While most of the recent harassment allegations have been from women, it’s clear that the male contestants on Strictly Come Dancing are repeatedly on the receiving end of inappropriate comments in the workplace.
Post-Weinstein and Spacey we are all more conscious of sexual harassment. From Adam Sandler touching Clare Foy’s knee on The Graham Norton Show to Daisy Goodwin having her breast groped in 10 Downing Street, it seems there is no safe haven from unwanted advances and lewd suggestions. On Saturday, as Strictly reached the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, the treatment of two male contestants made for uncomfortable viewing.
As Davood Ghadami, clad in figure-hugging trousers and a see-through shirt, finished his triumphant James Bond-style paso doble routine with partner Nadiya Bychkova, host Tess Daley could hardly contain herself. “So masculine”, she exclaimed, wiping imaginary sweat from her brow, before making a noise like an elephant mating – “Hrnnnngh!” As Davood panted from exhaustion, Tess asked judge Bruno Tonioli, “Did that put you in double-O-heaven?” Tonioli rose to the bait telling Ghadami, “I think you earned your licence to THRILL - and the outfit to go with it.” Craig Revel Horwood admitted he was “slightly distracted,” while head judge Shirley Ballas pronounced Ghadami to be a “very masculine man.” As the audience tittered, Tess seemed unable to stop touching Davood’s bicep. He smiled politely through the suggestive comments, his parents sitting in the audience as he was leered at as if he were a male stripper. Only Darcey Bussell kept it professional, commenting solely on Davood and Nadiya’s performance.
Later, after Joe McFadden performed a salsa with Katya Jones, Tess once again set the tone for inappropriate remarks. “How were Joe’s salsa hips, Bruno?”, she asked suggestively, “I know you were looking.” Staring fixedly at McFadden’s lower half, Bruno smirked, “I don’t think you need a hip replacement. I think it’s all working quite well down there.”
Imagine instead that these comments had been aimed at a female contestant - say, Mollie King - by former male judge Len Goodman. “You’ve definitely given an me a thrill with that outfit Mollie. Hrnnnngh!” There would have been an outcry over sexism and Goodman would have been denounced as a creepy, lecherous old man. Yet suggestive remarks deliberately aimed at Strictly’s male contestants go unchecked, presented as humorous banter.
However, banter like this can build and become a source of irritation and humiliation. It can make the recipient feel angry and powerless; it can eat away at their self-esteem and cause an erosion of respect on both sides. On Have I Got News For You recently, when Ian Hislop described incidents of harassment in the House of Commons as “not high-level”, host Jo Brand was quick to rebuke him. “If you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down”, she told the all-male panel. I don’t believe that the saucy comments made by the Strictly judges were malicious, and I don’t know if Davood Ghadami or Joe McFadden were offended. No one wants to put a dampener on the spirit of Strictly, which is hugely enjoyable in all its camp glory. But if we are demanding equality, then we must treat everyone equally. To continue to treat male contestants as sex objects is strictly not on.