Why David Walliams’ joke about Amanda Holden is so grossly inappropriate

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Kayleigh Dray
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Simon Cowell told David Walliams to “get out” after he cracked this “smutty” joke about BGT’s Amanda Holden – and quite right, too.

Whether we watch it or not, Britain’s Got Talent is one of those shows that seeps into our daily lives – via osmosis, chit-chat around the metaphorical water-cooler, or clips on Gogglebox.

As such, we all know that the show’s head judge is Simon Cowell. We know it, deep in our bones, just like we know he will be wearing some variety of a white shirt/t-shirt and blue jeans as he does it. But, when it comes to his deputy, things get a little hazier. Is it Alesha Dixon? Amanda Holden? David Walliams? Gary Barlow? Wait, is Gary Barlow even on this show? He isn’t?

You get the picture. 

It makes sense, then, that TV presenter Stephen Mulhern decided to put the question to the BGT judges themselves. Handing them all whiteboards and pens during a recent episode of Britain’s Got More Talent, he asked the team who they saw as Cowell’s right-hand woman/man. Holden and Dixon, blowing their own trumpets in a way we highly approve of, both wrote their own names down.

Walliams, though, genuinely thought it was OK to write: “Amanda (because they did it).”

The mood in the BGT studios changed almost instantly. Dixon, giggling nervously, informed Walliams that he “can’t write that”, while Holden, referring to her husband, said: “Christopher is upstairs, for god’s sake.”

Cowell was the most furious.

“You’ve actually crossed the line,” he told an unrepentant Walliams. “You really are a smutty little man, aren’t you?”

He then waved Walliams off the stage, telling him to “get out, get out”.

Image: ITV

It remains unclear whether Holden and Cowell were actually offended by Walliams’ comment, or whether the argument had been staged for our “enjoyment” at home. What is crystal clear, though, is the fact that Cowell was absolutely right: Walliams has crossed a line – and, in doing so, he’s brought yet another damaging, sexist stereotype to our television screens.

I’m talking, of course, about this outdated idea of women having to “sleep” their way to the top.

We’ve all heard of the all-powerful vagina – which, when used properly, can bewitch and bewilder any man, allowing the lucky woman in possession of said vagina to access pretty much anything she wants.

This is a concept which has been pretty much entrenched in our society since Biblical times: Eden’s Eve apparently used her feminine wiles on Adam, all so he would bite that apple. Delilah seduced Samson so that she could get her dastardly mitts on his strength-giving hair. And Mary Magdalene only secured a place in Jesus’ gang because she was a prostitute (except, you know, she wasn’t). 

These early stories of the conniving vagina were nurtured by the patriarchy as if they were sickly kittens, until eventually they became sturdy sexist stereotypes, with their own cat flaps which allowed them to wander in and out of history at will.  As such, the myth perseveres in 2018, so much so that even women stare at other women’s success and mutter, “Who did she sleep with to get that?” 

NBC’s Ann Curry has dedicated more than 30 years of her life to the news industry, focusing on human suffering in war zones and natural disasters. And she is sick of this idea “that a woman can only be successful because she somehow connived or engineered her rise – that she could not rise simply because she was too good to be denied”.

Speaking to Forbes, Curry said she is frequently asked if she “forced” NBC to give her the anchor job or if there was a “backroom deal”.

“I find it really annoying,” she said.

Of course, Curry and Holden are not the only ones to be accused of using their sexuality to advance their careers: indeed, it is a pretty common assumption that people make about women who succeed. Rob Kardashian famously went on a Twitter rant about musician Rita Ora, claiming she had slept with 20 men to get to where she is in her career. Joan Rivers accused Chelsea Handler of using Ted Harbert, the CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group, to further her own success. And Karrinne Steffans accused Tyra Banks of sleeping her way to the top of the fashion industry.

Darkest of all, though, is all those actresses (including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba and Blake Lively) who were accused of sleeping with Harvey Weinstein to “make it” in Hollywood

As the recent slew of #MeToo stories has shown, there is a connection between sex and power – just not in the way the traditional narrative suggests. Rather than women using sex to obtain power, it seems some men are using their power to obtain sex. To bully and intimidate. To, ultimately, force women into a devastating choice: their career, or their dignity.

Indeed, Paltrow herself is among those who have publicly condemned Weinstein for his alleged sexually predatory behaviour, claiming that, shortly after she’d been hired for the lead in his adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, she was summoned to his hotel suite for a meeting.

This ‘meeting’ ended with Weinstein placing his hands on her and suggesting they head to the bedroom for massages, she alleges.

“I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified,” she said.

After the confrontation, Paltrow alleged that Weinstein called her and threatened her not to speak to anyone else about it.

“I thought he was going to fire me,” she told the paper. “He screamed at me for a long time. It was brutal.”

With so many stories like this, and so many tales of lost potential (just think of all the women who quit their careers after coming face-to-face with a Weinstein-esque character), it is high time that we stop accusing women of “sleeping their way” to the top – even if it’s “just a joke”. 

Especially if it’s “just a joke”.

Because, with so many men accused of sexual harassment, it just isn’t funny anymore.

Image: Getty