2017 will go down in history as the year women stood up to sexual harassment and the world finally listened. But it seems the candidates on this year’s The Apprentice missed the memo.
As I sat down to watch the show Wednesday night, still revelling from the fact #MeToo and ‘The Silence Breakers’ had been named Time’s ‘Person of the Year’, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
For those who missed the show, Lord Sugar tasked the candidates with organising a fashion show and contestants Michaela and Elizabeth were given the job of booking male models for the occasion. Both women were grossly inappropriate from the moment the men entered the room, giggling and joking about the task being “all business and no pleasure at all”.
Michaela demanded to check to see if one of the models had a six pack, which could be justified during a casting for an industry that is, after all, based on aesthetics. But it was the way she did it, mock flirting and biting on the end of her pen, that made it clear this was not a professional request.
To add insult to injury, Elizabeth made a joke about slipping with the tape measure while measuring a model’s inside leg, touching his crotch in the process. Michaela found the whole thing hilarious and judging from the tweets posted by the BBC’s official account for the show, the viewers were meant to, too.
Have I missed something, or is this not exactly the same behaviour we’ve spent the last few months calling men out for?
The #MeToo movement provided a much-needed platform for women around the world to say sexual harassment is not a joke: it’s vile, it’s intimidating and it can have long-lasting traumatic effects.
Michaela and Elizabeth’s actions - and the BBC’s contextualisation of them - risk undoing all the hard work the ‘Silence Breakers’ did to dispel the myth that this behaviour is tantamount to banter.
In my opinion, one if not both of the female candidates should have been fired on the spot for their behaviour, but the incident wasn’t even mentioned in the boardroom. Instead Harrison - a male candidate on the opposing team - was ribbed by Karren Brady in the boardroom for “enjoying” hiring the female models when he did nothing except smile politely during the casting. The double standard is mind-boggling.
The Apprentice undoubtedly has elements of pantomime - with Karren and Claude pitted as the baddies against the candidates - but we can’t ignore that much of the show is microcosmic of how businesses in the UK operate.
This saga is just the latest incident on the programme to show today’s workplaces still peddle outdated gender stereotypes. Last week Lord Sugar told James he needed to “man up” while strong-willed Elizabeth is repeatedly called “bossy”, an adjective that is very rarely used to describe a man.
For sexism and inappropriate sexual behaviour to stop prevailing in our lives, we need the media - including film and TV - to quit churning out the same damaging ideas.
But more than that, as women, we need to respect ourselves by respecting men. We need to hold ourselves to the same high standards we hold men to, before we undo everything we’ve achieved.