So, it turns out it’s Misogyny July. We’ve had InverdaleGate, where a complacent and corpulent male journalist chose to focus on the looks of a superb athlete right at the moment she reached the pinnacle of her profession. We’ve been shown the sickening outpourings of idiot tweeters about the same woman. We’ve had MurrayWadeGate, where much virtual ink was spilled on 1977 and 1936 and 77 years and Marray and Haydon-Jones and all that. But the really disturbing indicator of how our society looks at women didn’t happen anywhere near the All-England Club. It’s happening in and around a TV programme that the media doesn’t really take any notice of any more, and it stinks.
Hazel O’Sullivan is an Irish model, and is single. Daley Ojuederie is an English boxer, and doesn’t seem too sure whether he’s single or not. In the last couple of weeks, they’ve been flirting up a storm. She’s been grinding her behind against his crotch. They’ve been tapping out Morse Code messages on each others’ hands. There has been draping. All this is something, I’m informed, that Young People Do. But unusually for such couples, we who have never met them can be certain that they have never kissed each other, or had sex. We can be certain of this because they have chosen to spend their summer in the Big Brother house.
Ok, yes, this is about Big Brother. They’re Big Brother contestants. But don’t stop reading just yet, because I promise you that what is about to happen to Hazel O’Sullivan is an example of a scarier, more insidious, more prevalent kind of misogyny than anything Inverdale could have dreamt of in his wildest Wimbledon fantasies.
So, Hazel and Daley are in the Big Brother house together. They’ve been there for just shy of a month and have started doing the ritual sexdance of reality show contestants. Canoodling and whispering and everything I mentioned above. You may remember that I also mentioned Daley’s uncertain relationship status: he claimed when he went into the house that he had a girlfriend, but in the last few weeks he has, what with all the canoodling and that, recanted. He has said that his relationship is ‘in a pickle’. He ‘doesn’t know’ whether he has a girlfriend or not. He ‘wishes he could find out’. O’Sullivan, in the meantime, just so you know, knows she’s single. And her knowledge of Ojuederie’s relationship status is what he’s told her: all the vague ‘pickle’ stuff.
Now, let’s guess who Britain- or that part of Britain which watches and writes about BB, at any rate- has decided to hate, shall we? That’s right. Cherchez la femme.
Hazel is odds-on favourite to be evicted this week. She will exit the house on Friday to a storm of boos. She will be labelled a ‘homewrecker’, and a ‘slag’, and a ‘slut’, all because she did some dirty dancing and some flirting and some cuddling with a man who told her he was more or less a free agent.
Just to rub it in even further, Big Brother’s spin-off, public show invited Daley’s is-she-or-isn’t-she girlfriend Katie on for a tearful interview last night. She insisted that Daley was lying when he said that their relationship was, to coin a Friends, on a break. She insisted that, and she cried. It was upsetting, and she came across as sincere and devastated. At the same time, her take was treated as gospel, when as far as any of us can know, Daley, trapped in the house without an interviewer, is telling- confusedly- the truth about their status. Immediately after the interview with Katie, presenter Emma Willis asked the studio audience what they thought… of Hazel. She didn’t ask what they thought of the putative cheater; she encouraged them to boo the co-respondent.
Now look. I’m not under any illusions that Hazel O’Sullivan is a sister. Her behaviour on the show has been at best ill-advised. She may be a thoroughly unpleasant individual; only people who know her can say what she’s like. And it’s only Big Brother, after all. Who cares? It’s a trashy reality show.
But in this case, I think this particular trashy reality show is tapping into something which is bigger than the show, an attitude whereby any sexual interaction between a man and a woman has to be driven by her. After all, if we’re going to blame anyone for Daley’s girlfriend’s tears- are they really Hazel’s fault? Are they not, you know, his? Let’s assume, as the programme-makers did, that Daley and Katie were rock-solid before he entered the house. If we then say ‘Ah, but Hazel went after him with her wiles and he was powerless to resist’ are we not backing up every anti-woman story from Eve to ‘she shouldn’t have been walking through the park in that skirt’?
I remember all those storifys from the weird individuals on Twitter who were insulted that Bartoli had the temerity to win Wimbledon: Bitch, they said. And Cunt. And Slag. And Whore. And it’s easy to get angry about them, because they’re so obviously undeserved.
But another woman is about to get a beasting, on the same social media we deplore for the Bartoli stuff. She’ll be called bitch and whore and cunt and slag and nobody will mind all that much.
And I know you don’t watch Big Brother, but I think we probably should mind about that. Because people who win Wimbledon are basically going to be ok. Whereas Hazel O’Sullivan is about to be publicly labelled as a bitch-whore-cunt because she didn’t quite kiss someone who wasn’t sure whether he had a girlfriend or not. And I think that’s much more worrying than Inverdale being crass about an athlete’s looks.