Katie Hopkins – TV villain or feminist icon?

// 19 June 2007


It was once said that religion is the opium of the masses, although today in an essentially ecclesiastically apathetic country it’s more likely to be the voyeurism promoted by the cult of reality television. No other medium can as effectively unite or divide a nation on a weekly basis than support for nominated evictees on Big Brother or wannabe starlets on The X-Factor. Whereas the fallout from Celebrity Big Brother reverberated throughout the world owing to the race row centred around reality TV veteran Jade Goody and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, more recently it seems it is The Apprentice that’s going to leave a bitter after taste for the foreseeable. Was there a race row? No. Was there a transsexual? Not as far as we know. Did anyone get his or her leg over in the boardroom against the backdrop of Sir Alan puffing out his chest and shouting “you’re fired?” Well, if they did, they were pretty quick about it.

So, with all the components usually needed to make explosive viewing absent, what was it about this series of The Apprentice that made particularly addictive viewing? The answer is simple: Katie Hopkins. Although the series finished last week, with Simon Ambrose set to fill the highly coveted position at Amstrad, newspapers and celebrity gossip mags alike are still scrambling to try and get an interview with Katie Hopkins. But why the preoccupation with this self-proclaimed “pantomime villain?” Hopkins quit the show a week early, turning down the prospect of a £100,000 salary on the premise that she did not want to disrupt the lives of her two young children by moving to London. Shortly afterwards she was photographed having sex alfresco style in a field with a married man, which no doubt does cast aspersions on her pretensions to strong family values. She has signed deals with Emap and the News of the World selling ‘her story’ for phenomenal amounts of money, sparking speculation that she will gross in twelve days what it will take the winner of The Apprentice twelve-months to earn, which is convenient considering her appearance on the show was a contributing factor to her dismissal from her £90,000 a year job at the Met Office.

So, OK, she’s stealing headlines at the moment, she’s made a pretty good crust out of her appearance, and it’s even possible she’ll end up getting a low-budget spin-off show on satellite television, (who doesn’t?), but is Katie Hopkins someone we should aspire to emulate, the manifestation of every stereotypical modern woman, or is she just another wannabe, desperate for fame, who was just clever enough to employ tactics slightly more refined than just getting her tits out for the lads? I’m inclined towards the latter assessment. Katie, a self-defined “alpha-female” was a shrewd business-woman, that cannot be denied, but unfortunately her determination and ambition to get what she wanted was something she was unable to leave in the boardroom. She was not ashamed to boast that she would steal other women’s husbands if that was what she wanted to do. She was not being speculative, she was speaking from experience.

Her previous husband, and father of her two children, was married with a family when she met him. He also happened to be her boss, but that’s something Katie omitted to reveal in her mock interview, although maybe it would have worked to her advantage. Seems somebody was not shy of sleeping her way to the top. No doubt, she is not concerned about stepping on anyone else’s toes to get what she wants. She was recently gushing in the latest issue of Closer magazine how she, and the married man she has recently started shagging, are in love. That must have been wonderful for his wife to read. Not only the victim of her husband’s infidelity, but also of the betrayal of a woman who feels totally justified.

Yes, men have been doing this for years, going out to work, sleeping with whatever bright, young thing crossed his path, promising her the professional recognition she deserved while his wife sat at home nursing the babies, darning socks and whatever it is that tradition expects us to do at such times. But let’s not forgot that this is behaviour we find deplorable in men. We should not attempt to emulate it. If we do, what’s the result other than pushing for equality on essentially masculine terms, rather than creating and enforcing our own? It’s something we have long criticised them for, their ability to remain detached from the external world and cocooned in their own self-absorption irrespective of anyone else’s feelings and what is happening around them. Hopkins was considerably less than complimentary about her fellow candidates, subjecting them to vitriolic lashings of her tongue at will, and doing nothing but confirming the stereotype of the bitchy woman who, fearing she may not get what she wants, digresses to cheap mud-slinging. Not nice, especially for a woman who speaking with a plumb in her mouth and professing to be uber intelligent remarked of a fellow candidate with a northern accent that she wanted to precipitate his departure back to the north “where he belongs” with his northern chums. The remark had the distinct whiff of class snobbery about it, although class, Katie, is about so much more than how you speak or where you live; it’s about morality and integrity which, in this instance, are both unfortunately absent.

So, villain or feminist icon? Katie Hopkins works hard, she plays hard, she juggles a career along with family life, although personally I think that her decision to quite The Apprentice was tactical rather than for the reasons that she claims. By leaving in the way she did, Katie ensured her place in the reality TV stars hall of fame, and also precipitated a debate with regards to professional sexism and fuelled pre-existing debates about the career sacrifices women have to make to raise the young. These are important issues, ones that need to be discussed, although in this instance Katie Hopkins was at the centre of all talks as the epitome of the working mum, although in reality she is something much more sinister. Does Katie Hopkins have a feminist agenda, or is she using the burgeoning uncertainty of gender politics to her advantage in order to get what she wants? There is something unreal about Hopkins, and with the price of a kiss-and-tell story from her supposedly peaking at £40,000, she is not unlike the money-grabbing femme-fatale you’d find between the pages of a Margaret Atwood novel; the epitome of what we should not aspire to be. Yet we could not help but watch her on TV, entranced by her couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude, an attitude we are not conditioned to associate with women, and so maybe in this respect this uncomfortable viewing was perversely refreshing? Let’s hope not, as it’s not particularly complimentary to women in the business world.

She knew what the programme and the position, should she get it, would involve and she has opted for cheap fame and some time in the lime light over professional success. And good luck to her. With popular opinion against her it’s likely that the next few weeks will be a bumpy ride for Hopkins, and with her back-stabbing demeanour now a public phenomenon she’s going to struggle to get the type of job she’d want in the professional environment, it’s just a shame that instead of bowing out of the competition she used her children as tool of manipulation. Katie Hopkins is a “pantomime villain,” but let’s just hope that one day she wakes up and realises that she’s not living in a fantasy land, and that to functional normally in society there’s a certain way to treat people, and the way she has behaved is not it. Hopkins was just another wannabe, albeit a very clever one. It’s a shame that such an intelligent, confident and articulate woman felt the need to use such dirty tactics, which perhaps demonstrates how far we have to go to reach equality on our own terms.

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