PRETTY GIRL BULLSHIT #22: WHICH 'MADE IN CHELSEA' CAST MEMBER IS THE BIGGEST FEMINIST?
Hello everyone. Now that Caggie and her feminist columns for the Evening Standard (which included one on how to avoid being raped by lesbians) have departed the furniture-warehouse showroom world of Made in Chelsea, I took it upon myself to sift through the first episode of season four for the next PGB of SW1.
It's important that we do this, because I know a ton of you watch this feeling guilty, and maybe by doing this we can figure out who we should be rooting for and feel less ashamed of ourselves.
So let's start with our chauvinist reprobates and work our way towards our new feminist hero!
MADE IN CHELSEA'S SMALLEST FEMINIST: ANDY JORDAN
Andy is who the producers have decided to make the show's new heartthrob. He's an ancient friend of Jamie’s (since they were 14, you guys) and recipient to Spencer’s repetitive use of the words “listen, mate”. He has the sparkling eyes of a lizard king, and tiny teeth of a child. Andy’s the type of guy who crouches down to speak to women when they’re standing up, in order to ingratiate himself with people on their level. His inevitable seduction of Louise may lead Spencer to pummel himself to death like the confused, anguished primate that he is, but even that won’t make me like him. Pure. Evil.
Despite a distinct lack of controversy surrounding the miniature biscuit heir in this episode, past behaviour flags up certain chauvinist traits that have been outlined in his character over the last few series. Last season, Jamie auditioned girls to become "Candy Kittens" for his newly opened "sweet-shop-cum-glorified-merch-stand" on the King's Road, and the premiere of season four sees him behaving with a worryingly similar sense of entitlement.
His decision to give Andy – the new villian on the scene – the go-ahead to seduce Louise, probably because of a previous battle for her heart with good friend Spencer, exposes an inherent sense of ownership over certain females in the show. That's totally not feminist, J.
Spencer, who looks and behaves more like David Brent with each passing season, decides in this episode to "ban" Andy from talking to Louise unless their interaction is cleared with him first. Classic bad moves, "Spenny"; your fear of the outside world impinging on your relationship is a result of an insecurity that has dogged you like a bad haircut since season one. Consider reconsidering your ideas about the role of the alpha-male, Spencer – aggression is not always the answer, especially in 2012, when women should be capable of making their own decisions re: love and lust.
Little-seen in episode one, but Rosie’s true character is glimpsed briefly when she jabs Spencer’s ego with the insurgent romantic threat of Andy. Though she may seem to enjoy cutting Spencer down to size, her pleasure is essentially derived from the commodification and exploitation of Louise. What seems like an act of sororal solidarity is in fact merely a bathing in the misogynist lagoons in which both genders – sadly – still swim.
IANTHE ROSE COCHRANE-STACK
Richard’s new girlfriend Ianthe is introduced from afar in a case of mistaken identity. Her bottom is, according to Binky, identical to the bottom of Richard’s ex-girlfriend Kimberley. Her introduction mimics almost identically that of Kimberley’s in the past series: a small bottom disappearing into the distance, denied a voice. Let’s all take a moment to consider the ramifications of that bottom. Please.
Interestingly, although Louise is the female protagonist in this episode, her behaviour and dialogue is restricted to little other than attempts to pacify the battling alpha-males. She is accosted and objectified by male characters throughout the episode, manipulated by Spencer and at one point reminded by Andy of her “true beauty” in a way that – in hindsight it totally reductive and threatening.
Unfortunately, the previously strong-willed and independent Louise has become defined by her appearance, which is exploited by the men who compete for her affections (Spencer, Jamie and Andy) in order to enforce a hierarchy of males within the new set of characters in the show. In response to the constant surveillance Louise is placed under throughout this episode, her body becomes split from her mind, and she’s forced to inhabit the “true beauty” of her physical attributes alone.
Her treatment is worryingly emblematic of the age-old problem of female identity being pre-determined by appearance.
Previously a main character, the resolutely timid and emotionally austere Millie has had her screen time and presence cut severely. Not appearing in the opening scenes set in the tail-end of the St Tropez summer, MM is now necessary only in relation to the male storylines. Relegated to the role of plot passenger, her redundant presence as an audience for the painting Proudlock produces renders her ineffectual and inert. She is forced to withdraw and allow the male characters to envelop her importance.
Cheska is clearly uncomfortable in her character’s role, feeling instead that she deserves the stronger plot lines belonging to her close male friends. Her rejection by Richard in the last series knocked her confidence as an individual, and a quiet discomfort with conventional female attributes sees her inflicting a self-repression on herself evident in her strangely subdued and over-softened tone of voice.
Reacting to gender stereotypes by over-stereotyping yourself is a classic self-defense mechanism, and Cheska, who's a bit on the edge of a breakdown already, needs to ensure she spends some time working on her confidence before she tries to tackle a new relationship.
Ollie is currently experiencing a complex gender identity crisis. His inability to decide on a sexual preference is a particularly honest example of how love can transcend gender. Perhaps unwittingly, Ollie is becoming representative of contemporary social fascination with the nature of asexuality, and ideas of gender-neutrality. He is obviously uncomfortable in the presence of his Made in Chelsea cast-mates, and their failure to understand his disinterest in deciding between homo and hetero sexuality.
When Richard’s new girlfriend offers him a date with a friend, she describes her as having “an incredible body, and she’s beautiful. She’s the whole package”. It is particularly disappointing to hear such a parochial reduction of an individual, especially when relayed to somebody who is obviously desperate, first and foremost, to find a personality match rather than someone who fulfils a lumpen wish-list of physical criteria.
Though he remains a peripheral character, Mark Francis throws up an interesting question about the subjective nature of beauty in this episode. At the launch of his friend Victoria's swimwear launch, he rejects the notion that women of all sizes can be beautiful in the right swimming costume, and instead celebrates the natural female form, free from constraint. Hats off to you, Mark.
MADE IN CHELSEA'S BIGGEST FEMINIST: OLIVER PROUDLOCK
In this first episode, Proudlock – previously cast as a sly, plotting (if affable) lothario – reveals a new side to himself. His painting throughout the show results in the unveiling of a work combining certain attributes of himself and his two housemates, Francis and Jamie.
In doing this, Proudlock has created a montage of men, a symbol of how art can draw out the identity of individuals even when society lumps them all in under the oppressive umbrella of one single, emotionally inflexible gender. This is a piece about the concept of escapism in a patriarchy that is willing to provide no other hand than the one it's dealt you.
This beautifully profound piece of work deserves any and all of the praise we can pile on to it. His art places Proudlock as a strong contender for biggest feminist of the series so far.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes
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