You’re fired! Sexism in The Apprentice

// 9 June 2009

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Fiona Hutchings is not impressed with the BBC’s sexist hype around Sunday’s final of The Apprentice…

The BBC really can’t handle the idea of career, competence and women in the same sentence, it seems.

Sunday’s Apprentice finale was – shock horror – an all-female final and it seems to be the gender rather than the skills of finalists Kate Walsh and Yasmina Siaddatan that caught the Beeb’s attentions. ‘Girl Power’ screamed the link on the BBC website leading to an article trailing the final.

The piece doesn’t start well. ‘Armed with their lip gloss and high heels, Kate Walsh and Yasmina Siaddatan will be seen battling it out on Sunday’s show’. If it was two men in the final would they be armed with manscara and loafers? No, I thought not. I guess they think it’s a fun way to introduce these professional women, but actually it’s patronising, belittling and gives the impression of two little girls playing dress-up.

It doesn’t get any better. ‘If the winner was determined by the strength of their hand shake alone – then Walsh would win hands down, as her grip is extraordinarily strong.’ Again that undertone of girls trying to be like men to be taken seriously. I have a firm handshake; I know that because it’s been commented with the same sort of surprise by men I work with. I am not trying to be a bloke either.

And then they drag up the fact that Kate hates women or at least wouldn’t want to work in a female-dominated environment. “I think, perhaps, people expect women to be quite emotional in the work place and I don’t fit that stereotype,” she explains.

Now I can’t make my mind up about this. Woman who are composed and not quick to show emotion are often viewed with suspicion by men and women alike. It’s not helpful to write us all off as emotional. I think it is hard enough to be taken seriously in the business world as a woman and comments like this gain a lot of media attention and reinforce this idea of struggling women who can’t cope in a man’s world and are all crying in the toilets.

On the other hand she is entitled to her opinion. And if she had just said, “Throughout the process, I have managed to keep my composure and remain professional and, perhaps, I didn’t let my guard down enough and let the real Kate shine through. I was very, very keen to keep up a professional image throughout the whole entire process, which is basically a 12-week interview,” then I don’t think she would have garnered much attention.

It is not the responsibility of Kate Walsh to change the way women are viewed in the business world and maybe she is just playing a savvy game. It’s not right but its true in my experience that women who display more aggressive traditionally male characteristics do better and are taken more seriously. The media love to pigeon hole women and the BBC is no more immune to this practice than the Daily Mail.

Comments From You

Kate // Posted 9 June 2009 at 5:14 pm

I was annoyed by the continual references to Kate Walsh’s physical appearance on the ‘You’re Hired’ programme after the final- several people commented on how ‘stunning’ and ‘beautiful-looking’ she is, as if that had anything to do with her abilities!

Besides being sexist and irrelevant, it can’t have been very pleasant for the winner Yasmina to have everyone tripping over themselves to say how perfect Kate is (I mean you, Ruby Wax- ‘I’m in love with this woman, blonde, Barbie, bla bla’).

Slightly off on a tangent, but why bother with having comics like Wax and the odious Jonathan Ross there ‘commentating’ when all these people can do is try to make the show all about them and how funny they are/ how sexy they find the participants? B-o-r-i-n-g.

re. Kate’s comment about not wanting to work with women- I never heard her say that on the show but my boyfriend told me about it (probably knowing how much it would rile me). Seems she could have put it a bit better, rather than making a dangerous generalisation that we’re all emotional and hard to get along with in the workplace- does she thinks she’s the only able businesswoman in the world?

Jo // Posted 9 June 2009 at 5:25 pm

Whilst the media’s take on The Apprentice has been undeniably sexist with a really obvious focus on the female candidates looks, Kate Walsh’s own comments on women and work have been unhelpful too. In the run up to the final, I was v. annoyed and wrote about what she had said. Not only did she disparage and stereotype other women in the work place (in the semifinal episode), she also has stated that the glass ceiling does not exist… My entry in full is here:

Jane // Posted 9 June 2009 at 6:46 pm

I think Kate Walsh might have been straining to do that ‘Listen boys I find women as emotional as you do really – I’m one of you’ behaviour that women in male dominated fields sometimes resort to. I’m not saying it’s right – it’s bloody awful actually. She might also have been overcompensating because she is very attractive and had started up a relationship with that guy Phillip during the show.

I did notice that there was a LOT of flak directed towards Phillip of the ‘what the hell is she doing with him?’ variety. That he was considered a bit of a prat and why would someone as clever and gorgeous as Kate be interested in him? They were openly laughing at him at that follow up show hosted by Adrian Chiles. Phillip took it in good part but how would we feel if it were say, Lorraine who had started a relationship with a male finalist and all these nasty comments were being lobbed at her?

Secondly (and I can’t believe I’m standing up for Surorlordalan here) but he did go on record to say that Kate and Yasmeena were the two best finalists he’d ever had and he wanted to offer them both a job.

As for the Daily Mail – they’re all confused poor dears. The idea of two brilliant female businesswomen messes with their little 1950s heads.

Milly // Posted 9 June 2009 at 8:32 pm

I thought Kate’s comment about not wanting to work with women was a very calculated move – a way to side with the famously chauvinistic Sugar and show she would fit into the old boy’s club.

maggie o' // Posted 9 June 2009 at 10:37 pm

The apprentice was extremely sexist. The third finalist to be kicked out Debra Barr throughout the entire show was always being criticised for being aggressive and ambitious and for knowing exactly what she wanted. Which is what male business people do day in day out in their everyday business lives. And when this was pointed out (in the show afterwards where the fired contestants are interviewed) the person and the idea was shot down and laughed at. I found it totally depressing and infuriating. Yet again showing that women are not meant to be dominant and in yer face, thats for men.

sianmarie // Posted 10 June 2009 at 10:05 am

i have to admit a level of ignorance here as i don’t watch he apprentice, but was shocked to read in the guardian the two finalists sayng that this proved there was no glass ceiling for women succeeding in business.

right. because a reality tv show which is basically a competition to win a job is the same thing as a real life business atmosphere. because if kate and yasmina weren’t on a reality tv show they’d be just as successful and expecting just as big a salary if they had gone through the normal methods. because alan sugar didn’t say that women should be asked if they were planning on having a baby.

it made me really angry. i don’t have a problem with people going on the apprentice, of course not, but i do have a problem with them using it as proof that women don’t face the glass ceiling.

OSW // Posted 10 June 2009 at 10:53 am

I wonder what the media’s reaction would have been like if Kate said she didn’t like working with black people?

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