Why the reactions to Louis Walsh groping Mel B on live TV are so problematic

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Susan Devaney
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A clip from 2014 showing former X-Factor judge Louis Walsh grabbing Mel B’s bottom has garnered a lot of reactions on Twitter. 

As the #MeToo movement continues to unfold, stories, videos and photos featuring high-profile celebrities being sexually harassed before 2017 keep coming to the forefront.

So far, in the entertainment industry alone, we have seen leading actor Ben Affleck has apologised for groping a TV presenter’s breast, a disturbing radio interview between singer Emma Bunton and American host Howard Stern resurfaced online and a creepy moment between Meghan Markle and American TV host Craig Ferguson. Now, a clip from 2014 - which shows showing former X Factor judge Louis Walsh grabbing Mel B’s bottom - has gone viral, with over 240,000 retweets in 48 hours.

The clip, posted to YouTube in December 2014, features Louis Walsh, Mel B, Simon Cowell and Cheryl being interviewed by Sarah-Jane Crawford on The Xtra Factor. During the interview, Walsh places his hand on Mel’s bottom.

Mel B, who looks visibly uncomfortable, stops the interview, telling the host to “hold on a second”. Mel B then asks Walsh, “Why are you grabbing my butt?”

Trying to defend his disrespectful behaviour, Walsh tells Crawford that he was looking after Mel B, but she responds: “Louis! Hands where we can see them, please!”

And then Cowell chips in: “Honestly, you’re safe.”

Walsh then laughs off the situation, while Mel B physically shifts her entire body away from him (Mel B and Walsh have not yet commented on the clip). 

Having been shared across Twitter over the past 48 hours, many users have left disturbing comments below the video. 

“Terrible reaction from Mel B, embarrassing the man,” one user posted. 

“This isn’t deep. I would hardly class it as sexual harassment. But hey, in this day and age, everything is sexual harassment to people,” another user posted. 

And another: “There are a few accounts that you can’t tell are men or women saying that this doesn’t qualify as sexual Harassment. And also if this was a woman doing this to a man no-one would care.”

Firstly, it is evident that Walsh is not remotely embarrassed by his behaviour. The fact that he moves his hand away very quickly proves that he knew what he was doing, and more importantly what he was doing was wrong.

Secondly, to try to claim that it is “hardly” sexual harassment shows how prevalent this type of behaviour is on a daily basis, and how women have had to fend it off more often than we care to remember.

What’s also alarming about this incident is the way Mel B and Walsh’s colleagues react: Cowell reassures her that she’s “safe”, suggesting that Walsh’s behaviour is wrong, albeit harmless. Cole remains silent. And Crawford makes light of Walsh’s behaviour, something which many women have witnessed countless times. 

Finally, the ‘shoe on the other foot’ theory is redundant. Rarely do we ever witness women sexually harassing men – especially not on live TV. Studies show that women are sexually harassed more than men. According to a recent BBC study, out of 2,031 British adults, 50% of women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.

Jennifer Berdahl, a professor in the business school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies the harassment of men, says that the reason for this imbalance is due to the fact that harassment is about gender and how society defines it. Males learn a sense of superiority over females from the time they are children, she says.

“Being a man means being superior to a woman and dominating women sexually or otherwise; sexual harassment is taking that (thinking) to an extreme,” Berdahl she tells USA Today. “It’s possible there’s a rare woman who might get off on dominating a person like that but men are socialised from the age of 3 to think of themselves as being ‘a real man,’ defined as dominating women.”

Abigail Saguy, professor of sociology and gender studies at UCLA and author of the 2003 book, What is Sexual Harassment?, agrees. “One of the reasons it is men who harass women, and sometimes other men, is that this is about power and overwhelmingly (workplace) upper management is male, so the positions of power are disproportionately occupied by men and the bottom is disproportionately occupied by women,” she says.

But thanks to the #MeToo movement, this type of behaviour is not only no longer acceptable, it’s being called out in the present and the past, –ensuring it never finds a place in society in the future.

Images: Getty