A former Balliol student who appeared on last year’s edition of University Challenge has been made the target of a string of sexist online attacks.
Marine Debray, who studied English and French, is amongst several women to have been subjected to misogynistic abuse on the internet following their appearance on the show, notably Gail Trimble, who famously captained the Corpus Christi team in 2009.
The hate campaign launched against Debray includes a blog in which photos of male genitalia are pasted onto pictures of her. There have also been scores of posts on internet fora labelling her a “dumb blonde.”
“People [have been] saying that I wasn’t smart enough to be on the programme, and then there were quite a lot of comments about my appearance, in a sexualized way,” Debray said.
Debray joins other female University Challenge contestants who have spoken out against sexist responses to their performances. Jenny Harris, who was on the Emmanuel College, Cambridge team that won the show last year, was mocked for her “brilliant mind, fuelled by a pair of breasts.”
“An aspect of [this prejudice] is the idea that women shouldn’t be showing off how clever they are, where this is more OK for boys,” said Harris.
ITV, which produces the show on behalf of the BBC, reportedly offers contestants support and advice in dealing with online abuse, despite the studio insisting that hate campaigns are “unusual.”
Such online attacks, however, are only a manifestation of the more widespread prejudice against women in our society, insists Yuan Yang, OUSU’s vice president and women’s officer.
“Cyber-hate campaigns are just one point on the spectrum of sexual harassment that over 68% of female students experience while at university. Nobody should be treated like this. Seen in this light, online harassment is not a laugh, but a serious indicator of a lack of respect for women on the part of some members of society,” Yang told the Cherwell.
According to Yang, OUSU is currently pursuing a long-term plan to rid the University and the city of sexual harassment both online and on the streets. Yet she insists there is more to be done.
“Although we are successfully working with the University to redress sexual harassment complaints procedures, this is not an issue for the University alone. To beat sexist bullying and sexual violence, we all have a part to play – we all have ownership of a culture that must change,’ she said.
Though initially concerned about the scale of the online abuse, Debray maintains that she has not let it affect her.
“What I tried to do was put that aside and try to move on with the positive comments.”
Speaking on behalf of Debray’s college, Balliol JCR President Stephen Dempsey said, “Balliol JCR is disappointed to see any abuse directed at its members, past or present and our full support goes to Marine. Nevertheless, we are extremely proud of the intelligence and character she showed both on the show and in responding to these sensitive issues and of the fantastic example she has set to women throughout higher education and beyond.”