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.