The Only Way is Respect
Thursday 5th April 2018
Sian Hawkins, Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager at Women’s Aid, gives her take on the latest season of The Only Way is Essex which is making headlines following fans expressing outrage at the male reality stars’ treatment of the female cast…
Where does entertainment cross the line into something much darker and more troubling?
As a passionate feminist The Only Way is Essex is not ‘my type on paper’, but I am, and have been since series one, with Amy Childs and her vajazzles and Mark Wright with his white Merc, hooked. Yes, the line between entertainment and sexism in the show has always been a challenge that often sets my teeth on edge. But seeing such archetypal manifestations of hyper masculinity and extreme ‘lad banter’ from the comfort on my own front room (where I can turn it off, if need be) has kept me tuning in over the years. It has provided a voyeuristic lens into the sexist world we try to challenge at Women’s Aid, as we know that the everyday sexism it normalises underpins a culture that allows domestic abuse to still be perpetrated at endemic levels.
Throughout the history of TOWIE, we have seen the behaviour of characters, like Lockie, step way over the line and their displays of aggressive, potentially abusive, behaviour means at Women’s Aid we have a duty to call it out and continue to make the point that this kind of behaviour is not normal, acceptable or glamorous.
In the first two episodes of the new series we’ve seen two of the main male characters verbally abuse their girlfriends in uncomfortable and upsetting scenes. Episode one: Lockie approaches his girlfriend, Yaz, in a bar. Yaz is upset because her and Lockie had a big row the previous night and her friends got involved to stand up for her. After proclaiming himself as a ‘gentleman’ Lockie ends up reducing two thirds of the table of women to tears and shouts at Yaz telling her she was a ‘spoilt little brat’ who is ‘playing the victim’ and that the other girls weren’t really her friends as she stood quietly in tears telling him she was embarrassed and that her friends were just sticking up for her. Episode two: Courtney’s boyfriend Myles, shouts at her and calls her a ‘f**king slag’ after she speaks to a new male character on a night out (when he is not there). These are all examples of abusive behaviours, which, as far as we can tell, have been left unchallenged and unchecked by TOWIE producers and ITVBe.
Even though we are used to seeing the TOWIE lads embark on their regular gamut of sexist ‘banter’ and the odd heated row with a girlfriend, seeing these more extreme kinds of behaviours playing out has elicited a strong reaction from viewers this time around. People have called for Lockie and Myles to be taken off the show, some viewers are planning to boycott watching at all and others sharing their outrage at what they’ve seen. This kind of brutish behaviour is at complete odds with the rising #MeToo movement, which recognises the rampant sexism, abuse and harassment women are facing through the entertainment industry, as well as women in everyday life, and is making strong calls for change. This behaviour no longer is just outright wrong, it is also out of touch with our calls for how women should expect to be treated.
The depictions TOWIE makes of hyper masculinity and femininity through its central characters, whilst providing the necessary level of ridiculousness and fakery required for entertainment purposes, do nothing to show viewers about: what is and isn’t acceptable in relationships, what crosses the line from an unhealthy relationship into abuse, and, how patterns of verbally abusive and controlling behaviours can escalate over time. These depictions of destructive gender stereotypes, with shocking double standards in terms of how the women and men are expected to behave, should not stop us from challenging these behaviours, calling it out and offering our view of the wider context where we want equality for everyone, from Brentwood to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
TOWIE has a responsibility to its cast members and the viewing public. Obviously, no one is heralding TOWIE as the place to go for relationship advice but we know a lot of, particularly younger, people look up to the characters on the show and aspire to be like them – wealthy, successful and famous. So it’s important that this kind of behaviour isn’t just passed off, or laughed off – we have to see the bigger picture and how influential this show is. Whilst TOWIE is absolutely not to blame for the daily experiences women have of sexism, harassment and abuse – domestic violence doesn’t happen in a cultural vacuum. The show could have a really positive role to play in calling out these harmful behaviours but, for now, dealing with serious situations like these in a way that sends a strong message to viewers that this kind of abusive behaviour won’t be tolerated would be a step in the right direction.
For further information, please contact the Women’s Aid press office on:
020 7566 2511 / [email protected].