Sexism in the house: Celebrity Big Brother 2009

// 19 January 2009

Big Brother.jpgI might be alone in admitting this, but I love Big Brother! Can’t get enough of it, in fact. While the programme has courted controversy both nationally and internationally, I find it compelling viewing simply because individuals are metaphorically stripped of all shiny veneers to reveal their deep dark sinewy flesh. Try as they may, raw personality is hard to conceal when one is placed in a confined space with other people for weeks at a time. It’s interesting because it does centralise the extent to which we sometimes have to amend our personalities when interacting with others in order to prevent conflict and promote a harmonious community. This is not shown to be vindictive or deceptive, just a necessary action for everyday social cohesion. Ah, bliss.

Most of the entertainment in Big Brother, however, emanates from the breaking down of social pretences. This year’s Celebrity Big Brother has been no exception but has, in many instances, made for particularly uncomfortable viewing. What has been prominent is explicit sexism, something that has remained largely unreported by the mainstream media. So much has happened that it would be impossible to relate it all in one post, but I will summarise as best I can…Recently, for example, the male housemates stayed up late debating whether or not it is acceptable to call a woman a “bitch” or a “ho.”

To his credit, Scottish socialist politician Tommy Sheridan, 44, argued that the terms are always disrespectful, only to be contradicted by actor Verne Troyer, 40, who claimed that calling a “random girl” a “ho” or “bitch” was out of order, but “when a girl steals from me she’s a ho.” I don’t know if Troyer, who shot to fame playing Mini-Me in Austin Powers, has being particularly vulnerable to this sort of behaviour, but presumably if a woman steals from him she is a “thief,” a “criminal” and not a “ho.” “Ho” is used as a derogatory sexual slur, so why would it be necessary to cast aspersions on a woman’s sexual behaviour when she has transgressed the law? It’s not acceptable to steal, but if a man takes something that doesn’t belong to him, he’s predominantly judged by that crime only, with discussions surrounding his sexual premise not even entertained let alone pursued. Is the idea of a woman’s morality and integrity so entwined with her chastity that the moment she does transcend the law she is deemed sexually abhorrent? And this argument in itself neglects the word “ho,” what it actually means, and the reasons for the associations we make with it, which is a minefield of mysogyny. “Ho” is a negative term for a woman who is sexually active and enjoys a rich and varied personal life, but why do we allow this detrimental terminology to continue to form part of our vocabulary?

What’s more disturbing is the free reign rapper-turned-tv-chef Coolio, 45, has been given in the house by Big Brother – by which I mean he has not been reprimanded for his chauvinistic, and often aggressive, behaviour. He is lecherous, tactile and clearly has difficulties interacting with women. He takes recourse to sexual suggestion whenever he has the chance. While his words are probably not supported by intention, that he is clearly intimidating some of the female housemates should be enough to warrant him being told to calm down, or at least ordered to take a cold shower. Mutya Buena, 23, former Sugababe and now a solo singer and song writer, quit the show after being saved during the live vote, claiming that she had to go home. She later confessed that her decision to leave was largely fuelled by uncomfortable sexual advances made by Coolio, who she rightly said is “old enough to be my father.” Buena was furious that the producers didn’t step in sooner. But why didn’t they? Even during Channel 4 broadcasts of the show (which go through a gruelling editing mill) it’s been clear that Coolio is over-stepping the mark, so why doesn’t Big Brother challenge him?

It’s not as if sexual harassment doesn’t happen in Big Brother. In 2006, a female housemate in the Australian version of the show was held down by one contestant as another rubbed his penis on her face in an act known as “turkey slapping.” While some of the nationals did pick up Buena’s story after she spoke about feeling intimidated by Coolio, that he had been acting inappropriately has been visually apparent to all watching the show, but until she spoke of it, it was ignored. Is it the case that until a sexual assault has taken place, Big Brother will not reprimand housemates, and the national newspapers won’t consider overt male sexual intimidation as inappropriate behaviour until a woman has been physically harmed or at least speaks about it herself? As long as we don’t complain, is sexual harrassment a readily accepted part of our social interactions with men?

If Coolio wasn’t a celebrity would his behaviour have been tolerated as long as it has been? While I am not suggesting he could have potentially attacked Mutya or one of the other female housemates, this “boys being boys” attitude of tolerance and acceptance does permeate through all social strata to the continued detriment and silencing of women.

Comments From You

Michelle // Posted 19 January 2009 at 9:19 pm

I agree, Abby. The lack of opposition to the blatant sexism expressed by Coolio towards his female housemates shows how deeply entrenched these sorts of attitudes and behaviours are. Sexism & sexual harassment aren’t something to be challenged or curtailed, but laughed at & shrugged off. It’s normality.

I think it’s always important to critique programmes such as Big Brother from a feminist perspective, as they are so popular, and therefore are a barometer of popular opinion and the kinds of cultural attitudes & behaviours we tolerate or not in people. So, to see sexism shrugged off in this instance has been a concern.

Kez // Posted 19 January 2009 at 9:38 pm

I haven’t seen it so perhaps shouldn’t comment, but from what I can gather Coolio’s public persona is such that the producers probably knew full well what type of behaviour to expect from him. So it’s hardly surprising noone has intervened as they probably had this sort of outcome in mind all along. Bad behaviour, especially sexual, generates viewers.

Depresso // Posted 19 January 2009 at 9:56 pm

I haven’t watched Big Brother since the first series, but I would’ve had to live under a rock on Saturn to not have heard about it’s various controversies. I’m sure I read last year that a woman had actually be sexually assaulted by a ‘housemate’ in the South African version. Coolio’s behaviour would be accepted in a non ‘celebrity’ version; it’s accepted in just about every sphere of life. I haven’t read anything about this particular series, but I’d be willing to bet that there’s a fair few folks saying that she’s over-reacting, it’s all just harmless fun, as I’m sure Coolio will if he’s ever asked to account for his behaviour. As for Channel 4 not bothering about it; the show would tank if there wasn’t some salacious controversy in a series. If a big enough stink is made publicly about the sexism displayed, then they might do something, once they’re sure they have the attention of the nation. I could be wrong, but the whole thing about Jade Goody and her racist comments only blew up once there was enough attention, or that’s how it appeared to me. It’s all down to how the viewers (and the readers of the Daily Male, if they hear about it) react.

Marina // Posted 20 January 2009 at 12:41 am

And did anyone else notice how Coolio blabbed about how he had sex with “probably thousands” of “drunk women” who said no? Doesn’t that mean that he said he committed crimes or am I reading too much into this?

Kez // Posted 20 January 2009 at 9:16 am

Marina – I didn’t hear what he said, but I’d have thought yes, he’s potentially admitted there to committing rape. It does depend on what exactly he said though, as if it was something like “they said no but then I won them round with the power of my amazing sexual magnetism” which (whether true or not, and frankly one doubts it) wouldn’t constitute an admission…

I do detect a hint of exaggeration, though. I mean – “thousands”? You’d think out of all those thousands, at least one might have complained. Or maybe not.

None of this is tempting me to start watching CBB, I have to say!

JenniferRuth // Posted 20 January 2009 at 11:43 am

Marina –

No, I don’t think you are reading too much into it at all. Coolio also said that “I’ve never raped a woman … I’ve never had to.”

He obviously has no respect for women or the concept of consent.

JENNIFERDREW // Posted 20 January 2009 at 1:19 pm

Coolio’s allegation he has ‘had sex with probably thousands of drunk women who said no would in fact be rape. But legally it is highly unlikely Coolio would be convicted if he were to be charged with rape. Coolio was stating what is now common – women who are drunk or consume alcohol in any amount are presumed to be sexually available to any male and if a man rapes a woman who has consumed alcohol it is never rape because the woman supposedly caused her own ‘rape.’

Coolio made an allegation but whether it was from a boastful belief in his right to ‘rape’ drunken women or whether he was attempting to portray himself as a sexually voracious male is difficult to pinpoint. However, his claims will have been watched by innumerable girls, boys, women and men. Coolio’s claims reinforce and normalise the widespread belief men are entitled to rape women who drink because responsibility for rape is always on women’s shoulders. Men’s sexual behaviour and accountability can be ignored because on no account must that be critiqued or challenged. So, Coolio’s flippant comments are very dangerous because they reinforce male sex right to women and girls.

Lynsey // Posted 20 January 2009 at 1:42 pm

I have been commenting on this in my blog. http://lightupvirginmary.blogspot.com/

What is particularly sickening is the way Davina has constantly defended Coolio, telling Michelle she should have sorted it out herself, and basically bucked up. She also said, ‘he doesn’t mean it really’ and ‘where he comes from that’s ok.’

Incorrect.

Bumble // Posted 20 January 2009 at 2:12 pm

Also when some of the female housemates were discussing ways of organising a limited shopping budget, e said to some male housematess that women shouldn’t have been given the vote, that they should be kep barefoot, pregnant in the kitchen etc etc. None of them dissented. I have complained to Channel 4 – you can too:

http://help.channel4.com/bigbrother/bb.aspx

Bumble // Posted 20 January 2009 at 4:06 pm

You may be interested in the reply I recieved from Channel 4 regarding my complaints abou Coolio’s behaviour had been left unchecked by the production team. Any thoughts? :

We are sorry to hear that you found Coolio’s comments and behaviour towards

his housemates, in particular the females, unacceptable and offensive.

As you know, CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER is not a scripted drama, but a reality

programme and one of the consequences of reality television is that at times

participants in the programme will express opinions or react in a way which

a viewer may disagree with or find upsetting. It is important that within

the context and structure of the programme that housemates have the right to

express themselves without censure as long as they do not contravene the BIG

BROTHER rules.

We do appreciate that some viewers will find certain comments or actions

unacceptable and we will always look at the context and the justification in

screening certain scenes or conversations in line with the Ofcom

regulations. We take our responsibility to our audience very seriously and

if a housemate, expressed views which were clearly in breach of the rules of

BIG BROTHER, then appropriate action would be taken.

I can assure you that any decision regarding the housemates is not taken

lightly and the production team are constantly reviewing the on-going

situation in the house as the primary concern of both Channel 4 and the

CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER producers, is the welfare of the housemates.

Nevertheless, your comments are welcome and these have been logged for the

programme makers’ attention.

maggie // Posted 20 January 2009 at 8:49 pm

Well clearly given the last CBB, the CBB production team are intolerant of racial abuse and rightly so, but isn’t this just participants expressing opinions however upsetting the viewer finds it? I have witnessed while watching these programmes people with non conforming sexual orientation, women, the older participants and those with disabilities being the subjects of distasteful behaviour and ‘opinions’.

I’ve stopped watching it but loved the Charlie Brooker Zombietake on BB. Wonderful.

v // Posted 20 January 2009 at 10:10 pm

there’s been ‘coolios’ in several runs of UK BB, this is nothing new. not that you shouldnt get irate about it, i am. but the only real difference this year is that last time round there was a big racism row, and so maybe people think that sexism will get called out the same way. surprise! but no.

is it worth me pointing out that last time round jade (and her mum) was subjected to relentless and outright classism from before she even entered the house? seriously – one guy leapt the fence before even meeting her because he was so grossed out at having to live in the same house as her kind of people. nice.

Claire // Posted 22 January 2009 at 11:27 pm

Great to find this article – both me and a close friend are big Big Bro fans and we have been disgusted by the blatant sexism. Big Bro often reflects a microcosm of society,- in this case it most certainly has, the derogatory language about women used regularly by Coolio and also Verne is disturbing enough but the lack of reaction is what I find most upsetting. This big brother has condoned misogyny through its lack of reaction or challenge, which does sadly mirror our society. But considering the outrage regarding the Shilpa Shetty Big Bro, you’d have hoped guidelines had been improved by the producers around any ‘ism’s’ by swiftly pulling up housemates who are being offensive. Lucy Pinder has also apparently tried to speak out in BBLB and other interviews about Coolios sexism but has been speedily moved on and silenced. it would be interesting to hear and see how much more kids have been using words such as ‘ho’s’ and ‘bitches’ over the last few weeks now big Bro and the mainstream media has legitimised misogyny and sexism. Genuinly concerned Coolio might win and what a damaging message that would send out, particularly to the predominate audiences – young people!

Kez // Posted 23 January 2009 at 4:51 pm

V – I’d probably leap a fence rather than be forced to share a house with Jade Goody and her mum, too. That’s nothing to do with them being working class (I’m from a working class background). It’s more a reflection of the fact that they just don’t seem like the kind of personalities I would voluntarily spend time with. As was evidenced by the whole racism farrago.

Then again, I’d rather chew my own arm off than go into the Big Brother house in the first place.

JenniferRuth // Posted 23 January 2009 at 9:29 pm

Sorry, just had to say – hahahaha, Coolie came third!

Dance // Posted 23 January 2009 at 9:47 pm

“Your stuck up”. Thats exactly what Shilpa Shetty got accused of being. What that really means is you think you’re better than you are but actually you are not as good as us. “Know your place” is what it means and Ulrika has refused to “know her place” even though it has made life less peaceable for her. She’s proven she’s tough and has principles and won’t be beaten into rejecting them just to win a popularity contest. I’m so proud of her. She’ll emerge from the house to resounding boos and claims of fixing but who cares. She did it for us and I’m grateful. Who cares what a bunch of mysoginists think.

claire // Posted 23 January 2009 at 11:56 pm

Yo to the sisterhood! chuffed to bits! some serioulsy political voting going on there. jumped of the sofa with elation when coolio was kicked out third!

Natasha // Posted 24 January 2009 at 12:09 am

Thank goodness somebody agrees with me. I think it’s absolutely disgusting that there hasn’t been a big stink about this. A man is blatantly discriminating half of the population, but not a word is said. Yet as soon as a housemate makes any statement that could be loosely analysed as negatively racial, they’re kicked out. It’s unbelievable that it’s so accepted.

I’ve just watched Big Brother’s Big Mouth on E4. Upon Coolio’s admittance that he was a ‘chauvinist pig’, most of the women in the audience cheered. I don’t understand how women can stand up for such disgusting behaviour. We have to put up with men like that everyday, and it’s time we took a stand.

Holly // Posted 24 January 2009 at 12:43 am

Big Brother has been riddled with sexism right from the very start.

It’s a series that rewards lairy, laddish behaviour (from both sexes).

Anne Onne // Posted 24 January 2009 at 2:13 pm

Ugh, I’m glad I don’t watch BB. Not that there isn’t entertainment value of some sort in it (each to their own), but it seems like it was particularly depressing this time round.

Although, I think it needs to be pointed out that this is NOT about pitting racism against sexism. It’s quite easy to start along the ‘but if someone says anything vaguely racist’ kind of path, which when worded in certain ways implies that racism is either not that big a deal, and that people should not be called out on being racist as much as they should for being racist (which is of course bollocks), or that racism is entirely unacceptable in society.

What was very evident about the Prince Harry (and Prince Charles) racism row is that media coverage features a lot of racism apologists (but some Asians use the word ‘Paki’, young people are ‘colourblind’, his father helps black people so he can’t be racist, you’re making a big deal out of nothing,etc.). Although Jade was notably more malicious in her intention, and went further in insults used, I suspect Jade Goodie got a lot more flak because she’s also vilified for being a (supposedly) dumb, working class, unl-ladylike woman. I suspect that had the person in question been a rich man, the furore would have been less extreme. Not that there wouldn’t be an outrage (there would be, I hope!) but that it’s always much easier to vilify someone who is a minority in several ways, than the privileged of society. I hold no real sympathy for her actions in that affair (she should have known better, and it was a stupid argument, and a nasty way to try and isolate someone who is ‘different’ because they are foreign as well as another race) but I do think that some of the reaction was because it is easier to hate her than someone who is more privileged.

Of course the point I’m trying to make here is not that it’s fine that sexism isn’t called out (it’s absolutely shameful that it’s encouraged!) but that what we ideally want is a situation where racism, sexism, homophobia, fat hating and all discrimination is called out.

In the spirit of this, we should be careful when complaining that one -ism is recieving less attention than another in a specific situation, to not give the impression that we *resent* that racism gets attention. This isn’t necessarily true of the comments here, but a lot of the problems between movements occur when people act like their discrimination is the worst, when it’s more complex. So let’s remember that Oppression Olympics help nobody, and serve only to pit different minorities against each other.

lauredhel // Posted 24 January 2009 at 3:20 pm

Anne Onne: I totally agree with your general drift. I _think_ what people are saying in this case (and certainly what I say) is that we wish that the Big Brother UK producers in particular would call out sexism in the same way that they have called out racism in the past.

Goody is not the only case; a couple of seasons ago, Emily, who was not at all working-class, was ejected from the set in her nightie in the middle of the night for using the N-word (and not in anger). Yet with sexism, we have a man whooping it up about “bitches” and “hos”, we have the show itself setting a task to “find out whether men are better than women” and then joyously joining in with the men’s celebrations when they won, we see repeated incidents of sexual harassment and even indecent assault, which are played for laughs in the edit. We have a male housemate on the Big Mouth finale proudly shouting “I’m a sexist, male chauvinist pig!”, putting down the sole objector with an “I don’t give a FUCK!”, and getting cheered on by both crowd and presenters. We repeatedly see the victims of sexist bullying and harassment being told that it’s their own damn fault, and they should stop being such whiny-arse victims, and they only bring it on themselves by their behaviour – again, this is hosts and presenters engaging in this behaviour, not just housemates and fans.

It’s truly disgusting, and there’s absolutely no excuse for it. The show knows how to deal reasonably with prejudice, and they’ve shown that in the case of the racism issues that have come up, which is why that’s relevant. They just don’t give a damn when it’s women at stake, and what’s worse, they join in with the abuse.

Anne Onne // Posted 24 January 2009 at 9:04 pm

Lauredhel: I get that. It’s certainly good to wish to apply high standards across the board, and to point out that discrimination shouldn’t be acceptable, whatever the group. I think most people in feminist circles get the balance right between pointing out a disparity, and being aware that it doesn’t make one group less marginalised than another, but there is always the danger for a comparison to go in the ‘ well, so-and-so is the last acceptable prejudice’ (I HATE that phrase SO much, because it implies that all other prejudices have magically melted away…) and that it would be good to point out the need to be careful whenever two types of discrimination (and the response to them) are compared and contrasted.

On topic: I would guess that with the people running the show, actually doing anything about something depends on how much trouble they think they will get into, and that often, overt sexism is seen to be easier to ignore than overt racism (though they are of course equally bad). Seeing how bad it got makes it apparent that the producers only take the issue in hand when there is large scale condemnation, and that it seems to be easier to draw condemnation from the audience for racism than sexism in this case.

It’s weird, but I think the lack of involvement (or even recognition of said mysogyny) is partly because white society sees women and POC in a different light. People of colour are ‘them’, a group independent of ‘us’, whereas women are a part of the ‘us’ category, something ‘we’ see as belonging to us. If we are looking at why society reacts differently to different groups and discriminates in different ways, we have to look at how the privileged groups interact with those discriminated against.

Whilst some people feel they have to grudgingly apologise for offending ‘them’ (POC), this stems from the awareness that another group might complain and that they might look bad. Racism is often overlooked, especially since POC are taught to ‘not be wimpy and put up with it because it’s just words’ and because most of the people in the media who get to decide and tell everyone if something is racism are white Anglo-Saxons.

On the whole, the number of POC that support overtly racist language is not as significant as women who support misogynist language, an example being that some women readily profess to liking men to be ‘ chauvinistic neanderthals’ whereas whilst women and POC (and other minorities) are all taught to accept discrimination, women are the group most expected to actively enjoy being subjugated to a high level. We’re taught we NEED men, and we NEED them to be chauvinistic for a relationship to work.

It’s like the ‘my friend is black, and he/she agrees so I’m not racist’ argument, except it becomes ‘I have a wife and mother and they agree so I’m not sexist’. Society teaches women to judge other women in a way that’s slightly different to the problems POC face when interacting with each other, and probably to vilify each other to a greater extent.

Also, society cannot avoid women. If bigots want to avoid POC or LGBTQI people (which is of course is a kind of discrimination in itself) , they can do this much more effectively, whereas no matter how inferior they judge women to be, they can’t avoid associating with them, so they decide that this proximity means that they can’t possibly be discriminating, because they totally love women!

The problems for some groups are primarily from being ostracised, from being forever ‘them’ and never ‘us’. This is true of women in some instances, but when it’s convenient for the patriarchy, women become ‘us’ therefore ‘can’t’ be discriminated against, because they are owned by men, and therefore part of the group. People seem to find it hard to believe they could be discriminating against someone who they have regular contact with or sexual feelings toward.

It’s always worth pointing out that each type of discrimination is different because each group is different, and that they all intersect.

Of course, it’s mind boggling that someone can outright say that they’re sexist and be cheered on. I guess that’s the problem with sexism being presented as a romantic ideal and a stand against ‘being PC’…

Amy // Posted 24 January 2009 at 10:23 pm

Anne Onne’s post sums up everything you can say on misogyny being legitimized in the media and in society.

I never watch it but the reality is, big brother is a reality show. One commenter here said the racism on the ‘Shilpa Sheti’ CBB was accepted. If you recall Jade and co were calling racist insults and big brother was on the bullies’ side because it thought the public was. BB doesn’t necessarily take the moral high ground, it moulds to what it believes the public want – it’s the cool kid/ cool show, just like the mainstream media tries to be.

Mainstream media often neglects the responsibility it’s meant to have, in favour of being hip. It tries to have as much power as it can, with as little responsibility. Sexist adverts and shows like big brother want to rule the world, and offend who they want to if- it’s- acceptable. The media or BB is torn between blending easily into the trends and comfortable opinion; whilst being, popular, cool and powerful. It balances influencing the masses between being entirely family friendly. Being enormously liked, with being powerful. Very narcissistic of it!

As with Coolio’s sexism, again media dogs along, as it always does, with the cooler stance of interfering only when it’s necessary and conforming unreservedly with public breath and what is ‘cool’.

Anne said sexism is currently the best way to be anti- PC, and you can never really ostracise women, right? Or alienate them? Maybe why misogyny is and always has been so powerful and successful – women are a pandemic problem, our numbers are too high for our discrimination to be anything we normally think to be morally outraged at.

Though numbers aren’t significant at all if no one speaks out. Thus we easily become a discriminated group. Not discriminated against at all on the surface. If the sugarbabe singer along with other girls reacted as would a POC to racism, there would be our problem for misogynists.

Except as much as BB likes to toe the line, maybe it was just as startled as we were none of the girls spoke up?

It’s a psychological experiment before anything else, and observes before it interferes.

lauredhel // Posted 25 January 2009 at 1:15 am

“Except as much as BB likes to toe the line, maybe it was just as startled as we were none of the girls spoke up? ”

Why are you assuming this?

As far as I know, there were no girls in the house. Quite a few of the women (and one of the men) spoke up, repeatedly, clearly, and at length. There was absolutely no doubt that they made it clear to Coolio that his sexist behaviour was unwanted, unacceptable, sexist, and hurtful. His on-air response to the objections was “I don’t GIVE a FUCK”. His excuse for his bullying was that he was bored and trying to amuse himself.

v // Posted 25 January 2009 at 11:24 am

If people are going to continue calling Jade Goody a malicious racist could they at least provide the evidence? Because a self satisfying media uproar over the word ‘poppadom’ does not the an evil malicious racist make – its not even vaguely comparable to the level of deliberate sexist abuse we’re talking about.

If people didnt watch it and see the relentless classism and sexism and even racism directed at Jade herself during that show (Jermaine and Shilpa discussed how disgusting sleeping with white people was – and no thats not what im saying is racist, but given that Jade is mixed race, and that they already had many conversations slagging off her low class, her accent, behaviour, demeanour, her single motherhood, etc – there was definitely looking down on her for being the product of a biracial relationship).

So yeh – dont keep repeating media crap unless you have the ability to back it up. There was a big cultural clash between Jade and Shilpa but you know what – the main factor was not race but class, and both mistrusted and disliked each other based on class perceptions first and foremost, with Jade thinking Shilpa was a stuck up princess and Shilpa thinking Jade was low class scum. That was at the centre of their main arguments and issues with each other and Big Brother set it up that year on purpose, the main task in the house was all about reversal of class positions ffs, with one guy walking out cos he didnt want to wait on Goodys sort of people. I find it frustrating how she is demonised for stuff that either she didnt say or do, or stuff that has been deliberately misinterpreted. She’s a convenient scapegoat, giving racists everywhere an excuse to look like virtuous anti racists and get to smack her over the head with the low class scum stick at the same time.

polly styrene // Posted 25 January 2009 at 11:41 am

What V said. I didn’t see the programme at all, so can’t comment on what happened, but Jade Goody is subject to endless misogynist, classist attacks.

Obviously using terms like ‘poppadom’ or for that matter ‘Sooty’ about an Asian person are racist (does this mean we can get rid of the monarchy please?) but again it’s a matter of degree and context, and FWIW, I believe that Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty are now on good terms.

Amy // Posted 25 January 2009 at 4:00 pm

As I said I don’t watch the show. Maybe Jade wasn’t the worst racist but she was bullying Shilpa. Anyway I admire Jade for being strong and am not classist.

lauredhel –

thanks for filling me in.

Ok, i now oficially, officially detest that show.

Natasha // Posted 25 January 2009 at 7:15 pm

RE the Jade Goody race row, I watched the show and didn’t actually see anything remotely racist. There was most definitely a culture-clash, and some ignorance on both parts, but it wasn’t about race. Of course, the media didn’t point it out, as to do so would be very un-PC.

Back to the topic at hand, of course you can’t compare racism and sexism. But as another poster has said, it definitely needs to be highlighted that BB always jumps in when anything appears remotely racist, but ignores other discriminations. However, I think this isn’t to do with the producers, but more a result of public reactions. The Emily incident occured after the Goody – Shetty incident, and producers were quick to make a move, as their failure to do so before was a big issue.

My point in this is that, until the public points out such sexist issues, the media will go on to see this type of discrimination as acceptable.

Kez // Posted 26 January 2009 at 9:38 am

Natasha, did you really not see anything “remotely racist” there? – admittedly it wasn’t just Jade. Jade’s mum claimed to be unable to pronounce Shilpa’s name (how hard can it be?!) and called her “the Indian” instead. The other girls mocked her accent and said they didn’t want her touching their food. Jade called her “Fuckawallah” and “Poppadom”. Maybe those things don’t sound racist to you, but they do to me.

There was a culture clash, yes, but it was expressed in a racist way. I’m not saying those women are essentially nasty racists. They may not have disliked Shilpa specifically because she was Indian, but the way they chose to express that dislike was, in my view, frequently racist.

Cara // Posted 26 January 2009 at 12:07 pm

In my opinion, Jade Goody and the others were definitely racist.

That is not attacking them because of their class. I can see that often working class people are demonised as racist chav scum, *but* in this case Goody *was* racist. This does not mean every person of a lower socioeconomic group is racist, or that such people should be condemned as a group.

That said, I agree with Lauredhel’s point. Emily was removed from the house at night for saying the n word and there is no way she is lower class, in fact, I think she was from a wealthy background iirc. (And hmmm, thinking of recent news events, upper class people are often casually racist…again I wouldn’t want to demonise the whole class. As a ‘PC middle class Guardian reader’ I have to condemn everyone ;-) joke).

Yet in contrast, Coolio can call women ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’ etc. and is not even reprimanded by BB.

Also, yes, the ‘men vs women’ task – grrrr. Stupid ‘war of the sexes’ idea in the first place, but the BB announcer actually called women ‘the weaker sex’ and claimed ‘we have scientifically proved that men are better than women’.

Can you IMAGINE them setting a task for white vs black people and saying ‘ha, white people won, we have proved black people are thick and useless’?!

I mean, I agree with those above that playing ‘who is more oppressed’ is stupid – yes, racism is still a problem, so is sexism. They work in different ways. So no, sexism is by no means ‘the last acceptable prejudice’.

I think racism works in more covert, subtle ways – it is not generally acceptable to come out with the n word, and blatant racist statements such as ‘black people are stupid’ and ‘lynching? it was just a surprise fight’ are not on any T-shirts. But people say some more subtly racist things (e.g. ‘s/he sounded so *articulate* on the phone…I wouldn’t have thought they were black’!)

So yeah, different. But on occasion, calling out sexism by showing the unacceptability of equivalent racism, as in the comparison Lauredhel made with BB, may be right.

lauredhel // Posted 26 January 2009 at 1:28 pm

Can you IMAGINE them setting a task for white vs black people and saying ‘ha, white people won, we have proved black people are thick and useless’?!

Just pulling this bit out, and generalising past Big Brother – Survivor did this one season, more or less. They divided the starting survivor contestants into four “tribes” based on race, and had them compete against each other. (It’s obviously not Survivor’s only racist premise! The entire series is predicated on “wild” “empty” lands and noble savages and ideas of the primitive.)

v // Posted 26 January 2009 at 1:47 pm

I know we’re off topic but i want to respond because I think this stuff is libellous, plain wrong, and needs to be disputed.

Jade’s mum has several disabilities and has problems talking some of the time, she had problems and stumbled over other words too. She called Shilpa ‘princess’ for the first part of their stay, in awe of Shilpa’s glamour. She started referring to her as “the Indian” after they had fallen out and I agree that it was a racist term, but the intent was more just general distaste for someone who treated her poorly. And in Jade’s mums case, it was partly because Shilpa treated and spoke to her like she was an invalid – another cultural difference – Shilpa has been brought up to think it is polite and the done thing to do things for the ‘sick’, whereas Jackie felt really patronised by it. I remember her getting aggravated when Shilpa wouldnt let her write something for herself. Again – the word ‘Indian’ barely begins to describe the tense relationship these two had and the motivation wasnt racist (just like Shilpas motivation wasnt ableist), although the effect was.

“The other girls mocked her accent and said they didn’t want her touching their food.”

Thats all misunderstanding and lack of context. Shilpa mocked their accents from the beginning and they took it good humoredly to start off with, before she had made it clear she thought Jade and Jo particularly didnt talk or move like ladies should. Dirk and Jermaine mimicked the Brits accents too, and vice versa. It was going on all the time and it wasnt until they did it to Shilpa that it was called racist. I really do think that context is important and youre missing the context where mimicking each other in that house was something everyone was doing, and in and of itself it is not a racist act, its just people living in a house together winding each other up or having a moan. Had it been only Shilpa on the other end, youd have a point, but it wasnt.

“Jade called her “Fuckawallah” and “Poppadom”.”

Yep -that right there, thats Jade’s big crime. Behind her back, once, Jade referred to Shilpa as “Shilpa Poppadom”. When told it could be percieved as racist she was gutted and apologised loads straight away, and she never did it again. It was a crime of ignorance and idiocy, nothing more.

How about mentioning the way Shilpa and Jermaine discussed appropriate ways to ‘discipline’ children (they support physical punishment)? How about the comments they made about mixed race relationships and their product? How about the way Shilpa treated Jackie as an ‘invalid’? Or the comments they made about Jades class, or as they saw it, lack of it? Is one bigotry more relevant that these others? How about the way those two and Dirk discussed ‘proper’ ways for women to behave, pointing out in several unpleasant ways that the other women were failing to live up to those outdated sexist standards?

I watched the full run and all the way through it I was sickened by the level of classism in there, which as I said before – thats the game BB were playing that year, they filled the house with an upper class and a lower class then got them to face off. But it all got buried under stuff like you just posted, contextless soundbites printed by a pristine wealthy middle class media who relished the opportunity to show their anti racist creds as they got to bang on (as per usual) about how gross Jade was because she ‘had no class’ and how Shilpa was wonderful because she ‘has class’ – and you explain to me how it was all about race and not class. The main beneficiaries of institutionalised racism and white supremacy – the wealthy classes in Britain and in India – got to look whiter than white and blame all the problems on the lower class. It’s so bloody obvious I still cant work out how they got away with it.

Ill give you some more examples for your contextless pile – how about when Jade snapped and told Shilpa she should spend some time in the slums with the people who looked up to her? Was that racism from Jade or was it a response from her to Shilpas blatant classism? How about when Jackie said she had been to India and seen the slums, and asked Shilpa if she lived in one of those huts? ‘Well mannered’ people everywhere breathed in at the racist horror of Jackie implying that people live in huts in India! Except that many people do, dont they? Youre just not supposed to mention it to the Indian elite, cos thats racist. This is where oppression olympics and middle class ‘manners’ gets you – hiding oppression in a bid to seem non-racist.

The food thing you mentioned – they did eat food Shilpa had cooked, despite her having never cooked a meal before in her whole life before she entered BB. The one time they didnt was when she served roast chicken still bloody inside. She was upset because her pride was hurt and she felt silly – it was not a racist incident ffs, it was avoiding food poisoning.

Another food incident was when Jo told Danielle she didnt like people putting fingers in her food and Shilpa kept doing it – another cultural mismatch Id guess. I dont like it either, Id be really pissed if someone I shared a house with reached over and started poking my food around my plate. Was it racist? Hell no, cultural difference – she shouldve asked Shilpa politely not to do it, Jo’s crime was not knowing how to and so privately moaning to Danielle about it instead. But should Shilpa have checked with her before she started poking her food?

What gets me about all the nice middle class peoples getting in a twist over this stuff, is the way they see racism as merely mentioning something from someone else’s culture, and not as an institutional problem. They treat Shilpa Shetty – a glamourous actress from the Indian elite, wealthy all her life, treated like a princess (in her own words), incredibly well educated – they see her as a victim of her culture rather than a beneficiary of it. And then they blindly put seeming-white against victim-brown and get it all wrong. There are a dozen ways Jade did not and does not qualify as ‘white’ in a meaningful sense – she is biracial, she is low class, she left school at 15 to look after a heroin addict parent with disabilities, her dad was in jail throughout her youth, she is a single mother, she doesnt speak or look or walk or behave in the allegedly ‘right’ way.. is she white? Yeh, technically. Compared to Shilpa? Not so much. Maybe its time people started doing that whole intersecting oppressions thing.

The hierarchy in that house and in society – presuming people care about these things – where do you think Jade sits? What about Shilpa? Perhaps when we’re discussing bigotry and oppression it would be good to look at the whole picture instead of assuming the white seeming girl is on top of the brown seeming girl. Who is in the elite? Who is well educated and has the ‘correct behaviour’ for ‘polite society’?

At the end of the whole palaver the papers over here went wild with stories about pig scum Jade ‘and her ilk’ ruining the modern age, and moaned about how it used to be back in the good old days of Empire, when ladies behaved like ladies, and they held Shilpa up as a perfect example. Journos wrote about the Indian elite as being more English than England, populated as we are with Vicky Pollards and Jades.

Unpack those statements and youve got a much more complicated picture than “Jade is a malicious racist because she said poppadom”.

Kez // Posted 26 January 2009 at 2:15 pm

Ok, fair enough. You clearly watched the whole series while I only saw odd bits. It seemed like racism to me but since I’m not going to go back and watch the entire thing from start to finish, I’ll take your word for it that the context made a difference. I’m far from being an expert on the internal dynamics of Big Brother houses.

I hardly think what I said was “libellous”, though – I was only basing it on what I, personally, saw and perceived to be racist behaviour – as did many others including (at the time) the person on the receiving end.

Cara // Posted 26 January 2009 at 3:13 pm

Lauredhel – wow. I did not know Survivor did that. Yeah, you are right of course about the overtones of noble savages, untamed jungle etc. in those shows.

Still, I really can’t see BB doing it, especially not after the racism row. I was simply agreeing that since BB *are* aware of race issues, it’s disappointing that they did not act to address blatant misogyny.

V – I realise your comment wasn’t aimed specifically at me, however, please stop generalising about ‘middle class’ people.

It is not any more acceptable than generalising about working-class people.

Reverse snobbery does bug me. I have had people bully or take against me for being middle-class with a very average southern accent and having a degree…they *assume* I think I am better than them, which I do not. I do not judge people by their accent, background, education, or anything else.

There is also a creeping anti-intellectualism in society – yes the education system is biased, but addressing this by well-meaning liberal, left-wing people seems to come down to expecting nothing from working-class pupils (e.g. to dare to teach correct spelling and grammar, or expect certain behaviour is now considered elitist) – isn’t that itself patronisingly classist?

Yes, Shilpa and others did not behave well towards Jade. This does not justify racism in retaliation.

You think the racist remarks somehow hurt Shilpa less because she’s priveleged in terms of class? She is still a human being.

In fact, the ‘rich and educated, who do you think you are’ has long been used in an anti-semitic way (there was a piece on this site about how according to some, Jewish women don’t deserve to be supported against domestic violence as they are all rich!) This can often apply to people of Asian origin, too. (And both societies tend to place importance on education).

And I do understand racism as institutional.

You are right that many Indians are ‘more British than the British’ but you can bet, no matter how educated and classy those Indians are and how acceptable to white people, you can bet they’ll be reminded what their real place is as a ‘brown’ person if they get too uppity. (I have lived in Dubai and SEEN this).

I do feel somewhat sorry for Jade, or for anyone vilified as a racist by the press…at the same time, I do not mind being called out on saying something racist, even though I didn’t intend it to be. It’s not nice but the adult reaction is to consider it and take it on board, not to sulk like a baby and cry ‘ME, racist? No, stop being MEAN to me!’. (Same as we all recognise men who whinge and huff when called out on sexism).

v // Posted 26 January 2009 at 3:33 pm

Kez – what the press reported and continue to say is libellous, only they feel safe doing it. They wouldnt say it about someone who was more clued up about these things and their rights than Jade is. The problem is that other people then repeat these things because they trust in what the press is reporting. It’s still libellous but it becomes also ‘common knowledge’, and ultimately noone cares whats true or not.

Anyway I wasnt having a go at you is what Im trying to say, Im just angry that these rumours persist regardless.

Kez // Posted 26 January 2009 at 4:16 pm

Well… I’d imagine that Jade has enough money to employ an army of solicitors to fight her corner, if she wants to. You don’t need to be especially educated or intelligent to know when people are maligning you unjustly, or that it’s possible to sue newspapers for doing so.

Although I realise it seems a bit inappropriate to talk about it now given the health worries she’s had since.

Anyway, gone way off topic. Sorry.

v // Posted 26 January 2009 at 5:34 pm

Cara –

Reverse classism is a twisted concept – a ploy to portray a reaction to oppression as an equal problem to the oppression itself.

Jade was inarguably the person of least privilege in that house (except for maybe her mum who could add ‘one armed lesbian muslim ex heroin addict’ to her marginalisation list) and she was mocked and prodded and patronised and insulted for it from the second she got there. She eventually reacted to it by doing some minor bitching and then finally she blew her lid. She lasted longer than i would have in her position.

“You are right that many Indians are ‘more British than the British’ but you can bet, no matter how educated and classy those Indians are and how acceptable to white people, you can bet they’ll be reminded what their real place is as a ‘brown’ person if they get too uppity. ”

I dont think that elite India is more English than the English, that would be an insulting erasure of their own culture. I was deliberately pointing out a prevalent attitude I noticed in the press with regard to the Jade/Shilpa thing. There was a hankering for the ‘good old days’ of Empire. Jade was used as an example of how low our country had sunk, and Indias own class problems were deliberately ignored. As it is – given the choice of classy Shilpa and scum Jade – well I dont think the ruling class in either country took more than a nanosecond to work out who was the politically whitest of the two.

I agree with you though – if Shilpa didnt behave like the lady she was supposed to, if she had raised her voice or voiced approval for sex or children outside of marriage or whatever – then yeh she wouldve been seen as uppity and etc. But thats kind of my point – the great ‘Anti Racist’ establishment took the opportunity to celebrate the olde english values they claim she represents, *values which are racist and sexist and classist and imperialist in themselves.*

Both women were used as examples by the establishment to promote or denigrate particular cultures as they pleased; both women are oppressed and exploited in different ways, sameold sameold madonna/whore etc. I dont know what else to say really, its like not seeing the woods for the trees. The focus on the word ‘poppadom’ as a racist crime allowed the press to wear a progressive pin badge while promoting much more nefarious values. It’s time people stopped throwing tomatoes at Jade and started checking their own crap.

Anna // Posted 26 January 2009 at 5:58 pm

Never thought about it like that before v – whilst I did think the whole thing had been blown way out of proportion, I always assumed it was because the media had got sick of Jade, having built her up they were now keen to tear her down.. but your version makes a lot more sense.

Cara // Posted 26 January 2009 at 6:21 pm

v – fair enough. I didn’t see all of that series of BB either. I’m not saying Jade wasn’t provoked.

I also take your point about the media coverage of the affair.

Yes, ‘reverse classism’, or reverse sexism, or reverse racism cannot exist. BUT I am talking about a very specific type of person who has internalised class prejudice and therefore deep down despises themselves, but takes this out on people they perceive to be middle or upper class. I think it is possible to be prejudiced against a group, if you judge and dislike *all* members of that group on principle, but if that isn’t supported by society, that’s not an -ism.

A small minority of women (feminist identified or not) really are bitter against all men (don’t anyone take that out of context!), a small minority of non-white people are against white people.

What I mean is, there’s a difference between being angry, and justifiably so, against the system, and being angry at individual people.

Anyway, yeah, off-topic.

v // Posted 26 January 2009 at 7:39 pm

cara – well im against the existence of a middle class at all..

i wasnt attacking individual people and my generalisations refer to the fact that there is most definitely a wealthy middle class ruling elite, and a whole bunch of people who dont question them and support the values they set. and thats what im attacking, not people who just happen to be middle class by some accident of birth.

its hard not to develop a certain amount of self doubt and hatred from low class status. but i like to think that rather than having turned into a reverse-snobbery prejudice, that these days its more a sort of righteous anger. but maybe im worse at expressing that than i thought.

back on topic – anyone noticed that media coverage of ulrikas win was almost non-existent? thats the first time in my recollection that the tabloids didnt all cover it front page, id think. perhaps theyre scared theyll be next kicked out of the house for rampant sexism.

someone said something about how noone phones up to complain about sexism, but the georgina baillie thing was pretty recent. i like to think a large number of people objected not due to the language or to the offence caused to andrew sachs, but because of the malicious sexism used against Baillie herself. that was my main objection, but perhaps im wrong.

Anne Onne // Posted 26 January 2009 at 7:39 pm

V, Cara, and everyone else: Conversations like this are why I love the F word. Thinking people can have a conversation about such a situation as the Goody and Shetty affair without using anti-racism to cover up/downplay classism, or using patriotism or anti-classism to cover up/downplay racism. So Yay to everyone.

Thinking about what happened, I’d have to agree there was both classism and racism involved, and that whilst Goody was the one who tipped it over the edge, there were problematic elements in the show long before that argument. Whilst Goody did resort to racism, the furore surrounding the issue was so great because she was a very convenient scapegoat, someone who on many levels society finds less than. Whilst I don’t have sympathy for her being called a racist (because I believe her actions were), I don’t feel that the coverage was fair, nor that baying mobs are the best way to educate people on racism.

However, (just because this argument keeps popping up) Goody’s being mixed race doesn’t absolve her of racism. One can be very visibly a POC (though Goodie might arguably benefit from white privilege in passing for being Anglo-Saxon) and still be racist toward other groups, as well as their own.

Shetty’s classism does not absolve Goody of racism. Yes, it’s important to point out why Goody was a scapegoat, and why she reacted particularly violently, but she still said what she said. This is of course predicated on pointing out that Shetty and others were classist, and not to minimise that factor, but to point out that both can be wrong. In the end, I choose to focus on Shetty as being the worse affected (if one had to choose) during the argument itself, because a few people (one would assume of a similar class, though I’m not sure) ganged up on her, and used her otherness as a foreigner (English second language) and an Indian against her. Yes, she was classist against them, too, but in that particular argument, she was on a show half way across the world, amongst celebrities more well known in the UK, and who grouped against her. Agruably she gave as much as she got, (or even more) before the argument, but within it she was evidently the one being bullied.

I think it worth noting that the reason that Goody was so badly treated by the press is because racism as a problem is treated wrongly. Instead of explaining why something was inappropriate and encouraging the person who did it to apologise and move on, we (as a society, not feminists in particular) vilify them for having been caught saying the ‘wrong’ thing. As if discrimination is about merely shutting up when you think something wrong, rather than changing the thought processes. We have made ‘racism’ into the new ‘Nazi’ (oh, dear, invoking Godwin, please bear with me!) in that instead of encouraging people to think of what they have said, and why it was wrong, we get a heapload of defensive ‘but I’m not a RACIST! I like black people/have an Indian friend/dated a Chinese person once!’. Because being called a racist is the worst possible thing you can ever be called. The thing is, we all are (as I’m sure you all know), at least to varying extents, because we live in this culture. I can be racist, and I’m a foreigner who gets asked where she comes from every time she’s introduced to someone, despite the ‘English’ mannerisms. Nobody’s immune from being racist, and without acknowledging the level of privilege we hold, we can’t move to reduce it.

Racism(/sexism/etc) doesn’t have to be intentional, it doesn’t have to be malignant, or calculated. It can be when you’ve had a bad day, or when you’re mad, and the first thing that comes out of your mouth is something that latches on to that person’s otherness and uses that to hurt. Just like, say a man calling his girlfriend a ‘whoring bitch’ during an argument. It’s human to make mistakes, especially when these things are so intertwined with language, with how we have been brought up since birth. But it’s only through recognising that we can correct.

It’s rather like the misogynist trolls (or any other -ism), and the reflex reaction and convenient uproar from people who want to look like they understand discrimination. It’s sad, because at other times people miss very real discrimination, because society only really takes it seriously if the perpetrator is convenient enough a scapegoat.

However, not everyone defending Goody is racist, and not everyone who believes that it was racist are looking at it from a classist perspective. There are certainly people who used this as a chance to further their own prejudice, but there were also those who genuinely wished that the hatred from both sides had been pointed out and explored. That’s why places like this are so important. :)

Cara: I agree on the -isms. No matter how much hate a member of an oppressed group may have for the privileged group, they don’t have the social power (or sometimes even the physical power) to oppress in the same way that someone of the privileged group can. There’s a difference between the actions of an individual against a majority, and the actions of a privileged individual with the weight of social power behind them.

On Coolio: His views sound absolutely indefensible, and I’m amazed that four haven’t done anything,and discouraged housemates from doing anything. I might hazard that after the Goody row, they decided that if they pretended there wasn’t discriminatory language used, and tried to minimise it, that it might go away, and that people might not notice it, being sexism and all. As if pretending a problem isn’t there makes it go away…

Cara // Posted 26 January 2009 at 8:53 pm

Oh and v – ‘I dont think that elite India is more English than the English, that would be an insulting erasure of their own culture. I was deliberately pointing out a prevalent attitude I noticed in the press with regard to the Jade/Shilpa thing. There was a hankering for the ‘good old days’ of Empire.’

Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I did deliberately put that in quotes to indicate its ridiculousness. What I was trying to point out was that, as you said, the media highlighted ‘the olde english values they claim she represents, *values which are racist and sexist and classist and imperialist in themselves.*’ – I do think that middle-class Indian culture retains some aspects of those ‘traditional English values’, which yes, are outdated, imperialist etc. I didn’t mean to erase their own culture, obviously it’s their own take on it. I was just acknowledging the influence of colonialism, obviously it is a hangover. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. In fact it’s internalised racism, in a way. But you can’t expect Indian culture not to be influenced by colonialism.

Bumble – I got exactly the same form response. Sigh.

Mephit // Posted 26 January 2009 at 10:25 pm

Not having watched any of BB, I don’t know anything beyond the headlines on the subject. But that was a really interesting perspective on it, V. If you blog anywhere, be interested to read more of your stuff.

Cara // Posted 21 February 2009 at 9:14 pm

v – yeah, I know you didn’t mean to personally attack anyone. I guess my own issues were coming into play there…hmmm…will think on my own class privelege.

Anne Onne – actually, I thought the same thing re: being mixed race not absolving someone from racism. Being non-white doesn’t either. It’s not as if non-white people can’t internalise racism, or women misogyny. And everyone call me on this if it’s a white priveleged comment, but yes, Goody appears white to me (in response to Anne Onne’s comment that she would ‘pass’ as white, and yeah, not that there is really such a thing as ‘white’ or ‘black’ in reality).

You’re also completely right about the way to tackle racism. It’s odd…as you say, being called a racist is an insult, but pretty much everyone is racist in this society, you can’t avoid it…so completely agree that the best way is to explain politely why saying this specific thing is racist, in a way that will encourage the person to understand and apologise rather than get defensive.

Absolutely about scapegoats. I mean nothing happened to Prince Harry (oh noes, he had to go on an equality and diversity course!) for what he said.

And yes, it’s possible to be against both Goody being racist, and Shetty being classist.

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