Top Gear: Time for a Woman

Search for “woman driver” on Google images and pictures of female Formula One drivers is NOT what you get. Instead you get women arranging their hair and make up in car mirrors, parking badly, or getting into some ridiculous car accidents.

Images headed by “Caution! Women Drivers”, “Women Driving a Car: Always Ends Badly”, and even “Women Drivers: There’s a reason why it’s illegal in Saudi Arabia”. Compare these images to the fact that women make safer more mindful drivers.

Mainstream media is not helping promote the reality. I’m going to jump on the bandwagon here and talk about Top Gear as an example. Everybody else is!

Jeremy Clarkson is well known for his sexist, racist and homophobic comments. He has argued for shooting public service employees, cast doubt over bus lanes – because why should poor people get places faster than him, and recited a racist nursery rhyme in front of the camera. I don’t think his recent “fracas” with a producer surprised anyone.

However, Clarkson is not the only problem I have with Top Gear. The series about motor vehicles – mostly cars – is the most widely watched factual TV programme in the world. While you do get the occasional woman driving a car or two, it’s mostly men on the screen. White middle class men.

The way it is currently framed, produced and presented, one of the messages is sends is about the role of men as macho lads. It glamorises an exaggerated sense of working class manliness and promotes masculinity expressed through driving “manly” cars, making sexist comments, and most recently engaging into fracas over meat.

Perhaps the current issue with Clarkson and his possible departure from BBC is an opportunity for the programme to break the ‘masculine’ mentality residing in show and the discourse that was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.

Angela Rippon hosted the original Top Gear which aired on BBC Midlands in 1977
Angela Rippon hosted the original Top Gear which aired on BBC Midlands in 1977

It is an opportunity for the show to step into the 21st century and add a female presenter. Clarkson previously confessed that a female co-host would be a disaster because it would spoil the “boys club dynamic“. Now that he might no longer be part of the show – that is no longer a threat. The selected woman would not be his co-presenter.

Most importantly, a woman on the Top Gear team would re-enforce to our young women that we are good drivers, that we can like cars, and that we can be good entertainers. Since the show was first on air in 1977, Angela Rippon, Sue Baker, Michele Newman, Julia Bradbury, Kate Humble and Vicki Butler-Henderson proved this time and time again.

Words: Cezara Nanu

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