Picture: Fappy, sorry, Dappy, of N-Dubz 'fame'
I didn’t intend it to happen, but I got hooked on Celebrity Big Brother. Maybe it’s because I live in a house where everyone else was watching it. Maybe it’s because I’ll watch any show that is in anyway associated with a cast member of Made in Chelsea. Or maybe it’s because I (thought I) was still in love with Lee from Blue. But it happened. And for 8 days it was beautiful.
In episodes on the 5th and 7th January, I was pleased to see Big Brother reprimand contestants Evander and Dappy when, on separate occasions, each used homophobic language.
But then on the 11th of January, Channel 5 aired an episode which was like watching an hour long exposé on sexual double standards and apathy towards sexism in Britain.
Luisa and Dappy had a conversation in which Dappy states that he has cheated on his girlfriend on a number of occasions but it would be unacceptable if his girlfriend cheated on him. Luisa criticised the hypocrisy of this but Dappy replied by stating it is ok for a man to sleep with 5 women but ‘if a girl sleeps with 5 men what does that make her; a fucking ho.’ Evander then stated that there ‘Ain’t no such thing as equal …. Sure it’s not equal.’ Luisa criticised Dappy for his double standards but he repeatedly reiterates it stating that having sex with numerous men ‘makes women a slag.’ Later in the episode he then uses this opinion to personally attack Luisa for comments she made earlier in the programme about sleeping with more than one partner in a night. He repeatedly insists that it is women who he has a problem with doing so. At no point are Dappy or Evander called to the Diary Room to be sanctioned for their sexist remarks.
The incidents on the 5th and the 7th January illustrated that Big Brother does interfere on occasions where they feel that the housemates express unacceptable views. This leads viewers to assume that if Big Brother does not reprimand housemates for something they say, then Big Brother does not believe what they have said to be problematic and offensive. This is what irritated me about the episode. The Big Brother producers clearly do not take sexism as seriously as they do homophobia and racism.
So I decided to email Channel 5 and Ofcom, expressing my disappointment on how the incident had been handled: (It appears I was not alone in doing so; Ofcom received 52 complaints regarding sexist comments on the show):
12 days later I received this reply:
Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning what you regard as demeaning and sexist comments about women in Celebrity Big Brother on 11th January.
As you will be aware, this programme is a competition where viewers decide who their favourite housemate is. In order for viewers to make fully informed decisions about which housemate they most favour, it is critical that the programme includes all relevant interactions which are capable of seriously affecting the viewer’s opinion.
The argument between Dappy and Luisa was such an interaction. Viewers who saw the altercation may have felt differently about either or both of the housemates as a result of seeing it. It is important, too, to recognise that Luisa and Jasmine roundly condemned Dappy for his opinions about women. If they had not, it may have been necessary for the producers to intervene. Equally, Dappy was expressing his opinion and, like anyone else, he was entitled to express that opinion. This was not a case where Dappy was purporting to state facts about women which were offensive; he was clearly articulating his opinion, albeit an opinion which many people might find offensive. In an adult programme such as this, which regularly contains adult content and deals in serious adult themes, this is not a surprising occurrence.
The production team constantly judges and assesses the actions of housemates and the views they express. When inappropriate or unacceptable language is used, or when comments likely to incite racial hatred are made or when facts are mis-stated in relation to controversial topics such as sexuality or gender, the producers will always act to prevent harm and offence. Where individuals express their own opinions which are potentially controversial but which are expressed in ways which make it clear that they are individual opinions and when other housemates provide critical assessment of those opinions, it will rarely be appropriate for those opinions not to be included in the broadcast, along with the criticisms. That is precisely what happened on this occasion with Dappy. In these circumstances, Channel 5 does not believe that there was any breach of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
However, we apologise if you found the comments offensive and are grateful to you for taking the time to make us aware of your concerns. The details of your complaint have been noted for the attention of all relevant personnel.
Thank you for your interest in Channel 5.
So I replied:
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my complaint about the sexist language aired in an episode of Big Brother on 11th January. I do, however believe that you failed to respond to my central questions: Why were Evander and Dappy sanctioned for their homophobic comments but not for their sexist comments?
I am pleased that both housemates were reprimanded for their offensive and unacceptable homophobic language and I believe that Big Brother acted correctly in both of these instances. I feel that a show with an average of 2.3 million viewers each night has a responsibility to make clear to viewers that prejudice espoused by the contestants are their views alone and are condemned by the show's producers and Channel 5.
However, the very fact that the contestants were reprimanded in these instances undermines your argument that Big Brother simply shows the audience everything that the contestants do and say without comment or interference from Big Brother, in order to allow the audience to make up their own mind about the contestants. I believe that this explanation is not a truthful explanation of why Dappy and Evander weren't sanctioned for their sexist comments. I believe the only viable explanation is that channel 5 does not believe that sexism and prejudice against women needs to be taken seriously.
I would like to address the elements of your argument that I find unsatisfactory:
1) "It is important, too, to recognise that Luisa and Jasmine roundly condemned Dappy for his opinions about women. If they had not, it may have been necessary for the producers to intervene."
"and when other housemates provide critical assessment of those opinions,"
I find it difficult to accept that criticisms by other contestants carry the same weight as a sanction from Big Brother (who is ultimately the authoritative voice in the house). Moreover I do not understand why then, Evander was sanctioned for his homophobic comments given that Luisa expressed her disagreement with him in that conversation. Again, I believe that this demonstrates that Big Brother does not take sexism as seriously as it does other types of prejudice.
2) This was not a case where Dappy was purporting to state facts about women which were offensive; he was clearly articulating his opinion, albeit an opinion which many people might find offensive.
Upon reading your email, I re-watched the episode because I knew it hadn't seemed like Dappy was 'clearly expressing an opinion' when I saw it the first time and I wanted to check I hadn't missed anything. At no point do Dappy or Evander say anything which suggests that they are aware that what they are saying is only their opinion. They in fact say things that explicitly state that they believe that they are stating facts:
For example in a conversation straight after the first interval:
Dappy – If a girl sleeps with 5 men what does that make her; a fucking ho
Evander– Ain’t no such thing as equal …. Sure it’s not equal
(After Luisa says you can’t say that a man can sleep with 5 women but a woman can’t) Dappy – ‘Yeah but that’s true though’
Jasmine – that’s you’re opinion
D – No it makes women a slag
At about 16mins 30 seconds:
D – I’m talking about a woman who has sex with 5 men in one night…that ain’t right (16mins30)
I can see no reason why these statements are more clearly 'opinions' than the homophobic comments were. Again, sexism is being treated less seriously.
3) "When facts are mis-stated in relation to controversial topics such as sexuality or gender, the producers will always act to prevent harm and offence."
I fail to see how the quotes I have posted above do not constitute mis-statement of facts. I also note that your email only addresses Dappy's comments not Evander's statement that men and women are not equal. I would be interested to hear the logic behind not sanctioning him for his comment.
I am concerned that you felt the need to refer to these comments as 'what I regard as sexist and demeaning to women.' I would hope that people working for one of the major television channels in the country would share my belief that commenting that men and women aren't equal and should be held to separate sexual standards does count as sexism. However, I fear that the real problem here is that the Big Brother producers do not share my belief that sexism is a problem that deserves to be treated with the same seriousness as homophobia and racism.
Thank you for again taking the time to consider my complaint.
Ultimately, I think the reason this episode affected me is that it is so symptomatic of a widespread feelings in the UK that ‘sexism doesn’t exist anymore.’ It is evident in the fact the Big Brother producers did not feel it was necessary to step in to sanction Dappy and Evander and it is evident in Ian’s claim that it is a matter of opinion whether the comments count as offensive.
I await their response.