The first contestant for next year’s female-led series of Celebrity Big Brother has been announced as Jonny Mitchell. Here, stylist.co.uk’s digital features editor Sarah Biddlecombe explains why this decision is so misguided.
Channel 5 has announced that the next instalment of Celebrity Big Brother will be an all-female affair, with only women entering the house for a set period of time until their male counterparts begin to filter in.
Scheduled to tie in with the 100th anniversary of women finally being given the right to vote, the show is being slated as a “salute to a centenary of women’s suffrage” and promises to be “celebratory, surprising and insightful”. Not only that, but it sounds like it will be a genuine experiment: Channel 5 says the contestants will “take part in a series of entertaining tasks and hidden experiments which will test their – and our – assumptions, challenge gender stereotypes and reveal fascinating truths about what it is to be a woman – and a man – in the 21st century”.
Best of all, the channel signs off with the delicious promise that we will “see what happens when women hold the power”.
This all sounds great, obviously. So which inspiring women will be plucked from the celebrity scene and sent into the house to raise the profile of womankind? Who will be helping us push forward our collective agenda to finally reach equality? Who will be representing our gender on live TV and wielding “the power” in the new CBB house?
Unfortunately, we have no idea. At the time of writing, the only sneak peek we have had of the female contestants is that of seven unidentifiable eyes. But while show bosses are yet to confirm a single woman for the 2018 line-up, they have chosen to reveal the first male contestant on the show instead. And while the baffling decision to first name a man for a supposedly female-run show is bad enough, the choice of said man is downright worrying.
The man in question is Jonny Mitchell, who shot to fame during the summer as one of the contestants on ITV2’s hit show Love Island. That’s right – Jonny Mitchell. A man who was denounced by the CEO of abuse charity Women’s Aid as being “ possessive and controlling” for making genuinely horrifying comments about his partner at the time, Tyla Carr. When speaking about the perceived attraction between Carr and a newcomer to the show, Theo Campbell, Mitchell announced that Campbell would have to wrench Carr from his “cold, dead hands”.
In a statement released on 10 July about the incident, Women’s Aid CEO Polly Neate said comments such as these highlighted a problematic belief of women being possessions, not people in their own right. Emphasising the danger of such “banter”, she said the comment was “not romantic”.
“It did not demonstrate just how much he liked her. It was possessive and controlling… What can all too easily be passed off as banter, actually carries the underlying sentiment that this man believes he owns this woman.”
Mitchell’s admission to the house is especially problematic because it undercuts the valuable work done by charities such as Women’s Aid to emphasise that emotional manipulation and controlling behaviour are both forms of domestic violence. In fact, this is now recognised as a law in the UK, with legislation being approved in 2015 that specifically targets “controlling or coercive behaviour”.
It’s important to remember that domestic violence does not always take the physical form we usually see in films and TV. On its website, domestic violence charity Refuge describes the act as “any violence or abuse that is used by someone to control or obtain power over their partner”. It adds that “Many women experience domestic violence and other forms of abuse without ever being physically abused. Remember: non-physical forms of abuse can be as destructive and as undermining as physical violence.”
Stating that another man would have to prise his partner out of his “cold, dead hands” could certainly be seen as an example of such behaviour.
By championing Mitchell in making him the first confirmed CBB contestant, we are glossing over this comment. This is especially problematic when the TV show in question is pre-emptively congratulating itself for being “celebratory” of women, particularly when domestic violence is an issue that disproportionately affects women. The most recent report from the Office of National Statistics found 1.2 million women were victims of domestic abuse in the last year, compared to 713,000 men. When it comes to domestic homicide, 70% of the victims between April 2013 and March 2016 were women.
Even if we could dismiss Mitchell’s comments on Love Island as “banter”, his appointment on a specifically women-centric show is still hugely troubling. Let’s not forget that this is a man who sparked a furious nationwide debate on feminism when he shared his decidedly tepid views on the topic with his partner of the time, Camilla Thurlow.
That is not to say, of course, that Mitchell hasn’t changed his views on feminism over the past six months, or had a feminist awakening. But again, even if we can dismiss such behaviour as in the past, his appointment is still problematic - mainly because he clearly hasn’t been selected as a contestant based on his feminist credentials. Speaking to the media, an insider reportedly said, “[Jonny] is guaranteed to bring some drama to the house and romance one of the female contestants.”
How’s that for feminism in the 21st century? All we can do now is hope the women selected to be contestants will stand for zero s**t from any of the men, and that the show, when it airs next month, fulfils its epic promise of celebrating women in all their glory.
Images: Rex Features