How Celebrity Big Brother Got Female Equality Wrong

The long-running reality snooze fest Celebrity Big Brother gave itself a much-needed shake-up this year, introducing an all-female house to celebrate the ‘year of the woman’. Did it last? No. And did they get their message right? No. Sam Lambeth investigates.

I must confess, reality shows do not interest me, unless I am occasionally watching Made in Chelsea and pondering what my life would have been like had I been born with a silver spoon in my mouth (and not a marzipan ladle). Celebrity Big Brother, or any type of sibling offshoot the show offers, has long been anathema to me – I last watched when Bez was crowned champion (and subsequently became bankrupt for a second time a short time later). I tuned out of the ‘regular’ version when a girl called Kinga did some unquestionable things to a bottle, which made me turn to it.

One of the original all-female house, Ashley James from Made in Chelsea.

So, in 2018, I was surprised to see that not only was the show still airing, but they actually decided to do something brave with the format. This year’s Celebrity Big Brother made a hefty hullabaloo of ‘the year of the woman’, and introduced an all-female house. Of course, the standard of ‘celebrity’ wasn’t particularly thrilling, but continually contrary ex-politician Ann Widdecombe and established writer Rachel Johnson – yet another member of the bloated Johnson dynasty – meant there would already be promise of some erudite, if occasionally controversial, dialogue.

Of course, introducing Widdecombe and Johnson, long-established members and supporters of the Conservative party respectively, continues the bizarre current trend of reality shows seemingly trying to ‘normalise’ Tories. I’m A Celebrity… cast Stanley Johnson, patriarch to the Conservative cabal, as the loveable granddad in a CBBC drama, while the eventual winner Georgia Toffolo, who proudly adorns the moniker ‘Toff’, was a shining beacon in a dull rainforest. Tories are people too, the message seemed to suggest.


Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe.

The housemates that were brought into Big Brother had different views and opinions, but the general feeling in the house was harmonious. Watching, I was pleased with Channel 5’s decision – although integration between genders is essential in any walk of life, here we were provided a sign that an all-female show, celebrity or not, was entertaining, efficient and relatively free of brash bravado. So far, so positive. But then the producers back-peddled. Fast.

Rachel Johnson, sister of the nation’s favourite foreign secretary.

The introduction of the male housemates seemed to betray everything about the show’s original message. All the talk of it being an ‘all-female house’ and celebrating the ‘year of the woman’ seemed dashed as Dapper Laughs, a comedian whose lop-sided laddish appeal was lambasted after he claimed an audience member was “gagging for a rape”, entered the house with an invisible badge saying ‘humbled’. Minutes later, he claimed a fellow male housemate, some ‘gentle’ guy from The Apprentice, would be “hanging out the back” of Jess Impiazzi. Humbled or not, the manly mud still sticks.

Shock Twist… It wasn’t long before the producers brought in some ‘lads’ anyway.

If this was a slight show of poor form, Celebrity Big Brother has continued to get it wrong ever since. The men were then put to task, doing tasks like make sandwiches, put on make-up and, in a particularly cringe-worthy scene, experience the agony of childbirth. The female housemates genuinely enjoyed being pampered and seemed pleased the ‘tables had been turned’, but only the argumentative anachronism of Ann Widdecombe seemed to understand the show’s grave mistake. By making the male housemates engage in such tasks, it completely exposed Channel 5’s idea of what femininity is – that being a woman involves knocking out a sarnie, slapping on some rouge and squeezing out babies. It presented a theory that’s embarrassing and out-of-date.

Dapper Laughs aka Daniel O’Reilly

Then there’s the power struggle. The women are in control, ordering the men when to take the bins out as if it’s some sort of radical modern theory. Once again, for all her controversial views, only Widdecombe seemed to hit the nail on the head. Women had won the vote 100 years ago, and had been battling for equality ever since. And the key thing of equality is being ‘equal’ – having men perform menial tasks while the women don’t lift a finger is not gender equality, it’s brash and boorish entertainment that casts women as petty and hungry for revenge, rather than wanting a utopia where no task is assigned as ‘male’ or ‘female’.

If Celebrity Big Brother had to introduce a male demographic, the idea of making them do feminine tasks should have been vetoed – it instead should have been just like a normal show, where no gender is prescribed to carry out certain actions. Instead, they have wasted a promising premise by casting men as Stepford husbands, picking up after pampered women and once again showing that reality shows really can’t make a difference.

Words By Sam Lambeth.

Images: Channel 5, Celebrity Big Brother

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