It was never going to be the most comfortable match. A reality TV show where an all-seeing patriarch watches women showering decides to give feminism a go. And predictably, it has failed on almost every level.
I’m referring, of course, to this year’s Celebrity Big Brother, which in a bizarre publicity stunt, opted to mark the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage by having an all-female line up... for a few days before the men moved in. There’s so much that’s so wrong with this idea that it’s pretty inexplicable that it got past the initial planning stages. Are women not entertaining enough to watch for more than a few days on their own? Or were Channel 5 worried that without men, there wouldn’t be any kind of bedroom shenanigans that give the flagging show a rating boost from time-to-time?
But token as their gesture was, it’s not my main gripe. It’s the selection of women they chose to represent the anniversary of suffrage. Let’s start with Anne Widdecombe, who famously showed off her lack of feminist credentials while Prisons Minister in 1996, saying that pregnant women should be shackled in hospital to prevent them escaping. More recently, she described the Women’s March as “pathetic” and said that modern feminism was “a big whinge”. Even considering her context - she had to forge a career in a male-dominated field in hostile times - it’s still clear that she’s no friend to the sisterhood. India Willoughby is another one who’s espoused questionable views in the past, calling women unclean if they don’t shave their legs.
And so on to the reality TV stars and there’s some surprising rays of hope. I’m not one to judge from appearances whether someone is a feminist or not so I’d have to trust Jess Impiazzi when she says that posing nude is about being control of your body and therefore not in conflict with your feminist beliefs. All power to her. Ashley James is described as a “proud feminist” by the Big Brother Twitter account and her own feed is promoting the #periodpoverty hashtag, so that’s a positive sign. Malika Haqq is relatively unknown - she doesn’t even merit her own Wikipedia page - and her Twitter feed doesn’t run much deeper than selfies and memes. Maybe she’ll be the one to surprise us all?
So that leaves us with Amanda Barrie, Rachel Johnson and Maggie Oliver. I had high hopes for Amanda Barrie but she’s already disappointed me with talking about feminists “harping on” about inequality. Yes, sisters in 2018 everything is sorted and fair. That misogynist in the White House? Oh just pretend he’s not there.
Conversely, I had no hopes at all for Rachel Johnson, having watched her father Stanley blithering wildly about “knockers” on the Fake News Show. I think I’d written off the whole family. But don’t judge anyone by the males in their family - Rachel actually spoke a lot of sense when she spoke on a feminism debate at Oxford Union. And, saving the best till last, we have Maggie Oliver - a woman who is clearly principled and has achieved something worthy in her life, bringing down a child abuse ring in Manchester. She is probably fascinating to listen to and eight Maggies on the show would make it worth a watch.
To conclude then, we probably have enough bits of feminism to make up around 2.75 half-decent feminists. Out of eight female contestants. Really, is this the very best that modern feminism could offer? Some semi-famous people whose feminism is buried deep under a lot of posturing on their Twitter feeds? If you’re going to all the trouble of making a statement about the 100th anniversary of the vote, and renaming the rooms after famous suffragettes, shouldn’t you try to book some truly inspirational women? I’m not saying that Michelle Obama and Natalie Portman would necessarily have signed up, but you could at least approach them.
But lest we forget, this is reality TV - it’s not about making grand, principled statements. It’s about chucking people in to a house together and watching who fights and who shags. And this year, they’ve chosen to drag the names of the suffragettes down with them. Mrs Pankhurst would be proud.