It’s 9pm on a Sunday and I’m settling down to watch the latest episode of Made in Chelsea NYC. After the obligatory stock shots of fast cars, luxury shots and glamorous women striding along the streets of the Big Apple, a group of guys are discussing women. One woman in particular. “Oh yeah, it’s like a competition to win her!” one of them crows gleefully. I almost switch the TV off. Almost.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Made in Chelsea follows a group of upper-class twenty-something socialites in London as they sip Bloody Marys, date each other repeatedly, and coin cliché upper class expressions, like “totes rah.” Only it’s what is known as constructed reality, so, a group of socialites being conveniently steered into each other by producers, told what to discuss, and what they should be doing. This series differs from the norm as it’s set in New York.
Made in Chelsea … is known as constructed reality, so, it’s a group of socialites being conveniently steered into each other by producers, told what to discuss, and what they should be doing.
This series, the object of lust – I mean, woman – at the centre of the lads’ desires is American model Billie. “I love British men!” she enthuses to Lucy, a cast member often renowned for her conquests. (By this point, I’m genuinely going to hit the next American on the show who exclaims how much they love British men/women/accents.) Stevie, a shy and rather unassuming cast member, has decided he quite likes Billie, so he asks her on a date. Spencer, a self-proclaimed Casanova, is having none of it, and moments later has decided he also “quite fancies” Billie, so asks her for drinks as well. Stevie is politely miffed. “But I haven’t liked anyone in a really long time!” whines Spencer, demonstrating a total lack of understanding that five minutes does not constitute a “really long time.”
And thus the “competition” begins. The boys are hedging bets on which boy is going to win Billie’s affections.
This was round about when I started to get extremely annoyed. I would like to say that it wasn’t the boys’ faults, only I would be lying. This objectification of women, prevalent in so many series of the show, is beginning to grate. In series three, the boys gawped over Kimberley and her behind. “If that skirt were any higher it’d be f***ing illegal,” Spencer enthused, practically salivating, while totally disregarding that perhaps Kimberley might be a lovely person with interesting views on the Palestine conflict, rather than just a pair of legs. In later series, Lucy Watson actually played the players at their own game and was subsequently described as a “slut” by the others – including other women on the show.
Because here’s the thing: women are not objects for men to stare at and lust over. Really. I know this may be extremely hard to grasp (Spencer, I’m looking at you, and also at the producers). I feel sorry for Billie, who instead of being seen as what she is – a person, with feelings and thoughts of her own – is instead being regarded as a prize, something that can be bought with impressive dates. To all males on the show: women are not objects. I know this may seem difficult to grasp, but we are autonomous human beings and we are able to make decisions for ourselves.
Some people reading this might here be thinking “but it’s just a bit of banter between lads! Who wouldn’t wanna win the attentions of a fit bird?”
And here lies the problem. Lad culture perpetuates the stereotype of objectifying women. Strippers at stag dos. Banter about the girls you’ve got with. Lad culture is seen as being so typically ingrained within British culture on the whole that people are unwilling to see the issue. “It’s just banter!” people cry. No – banter does not excuse your behaviour. Banter is too often used to excuse unkind, harsh statements made without thinking. “Yeah I made a joke about shagging your wife but don’t worry mate! BANTARRRRRRRR!”
If we’re going to apply the Bechdel test to MIC, it would categorically fail. The test is simple: is there more than one woman in the book/movie/show? Do they talk to each other? Do they talk to each other about something other than a man? I think the only exceptions on the show to this rule would still in some respects feature a man, be it slut shaming or planning for parties. Hell, I think even a reverse Bechdel test – is there more than one man? Do they talk about something other than a woman? – would fail.
Interestingly, it can be noted here that in MIC NYC, there are new male cast members. Sickeningly positive, they appear to spend most of their time chatting up the London ladies and coming out with statement after statement of how they don’t objectify women, how they have emotions, how they respect women. At first, I was pleasantly surprised. (Well, initially disturbed – no one should be that cheerful.) Then I realised that it was almost a desperate braying to reassure the girls. Like the guarantee on a product: “all-American man! Comes in a variety of styles, 100% guaranteed to have emotions and respect women!” It doesn’t mean anything – actions speak louder than words, and let’s be really honest: it’s not something you should need to state. It should be as redundant as stating “hi! I’m Liz, and I breathe!” It should be a given in social situations, rather than an exception to the rule.
So – in the lovely world of ‘Objectify Billie’, what’s going on? The lads are going on about how Billie “has to pick one of them.” FALSE. See, guys, this is where the issue lies – that you think a woman has to go on a date with you and then immediately enter a monogamous relationship with you. Imagine if women put that same pressure on men: “we’ve been on one date! We’re practically engaged! When shall I book the wedding venue?” Men would run a mile – they don’t want that kind of commitment. Well, fellas – nor do women. We are entirely entitled to go for drinks with a male we find attractive without then immediately dating him. Sometimes you just don’t click. Sometimes you don’t want that commitment. Whatever. Either way, you don’t need to feel in any way obligated to the man who just bought you dinner. You aren’t entitled to anything for providing someone with nutrition/alcohol. That isn’t how life works.
Imagine if women put that same pressure on men: “we’ve been on one date! We’re practically engaged! When shall I book the wedding venue?” Men would run a mile – they don’t want that kind of commitment. Well, fellas – nor do women.
Perhaps what is most terrifying about this objectification of women and the sexual double standard is the effect it has on the show’s audience. The majority of the show’s fans are young women aged 15-24, who are just beginning to enter the often confusingly adult world of dating. When you show impressionable young people constant scenes of men lusting after women and seeing them as objects, there will be an impact. For young women, they begin to identify with the “ideal woman” perceived by the males of the show, choosing how to dress and act depending on what they see as desirable for men. They want to be skinnier, taller, richer, better dressed. (Interestingly, usually not smarter. Apparently smart women aren’t sexy.) For those young men who watch the show they see these “lads” getting constant female attention and how they’re entitled to date and kiss whoever they want free from consequence. They’re often the first to criticise the women for acting the same, following the lead of “top player” Spencer Matthews.
An example of this can be seen in an acquaintance a couple of years ago, when on the show Spencer was in a controlling relationship with his then-girlfriend Louise Thompson. Spencer wanted to constantly know where Louise was. She always had to have her phone on. She wasn’t allowed to see other guys without his permission. The acquaintance, then aged 15, sighed “I would so love to have a boyfriend that controlling!” When I told her that perhaps in reality she would find it stifling and unhappy, she became almost angry. “NO!” She told me. “Because he’s only being like that because he loves me.” She failed to grasp that perhaps, in fact, the reason a man is controlling is not because he loves or cares for you, but because he wants to own you – he sees you as property. He’s not trying to protect you; he’s trying to isolate you so that you can depend on him. That isn’t love, that’s possession.
Recent surveys found that Lucy Watson and Jamie Laing from the show are respectively ranked the third and fifth most influential tweeters in London (Louise is 35th.) David Cameron is tenth. As young people continue to look more and more to celebrities rather than politicians for their world views, is it time to perhaps ask that Made in Chelsea calls it quits? Or maybe just develops a new format? Alright, so watching posh people discuss the world oil crisis or the campaign for Scottish independence might lose some viewers, but I think I’d rather see someone declaring Michelle Obama “totes right” or commending the head of the IMF for her shattering of the glass ceiling than watch Spencer Matthews snog anyone more victims. I’d like to see one of the girls ask one of the guys out, and watch them debate the US presidential elections over Bloody Marys, then attend a political rally on reproductive rights. That would be a reality show I could get behind.