University Challenge is to focus on posing “gender neutral” questions, says the show’s executive producer.
Peter Gwyn made the remark following a viewer complaint that the questions were skewed towards men.
“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,” he said.
It comes in response to criticism that not enough female contestants appear on the quiz show.
In an interview with Radio Times, Gwyn said “we agreed” improvement was needed “and decided to rectify it.”
“Perhaps ‘gender-neutrality’ is what we aim for,” he said, referring to both the style and content of the questions on the BBC Two programme.
He added that “questions should never sound as if they are directed more at men than women”.
“There are numerous balances we try to achieve in the questions we cast for each match, between the arts and the sciences, or between contemporary and historical themes, and we recognise that the gender balance is of great importance.”
It’s not the first time the long-running programme, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, has courted controversy over alleged sexism.
Female contestants have repeatedly spoken of online abuse and objectification after their appearances. All-male teams and all-male finals – such as last year’s contest between Balliol College Oxford and Wolfson College Cambridge – have been criticised by the likes of historian and broadcaster Mary Beard.
Gwyn says they do everything they can to encourage women to take part but it is the universities and colleges themselves who make the team selections.
Rosie McKeown, from this year’s winning team, St John’s Cambridge, said there are several reasons for the gender imbalance.
“The most obvious one is, unfortunately, the hostility that some female contestants are subjected to on social media. But 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.”
This year’s final did include more questions about women, including a round about female artists.