viewers and drivers.

As nice as it was for you to explain a joke to the BBC (…), I think you’re wrong. It’s not based on that assumption – I don’t think it was audience-playing, so much as an actual opinion. It was made at the expense of men sitting in the back of cars, and was dismissive of non-traditional family behaviour. And I don’t think the gender of the audience matters a jot – I’m sure plenty of traditionalist women would have agreed with the sentiment, and non-traditional men would disagree.

And although I objected to the sentiment myself, I’d completely support the BBC in dismissing your demand that the presenters of this particular show hold your own personal view. Neither in isolation or together should the two incidents force them to alter the programme.

Katie // Posted 27 July 2009 at 10:03 pm

Having watched the show this evening, I too have complained. Perhaps with enough of us willing to say something, the Beeb will at least have to reply with something more than a uni-kit response.

@ Lynette. I second Karen. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but I too have been on anti-depressants for a long period of time (I’m 22 now, and first took them at 15) and my depression certainly wasn’t caused by complaining! I have no problem taking a joke, and can even push the boundaries myself sometimes. Real life depresses me, not television.

Karen // Posted 27 July 2009 at 10:17 pm

Lynette, I really didnt mean any offence, I mean that! Now I am getting paranoid! And why should you have known better? Words can be misinterpreted, I appreciate that, am I now misinterpreting yours that becauseI replied to something you said that you wont be commenting again? Your opinion is just as valid as the next persons, its just that I live with the stigma of people making jokes about depression and not taking mental health seriously, if I kneejerked I’m sorry but maybe my point is valid too

CMK // Posted 27 July 2009 at 11:37 pm

Anyone who thinks Top Gear is primarily about cars has clearly never seen the show! It is a couple of blokes acting like juveniles with a large budget and a passionate hatred for caravans. I can live with that – it’s brainless entertainment.

re Better female representation. I think Dara from Mock the Week was quoted as saying they always toiled to find suitable female comics for the show as there were just so few. I am certain there are fewer proportionately as the Stand Up set is pretty much male dominated. I am sure there are some they haven’t approached e.g. Sandy Toksvig (sp?).

Anyway, its encouraging that he has recognised that under-representation is an issue.

Hannah // Posted 28 July 2009 at 4:12 am

My complaints are ALWAYS returned by something like, ‘the average member of the public is slightly misogynist/ homophobic/ racist; if the view would appear by inspection to be in the minority then blah blah.’

It translates: “Because the general public hate you!!! DEAL with it or deal with them. The (imagined) mass, trumps the hurt feelings of the (imagined) minority. Finally, leave us alone.”

Off topic, Isn’t this giving thumbs up to any hating of perceived minorities? Unless their suffering isn’t by evidence endorsed by the majority? Isn’t it a damn dangerous time when popular TV has this ‘they’re just minority views’ excuse?

Mircalla // Posted 28 July 2009 at 7:49 am

I think you’ve rather missed the point here. I can’t see anything to do with feminism. I saw the Top Gear team laughing at stereotypes. The model with James May is well known to be a ‘petrolhead’ and knew exactly what she was doing, for example.

Lots of women love Top Gear without the benefit of ‘lobotomy’. Frankly, I find that comment insulting. I enjoy watching the team mess around – it doesn’t make me anti-feminist, it doesn’t make me drive fast. It doesn’t stop me having a career or having brought up a family on my own.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist but reading this leaves me wondering quite what the posters here mean by feminism.

JenniferRuth // Posted 28 July 2009 at 9:08 am

I don’t care if Top Gear is “aimed at men” – they shouldn’t be making sexist or ableist jokes. It isn’t a guilty pleasure, it isn’t ironic – it’s just downright nasty at the end of the day.

To make jokes about dwarfism or womens breasts and then to try to justify them just shows a massive entitlement complex on behalf of the men defending them. Men are perfectly capable of being funny without making jokes at the expense of others. Top Gear could easily still be funny without that kind of shit. If you don’t think that this is possible, then you must have a massively low opinion of men.

Don’t complain about things being “too PC” – being PC is just the basic work you need to do to not be an asshole.

Lindsey // Posted 28 July 2009 at 9:39 am

@Rob M

It’s not really fair to say that license fee payers are irrelevant. The BBC is a public service and has more responsibilty than any other network to cater for as much of the population as possible.

I don’t think Top Gear has to be a consumer guidance show; you’re right that its popularity has come from doing daft challenges each week and not from anything sensible. But why shouldn’t they have a female co-presenter to compete with? An entertaining, petrol-head female who will give as good as they do, and put them in their places occasionally?

one more bloke // Posted 28 July 2009 at 10:29 am

Top Gear is not a show about cars. It is a show about overgrown school boys with overgrown toys not hiding their school boy humour. They glory in playing up to stereotypes and offending, it’s part of the humour.

My wife and I watch the show (she likes it more than me) and fairly often a joke falls very flat with us. We thought the dwarfism laughs were particuarly cheap for example but to get hot under the collar about their unreconstructed attitudes to everything is to miss the point that this show is more comedy than cars. If it was just women that were targetted you could have a point but they are happy to target everything.

If you want a show about cars that is aimed at women as well as men then ask the BBC to comission it. Top Gear was a ratings disaster till they turned it into the beast it is today and they are unlikely to turn it back. If they did Clarkson would walk and the show would fail (again). The BBC get more flak for the anti-green pro-speed message it pumps out and that makes no impact either.

Rachel H-G // Posted 28 July 2009 at 10:32 am

I used to like Top Gear. Despite what some posters here are saying, it’s entirely possible to have a TV programme about cars, featuring lots of speeding, pranks, high speed lunacy and supercars, without resorting to tired old misogyny. Many episodes of the show I’ve seen do not mention women specifically at all, and depend for their laughs on digs at politicians and caravans.

Sexism is not a prerequisite of something being interesting or funny.

Karen, I’m glad you pointed that out about Pat Moss. She actually won four international rallies outright between 1960 and 1967, two in a Mini.

Naomi // Posted 28 July 2009 at 11:16 am

Just to give an opinion from the other side of the fence – I am a woman, I know very little about cars, and I *love* watching Top Gear.

The way I view it is that they are deliberately being over the top and emphasizing every male, sexist, bigoted stereotype to play up how ridiculous these are. I am extremely amused by their oafishness.

There were some subtleties to the episode you mention which perhaps you didn’t notice, because the ‘surface’ layer is perceived as offensive. For example it was shown that the man with dwarfism spent some of the time taking offence at Richard Hammond, who is himself ridiculed on the show for his less than tall stature. And the glamour model was portrayed as stupid yet managed to make James May look more stupid still. I am almost certain that most of the conversation we saw was scripted and fully agreed by both these individuals.

Feel free to disagree with this, I just thought i’d try and answer the question of what the female audience members might be laughing at. And it may interest you to know that a large proportion of viewers are also female, and that Top Gear has a large online female ‘fandom’!

one more bloke // Posted 28 July 2009 at 11:35 am

I’d also like to explain why I think that while the ‘joke’ was poor and the sequence unfunny the ‘man in the back of the car’ bit was not misogynist or sexist.

The image was of a car with three front seats and a man sat alone in the back while his wife and children were unfront. I may be remembering the ‘alone’ bit wrong but in essence he had been usurped by his children. The subtext to such an arrangement was that the husband was behind his children in the pecking order for that particular family. It was the implication of being beneath the children in the power structure and the infantilism of being sat in the traditional spot for the children that was the cause of the indignity. If you flipped the genders around and placed the wife in the back you could still say it was ‘tragic’ because the same power dynamic subtext could be inferred that placed the wife behind the children. In fact in the flipped case I’d image that such a subtext would have more resonance so the image could be considered more tragic.

Now I think the whole sequence didn’t work because I think that inferring such a subtext is a presumption too far but I don’t see it as sexist.

Also I think that describing things like this as misogynist is going way too far. (Nobody has made this claim here but Kate Grace did say there was ‘rampant misogyny in almost every episode’). Misogyny is the hatred of women. Being so pumped up with pride that sitting in the back while your wife drives is an unbearable indignity does not mean you hate women. It means you’re arrogant, domineering and overly worried by your image but it does not mean you hate women. The overuse of phrases like this undermines their power.

niqistar // Posted 28 July 2009 at 12:05 pm

The insistence of Top Gear to market itself as a show for men is a lazy reinforcement of sexist stereotypes about what women/men should be interested in. I have no particular problem with shows targeting a male audience – but it is insulting to suggest that the ideal viewing for men is cars + sexist humour.

However, target audience is completely irrelevant when it comes to discrimination. There is no arena where sexism is okay; saying “Top Gear is aimed at men (read: sexists), feminists look away now” doesn’t make it okay.

The BBC may not have a duty to “please everyone”, but they are funded from a public license fee and as such have a duty not to promote damaging attitudes including sexism. They are accountable for the viewpoints they promote – and by giving Jeremy Clarkson a platform, they are promoting his viewpoints. And they can expect to be challenged accordingly.

The comedy question is a good one. I’m all for comedy that addresses and explores sexist stereotypes and attitudes – comedy can be one of the best ways to investigate a tricky social issues – good comedy involves critique rather than just repeating tired generalisations like “women can’t drive hahaha”. Pointing and saying “you’re a woman”, or “you’re short”, and laughing is simply lazy and stupid, and nothing more than bullying. There is nothing ironic in that.

Claire // Posted 28 July 2009 at 12:51 pm

Not only is Top Gear offensive to women – and I certainly don’t agree with the “defence” pleaded of ironic commentary on our times, but it is marred by so much that I don’t want my children to see or hear even though it is aired before the 9pm watershed.

How do I explain Clarkson’s remarks yesterday about wife-swapping BMW drivers to my 9 and 8 year old sons and 12 year old daughter, let alone tolerate them myself. I want my children to enjoy programmes about science, technology and sport (and which are fun), but this was definitely the wrong side of the watershed as well as objectifiying women. It is easy to file a complaint with the BBC online. Everyone who has contributed to this blog should do it. Let’s get tickets to the show and heckle it – that’d cost the BBC some money in re-shoots and they might begin to get the message.

Toni // Posted 28 July 2009 at 12:54 pm

Re. the Rob M, different bloke (et al) comments:

Why do F-Word moderators keep allowing these self-important, supercilious, incoherent, “the world is my classroom” type diatribes?

They’re boring.

Irrelevant.

Contribute nothing.

(In my ‘umble opinion!)

I love this site, but these kind of comments spoil and derail far too many interesting posts.

BareNakedLady // Posted 28 July 2009 at 1:14 pm

I saw the ‘man sitting in the back of the car’ “joke”, and was also horrified. And particularly agree with Rob M that it was worse for being low-key and apparently a genuine denigration, because there was no sense of self-awareness at their own sexism, it was just accepted.

Whether it was at the expense of men or of women runs the question between Laura and Rob… isn’t this an example of an essential feminist truth: that sexism harms both men and women? It’s implying that sitting in the back of the car is the lower-status position and therefore belongs to the women = sexism against women, and ridiculing the men that sit in the back = sexism against men. It’s only funny if you’re stupid enough to think it’s important that men are visibly in front in any given (not necessarily their) car, thus proving their status and their own importance to the world at large.

It ticks virtually every sexist box, the implications of this “joke” are so many. There’s the ‘oh the poor mens, need the visible symbol of power plus car-penis associations’ level. There’s the angle that men are forced to live up to an articifical macho image or else be ridiculed. There’s men being supposedly better drivers than women. There’s women being relegated to an apparent lesser-status position. There’s the inherent dismissal of all other factors – the relative age of both parties, or the question of who owns the bloody car in the first place.

And all this is, typically, over something completely lacking in actual importance: who sits where in the car.

So Laura and Rob: I agree with both of you!

Kate Grace: agree with your point also about the male host, male regulars, token woman on lots of panel shows. I was delighted the other week though to see two female guests on Charlie Brooker’s new show, thus resulting in a line up in two men and two women. First time I’ve ever seen that level of very-near-equality (the only regular still being a man) on one of those shows.

Qubit // Posted 28 July 2009 at 1:52 pm

Women wanting to be represented on TV shows?! Whatever next a chocolate tea pot!

The conclusion I get from the men posting here is

1) Men like being sexist

2) Women shouldn’t care or they are being unreasonable

3) It is all in good fun so get over it

Laura // Posted 28 July 2009 at 2:57 pm

@ Toni,

Moderating can be difficult. We have a comments policy, but we often get comments which do not clearly break any part of it yet could perhaps be annoying. We then have to try and toe a fine line between not just censoring views and comments because we don’t agree with them and ensuring the comments threads don’t fill up with irritating comments which will reduce the core readership’s enjoyment of the thread.

I tend to let a few comments through that I don’t agree with and could be annoying and keep other, repetitive ones unpublished. Where a comment may be annoying but has a valid and/or interesting point to make I tend to publish it as these knd of comments can lead to interesting debate. And while I know it can get tiring explaining things to people, for me an important facet of TFW is education, and if we censor every comment that challenges us or disagrees with us we are not going to change or influence anyone’s opinions and values.

I empathise with your feelings here; I do sometimes regret moderating decisions, but all I can do is learn from them, and it is helpful when people share their views so thanks for your comment.

sianmarie // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:01 pm

i think as well to the two “bloke” commenters, as awful as loose women et al are, they don’t rely on sexist, homophobic, ablist and sometimes racist jokes to get laughs from their audience.

plus, as we have said before, cars do not automatically equal men. it’s not a billed as a show for men, it’s billed as a show for car enthusiasts. why should this exclude women/gay people/disabled people/etc…

i know it sounds old hat, but imagine if you turned on a programme that was about say, gardening, a subject for men and women, and it was presented by women, and the women spent the whole time taking the piss out of straight white men’s gardening ability, body shape, called people pricks and dickheads (i know not the equivalent of c**t but you follow me) – wouldn’t you be a little bit pissed off, if you just fancied watching a gardening programme because you liked gardening?

not the best metaphor i know but can you see my point?

Kristin // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:03 pm

Mircalla, I didn’t mean that any of the laughing women in the Top Gear audience must have had a lobotomy because they liked cars! I meant how could women laugh at all the sexism/marginalisatio/dumbing? It was a flippant comment but, on reflection, maybe I shouldn’t have made it. I’m sorry to have offended you.

But even if the Top Gear team are “laughing at stereotypes” as you say, hasn’t that been done to death and just isn’t funny any more? And if you read some of the comments on the Top Gear site, you’ll see that the commenters think laughing at “dwarves”, “midgets” and “dumb blondes” is pretty damn hilarious. The irony and laughing at stereotypes thing goes right over their heads.

Laura // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:16 pm

My reply from the BBC:

I was delighted to read that you generally enjoy this programme but I understand you’re unhappy with some of the content as you believe it can be sexist.

‘Top Gear’ is well known for its irreverent, no holds barred style, and much of its appeal for viewers lies in the team’s spontaneous and uninhibited humour – often directed at one another. The audience has clear expectations of Jeremy Clarkson and team’s long-established and frequently provocative on-screen persona and exaggerated humour.

We appreciate that some people might find the team’s sense of humour over the top or insensitive at times and the difficulty is that we have to try to find a balance between allowing them the freedom they need to maintain their spontaneity and encouraging an awareness of where the boundaries of acceptable taste lie.

I understand you’ve been particularly concerned with segments involving a glamour model and a man with dwarfism and so I’ve registered your comment on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Alyson // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:20 pm

Wow. That’s almost word-for-word the same as the replies I got. Hurrah for form letters replacing real dialogue.

Jo // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:27 pm

I agree with Mircalla. I’m a feminist but sometimes people on this site drive me nuts! Come on – it’s no wonder men think all feminists are uptight with no sense of humour when every little thing that isn’t fluffy and warm towards every single minority group is roundly jumped on as offensive. I hate lads mags, I hate red top newspapers, but Top Gear misogistic? No. It’s about as misoginistic as Richie and Eddie in ‘Bottom’ ie – not at all.

Laura // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:37 pm

@Jo,

To be fair, only 2 people have called it misogynistic! There’s a difference between misogyny and casual sexism / perpetuating gender stereotypes. But I don’t see anything wrong with not being dickish towards minority groups – it really isn’t that hard and would actually increase the potential audience numbers by not making people like me switch off.

Toni // Posted 28 July 2009 at 3:49 pm

Hi Laura, and thanks for the explanation. Yes, moderating must be difficult (and you’re having a time of it with this thread!).

Just to repeat, I love The F-Word and may it continue to shine its beacon of light!

Juliet // Posted 28 July 2009 at 4:07 pm

Jo. “..every little thing that isn’t fluffy and warm towards every single minority group is roundly jumped on as offensive”.

You mean like mocking “dwarves” and stereotyping women as “dumb blondes”? The default dudes get to decide which ‘minority groups’ to mock.

I’ve noticed that on the (rare!) occasions when your average dude is the target of humour, his much-vaunted sense of fun and that all-important irony seems to vanish! Strange. Maybe they don’t get enough practice at being the target of humour.

Kate Grace // Posted 28 July 2009 at 5:52 pm

Having read some of the comments here, and gone back over what I wrote last night, I would like to clarify: when describing the tone of Top Gear, ‘rampant misogyny’ is, on reflection, going too far. I should have said ‘rampant sexism’. Apologies for my lazy writing.

I do stand by everything else I said though. I do think (from the six or seven episodes I’ve seen in my life, and the bits of others I’ve happened to catch), that there is a clear bias towards white, heterosexual, able-bodied masculinity, which would be fine as long as they didn’t spend so much time ripping into anyone and everyone else. I’m all for humour and mickey-taking, I just get sick of these same old sterotypes being dredged up over and over again for laughs.

BareNakedLady- re. Charlie Brooker – I really rate him and I too was glad to see two female comedians on ‘You have been watching’. Brooker, as I’ve said before on another thread, is a good example of a comic who is not only extremely funny and original, but also one who manages to vent spleen and deride the absurdities of life and celebrity culture whilst being totally democratic about it. Somehow brilliantly caustic and angry without being crude or cruel.

I think he could tell Jeremy et al a thing or two about comedy. . .

Jaime // Posted 28 July 2009 at 6:59 pm

I think a lot of women commenting here have been (still are?) Top Gear fans, otherwise why would we be watching it in the first place? Personally I’ve used the whole ‘oh they’re being ironic, they get made to look stupid too, I know Clarkson is a complete arse’ defence in the past but have gradually grown tired of defending bigots, I’m sick of people airing their prejudices under the guise of ‘jokes’.

Lynette // Posted 28 July 2009 at 7:06 pm

To Karen,

Of course your point is valid, I want to apologize to you because my comment was thoughtless (and I’d had a couple of drinks!). Typical example of not seeing my privilege. It’s all too easy when you’ve never had to deal with an issue yourself that you just don’t realise or don’t think how it can be for others.

All the best.

Rob M // Posted 28 July 2009 at 8:25 pm

It’s not really fair to say that license fee payers are irrelevant. -Lindsey

Agreed. But the make-up of the total licence-payers isn’t relevant as a complaint to a specific programme (and actually works against you anyway – “the majority of licence payers are homophobic” is not a valid argument for homophobic programming, for example.) Basically, what Laura wrote reminded me a lot of the Daily Mail style give-the-BBC-a-kicking complaint-as-demand, which I dislike regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the underlying objection.

But why shouldn’t they have a female co-presenter to compete with? An entertaining, petrol-head female who will give as good as they do, and put them in their places occasionally?

That’d be great. Although there may be an actual answer in that they’d be such a second-fiddle to Clarkson as to make such a position frustratingly impossible – he can never really be put in his place on the show, because the show is him. Him being an arrogant, perma-right goon.

Whether it was at the expense of men or of women runs the question between Laura and Rob… isn’t this an example of an essential feminist truth: that sexism harms both men and women? – BareNakedLady

Aye. My disagreement was with the idea that the joke was told-amongst-men thing – it was on the surface “ha ha, the weak man!”, which is the sort of thing as beloved by female idiots as male. But it is ultimately semantic, and I agree with ys, obv.

I tend to let a few comments through that I don’t agree with and could be annoying and keep other, repetitive ones unpublished. Where a comment may be annoying but has a valid and/or interesting point to make I tend to publish it as these knd of comments can lead to interesting debate. – Laura

Thanks, by the way. Arguments are positive. It’s a good way to learn things, in every direction, as long as all parties are open to listening. “I think this”/”I disagree and here’s why”/”shut up, you’re annoying!” is bullshit (and also – the irons – pretty annoying.)

Karen // Posted 28 July 2009 at 10:51 pm

Hi Lynette, no worries, we all make mistakes like that from time to time. Forget about it, all done with!

Rachel H-G, At last, another person that has heard of Pat Moss as a succesfull rally driver from the golden era (in my opinion) of the Monte Carlo Rally, and not just for being Stirlings sister!

Nico // Posted 29 July 2009 at 7:47 am

Top Gear is so popular – globally – that you’d think the target audience would now be *everyone*, not just men or even those who are motoring enthusiasts. You see I’m neither, and I love the show. This particular episode sounds like it might bug me, but as earlier commenter Naomi (I think it was), the three presenters do save their most severe slurs and insults for each other.

Polly // Posted 29 July 2009 at 10:43 am

Clarkson et al love erring on the side of the offensive. This will not change.

What i find particularly disappointing is that there are women willing to take part in the denigration of their gender. Obviously the girl in question is a glamour model and so gender stereotyping is her job, but i really cannot comprehend why any woman would want to be complicit in their objectification by a bunch of middle aged men on a Sunday evening.

People like Clarkson will never change and i don’t think he needs to. Instead i think that girls need to be nurtured and celebrated from an early age for their real talents, whether that be academic, musical, sporting, caring, comedic etc. Then perhaps they will grow up believing that their bodies are their own and not public property. And that they can find self-worth through a far less transient and misogynist route than their beauty.

George // Posted 29 July 2009 at 12:46 pm

I really don’t understand how feminists can enjoy Top Gear (not in an accusatory way, just every time I watch it I want to fling my wine glass at the telly).

Not only is it often openly offensive (making fun of people with disabilities? Very nice) – but it propagates a certain brand of masculinity that is i) bigoted, and ii) meant to stand for the whole of British maleness. That is, if you don’t leer at ‘birds’, ‘banter’, act like an arrogant twat, pollute the environment, etc – then you are a wimp. I just don’t get how either of these things are particular appealing to a feminist sense of humour. Also, I can’t be bothered complaining about it because the whole program is built up around that premise, so it’s hardly shocking when the occassional page 3 girl turns up.

I just stick to watching BBC4 instead, like the good feminist I am … (nope, no “Young Dumb and Living off Mum” for me, no way, not at all…).

sianmarie // Posted 29 July 2009 at 1:34 pm

not to go off topic but in ref to the comments about charlie brooker – last night josie long was on there and said something about women plumbers, to which my despised frankie boyle said “by women plumbers do you mean lesbians?” – and josie long shot him down! it was great! she told him this wasn’t 1955, and she kept referring to misogyny and being pro woman throughout the segment on the swan – it was so refreshing to see someone call out on nasty infantile homophobic humour and not stand for it.

so go josie long i say!

Cherene // Posted 29 July 2009 at 1:54 pm

Madison Welch is lovely, smart and talented. I’m sure she sees being a glamour model as a stepping stone to other things (maybe being a tv presenter or something), and the unreconstructed likes of Clarkson and May are just some of the stones she’ll have to step over on the way. It’s such a shame that women have to go this route because it’s all that’s open to them. Clarkson would never have got anywhere with his looks!

Lara // Posted 29 July 2009 at 2:37 pm

If the complaints letters are simply a cut and paste job, it suggests that the BBC aren’t listening. Perhaps if we want to see a change in this programme we should do something positive and write to the programmers about considering bringing a female into the fold for the next series.

Thoughts?

Daniel // Posted 29 July 2009 at 4:54 pm

@Sianmarie – I saw that too and it totally made my night! I’ve been a big fan of Josie for a while now, you should definitely check her stuff out!

As for Top Gear, I’ve never seen it but Jeremy Clarkson is an odious little twit who seems to get his face on otherwise perfectly decent shows (e.g. QI). However, I can’t decide if he’s worse than Gordon Ramsey or not.

Dannii // Posted 29 July 2009 at 6:54 pm

Lara, the female would constantly laugh, fawning at everything the men said and be there either to get ridiculed or as eye candy. (Just look at 8 out of 10 cats et al were women are grudgingly ‘allowed’). Think I’d rather just not watch a show which is sexist to begin with.

Katie // Posted 29 July 2009 at 7:04 pm

Here’s my Beeb response. Slightly better than the one I’ve read above, I think, but still not good enough:

Dear Ms Edge

Thanks for your e-mail regarding ‘Top Gear’.

I understand you feel the programme sometimes crosses the line in terms of humour and note you refer to the choice of co-drivers for episode 6 in particular.

‘Top Gear’ is primarily an entertainment programme with a long standing and well known history of irreverence and this episode followed in a similar vein. You may believe, as many do, that ‘Top Gear’ likes to use its juvenile status as a handy justification for saying whatever it likes, but it’s also a tool that defuses and takes the sting out of the presenters’ words.

The presenters don’t sit around thinking up ways of annoying people, but they do have a remit to make a cheeky, irreverent programme, and so if they say something that seems provocative, I would hope their childish ‘logic’ at least adds some charm.

I can sincerely assure you that neither the ‘Top Gear’ team nor the BBC is biased in any way against anyone, of any kind, for any reason.

I appreciate that you may continue to feel differently and so I can assure you that I’ve registered your comments with regard to ‘Top Gear’ in general, and this episode in particular on our audience log.

This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all here at the BBC, including the ‘Top Gear’ team and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Regards

Ben Andrews

BBC Complaints

Claire // Posted 30 July 2009 at 3:04 pm

Here is my identikit reply from the BBC

Thanks for your e-mail regarding ‘Top Gear’ broadcast 27 July 2009.

I understand you’re unhappy with Jermey Clarkson’s comments relating to wife swapping during this particular programme and you feel that this is an inappropriate topic to be discussing on a programme that’s broadcast before the watershed.

As I’m sure you’re aware, ‘Top Gear’ is well known for its irreverent, no holds barred style, and much of its appeal for viewers lies in the team’s spontaneous and uninhibited humour. The audience has clear expectations of Jeremy’s long-established and frequently provocative on-screen persona and slightly risqué humour.

We appreciate that some people might find this brand of humour over the top at times and the difficulty is that we have to try to find a balance between allowing them the freedom they need to maintain their spontaneity and encouraging an awareness of where the boundaries of acceptable taste lie.

While ‘Top Gear’ is broadcast before the 9:00pm watershed, this doesn’t mean that it won’t contain content that may be unsuitable for younger viewers. We pay particular attention to the context and scheduled transmission times of each programme to try and ensure its suitability but our public obligation is to provide services for all licence-payers and not just those with children.

However I note the strength of your feelings with regard to this matter and can assure you that I’ve registered your comments regarding ‘Top Gear’ on our audience log.

This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also the ‘Top Gear’ production team. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us

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