so just what is it about a display of intelligence by a female of the species that still manages to provoke such apoplexy?
i must admit to being caught completely off guard by the recent furore surrounding university challenge, that old war horse of a programme tucked away innocuously on bbc2 alongside other gloriously unfashionable dinosaurs such as sky at night and the now sadly departed open university late night geek fest (bring it back - it's a national treasure!). almost part of the wallpaper, uc is something of a broadcasting relic, an outmoded survivor of a long departed era - watched by insomniacs and retired classics teachers, it's occasionally wheeled out for gentle nostalgic mockery but rarely makes the national news or provokes the venom of the tabloids.
and whilst the latest revelation that one of the contestants was no longer a student by the semi-final recordings, but had graduated and already secured a job, might currently be overshadowing the original story, trimblegate, as its hilariously being dubbed, disturbs and dismays for a raft of all too predictable reasons. as becomes patently clear with a quick peruse of the newspaper coverage surrounding the high scoring performance of the mighty corpus christi team, most of the media attention has focused rather heavily on the capacity of the team captain, one ms gail trimble, to know so many answers. (such timerity - am i alone in supposing knowledgeability to be the foremost task of a team captain?)
here are just a few of her detractors foaming at the mouth on the web this week:
"hate her hate her hate her!! what a smug b*tch. i found myself willing her to lose! i don't get how anyone didn't feel the same rise of boiling angry hate"
"this horse-toothed snob ruins university challenge every time she is on it with her 'better than thou' attitude"
"...a display of self appreciating arrogance in intelligence"
"i became completely enveloped by my hatred for the captain of Corpus Christi"
broadsheets, tabloids, cyber space and the blogosphere alike have been drowning under the sheer weight of this unseemly invective, with inevitably rather too much made of poor miss trimble's appearance, in particular an unfortunate hair tossing habit which seems to have provoked column miles of boiling rage, leaving her defenders feeling forced to resort to sadly more sexist cliches such as those weary old librarian chestnuts,
“attractive in a blue-stocking sort of way" or "beautiful in a scholarly sort of way",
all of which are not only rather back-handed compliments bordering on apologies but are noticeable in their absence regarding the physical attributes of the hundreds of unkempt, disshevelled and otherwise sartorially inept and cosmetically challenged young men who routinely appear on the programme. as one lone voice timidly piped up,
"it makes me sad how much attention here is focused on how sexy she is or isn't. God forbid a woman be allowed to just be clever"
the whole episode has certainly provoked strong reactions all across the board and political spectrum. an unlikely defence comes from the daily mail via melanie phillips who offers this revealing, bitter assessment;
People would rather see someone who is broken, flawed, a wreck, one of life’s victims. That’s because they themselves feel like that....anyone who embodies demureness and orderliness is jeered at as either frigid or stuck-up. With self-restraint and decorum now a distant memory, what has been unleashed is a culture of bullying, the baying of a mob which will turn not just upon middle-class victims but also upon on its own when offered the opportunity to mock and jeer.
It is the pathological reaction of a crude, vulgar, de-educated and debauched nation, which has so badly lost its own self-respect and sense of itself that it viciously lashes out from the anonymous safety of its collective sofa in order to feel better about itself. It tells us that Britain - that once lion-hearted nation for which humiliation has become its national pastime - is now in trouble.
yet others have noted that there is rarely such sniping at the achievements of an athlete or footballer, excellence in these fields being a source of national pride and much handing wringing whenever we collectively fail to attain such olympian heights at international events and championships. the mantra of successive governments might well be education, education, education, but woe betide anyone who commits the sin of pride that is answering a random collection of arcane questions correctly - and as for women, we appear to be right back where i started, in the 19th century....