Saturday, 16 June 2012

Teenage Girls Are Bringing Out My (not so) Inner Raging Feminist

My name's Gen and I'm a Made in Chelsea addict. Properly. I love it to bits.

This post isn't about my allegedly misguided viewing habits though. (Fuck alla y'all, to my mind it's the first really entertaining and likeable bit of whatever it is you call this mish-mash of soap and fly on the wall without using some horrible thickwitted portmanteau nonword I've seen - Essex, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore et al can't touch this, so step away now. Maybe I'm just intrigued by the habits of rich people; Evelyn Waugh it ain't, but it's jolly good fun and compulsive viewing regardless. And anyway, if it's good enough for the ever-witty Daisy Buchanan of Sabotage Times it's good enough for me.)

If MIC brings you out in hate hives, by all means skip to the next blog; discussion about the characters will follow herein. But actually what I want to talk about is one disturbing and nasty side-effect of the show, and a perfect illustration of a larger problem we still don't seem to have gotten past yet - quite the opposite. It's all over Twitter, it comes from the show's fans, and by and large they're teenage girls who live in a world that you would hope had inherited a few established truths about feminism and sisterhood by now.


If you dare, search for #MIC or #madeinchelsea. Or, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Look up the female stars of the show - they all have Twitter accounts. Brace yourself for a flood of vicious, spiteful commentary, mainly on their looks. There's blundering, unlucky-in-love Gabriella, who gets every insult from 'dog' to various observations re: the size of her chin, or scheming Rosie of the pale skin and flat hair (Rosie, I hate you but I feel your pain), or recent addition Kimberley; initially lambasted for seeming fake and concealing a shady love-life, it now seems to be all about the shape of her nose and the fact that she wears a lot of white. (Now, say what you want about Kimberley, but the fact remains that she is an uncommonly pretty girl. If we're going to be judgmental about it, comments on her looks are nonsense.)

The only one to completely escape the nastiness is Binky who, as the only girl whose love life the show barely seems to touch on, seems to command almost unanimous adoration. The rule seems to be, Chelsea girls whose love-lives are less than spotless (allegedly or otherwise, in Kimberley's case) get verbal abuse about their looks. Ironically, MIC fans are desperate for the producers to fix Binky up with present golden boy Jamie; if it happened, no doubt Binky too would be in for a tweet-lashing the minute the relationship faltered.

Non-Chelsea fans, if you've read this far your head may be reeling right now with the seeming irrelevance of these people and their love lives, but stay with me.

The men, often found behaving badly, don't seem to encounter this particular kind of abuse, being held up for their behaviour on the show rather than the lack of volume in their hair or badly placed creases in their trousers. They amass armies of willing devotees - even eccentric capitalist and professional diamond dude Francis, who's tried it on with nearly every girl in the show and reportedly made churlish remarks about Emma Watson, who he claims to have dumped. Spencer, the girlfriend-stealing villain of the last series, gets plenty of stick for his behaviour, but no-one ever slags off the shape of his nose.

There are two obvious retorts to this phenomenon.

• The teenage twitterati are catty because they're jealous of the girls that get to pardy™ with, and bed, the objects of their desire. The meanness stems as much from this as from a reaction to perceived behaviour.
• Anyone who signs up to a reality show is exposing themselves to a flood of reaction and potential abuse.

Both of these statements are true. But that doesn't justify dodging the issue; this body fascistic aggression is disturbing, especially when you see it at the deafening volume that Twitter enables. The lack of self-awareness is profound; look at the number of girls who slated and even threatened Louise for dating Jamie then sleeping with his best mate. Constant is the cry of 'forget that ugly slag, have me instead!', and just as prevalent is the ignorance of the fact that if they got what they wanted, they'd be next in the online firing line from the jealous masses.

Tina Fey did a smashing job of portraying this girl-on-girl hatefest in Mean Girls some years back, noting how girls use looks and sexually-themed name-calling to clamber over each other, thus condoning men using the same language to them in turn. The film was loved instantly and clutched to girls' hearts, yet it's changed nothing. Made in Chelsea is the easiest current example to use because, because of the uniquely modern mechanism of Twitter - conversation is instant, not just between fans, but also with the cast themselves, who all have well-used Twitter accounts. But I could just as easily be writing about average girls' conversations in nightclub bathrooms or at the back of the bus.

Any girl who falls short of the accepted, TV-friendly aesthetic standard - slim (but not, heaven forbid, flat-chested), fake-tanned (if white) with a head of hair that can only be achieved by extensions or fucking incredible genetics, and a total absence of hair anywhere else - is in line for a dose of vitriol. But it's all shit; for a start, the time and money that goes into looking like this lends itself to an entirely separate discussion about class and economic divide. All the time girls are directing their energy to what each other looks like, they're not doing the things that will really make them fitter, happier, more productive; reading, writing, singing, building, competing, debating, discovering, travelling, saving lives, learning and earning. Talk about doing yourselves down. Watching this or any other reality tv show is, in technical terms, no bigger a waste of time than watching the football or the latest BBC drama, but spending one's time on the internet, ripping apart the looks of women you've never met? Fucking hell.

Of course we all know that it's all Heat magazine's fault, and the Sun and the Mirror and Grazia and OK and Hello, for ingraining this culture of salacious gossiping about famous people's looks and shortcomings like their cellulite is a matter of public importance. And because it's their fault, we don't have to take any responsibility for proliferating it, do we?

When you see someone calling some girl a dog you should be hollering 'Shut your piehole, you sexist, misogynistic dickhead!', not LOLing and retweeting it.

In a world where girls are still sold into marriages with strange men - where you can be convicted and imprisoned for being a rape victim - where governments are trying to pass laws to criminalise the morning-after pill - where legislators want to make medical rape the price of an abortion - or kidnap and force unwanted abortions on women who can't afford the fine for being illegally pregnant - where women STILL don't earn as much as their male equivalents - where politicians pursue cuts and shady corporate deals that will disproportionally hit women up and down the scale - where it's ever more expensive to get an education - and where intern culture means future careers are increasingly, once again, determined by what sort of money you come from in the first place... where this shit is happening in every corner of the world including the UK, anger from women is as vital as ever. And while women are tearing each other apart, they're ignoring the forces that threaten to make all of their lives a lot harder.

But they're just teenage girls, why would they give a damn about politics and women's rights and all of that boring stuff, all they're interested in is TV and One Direction and clubbing and shopping...

Bollocks. I don't buy that. Teenagers are as capable - more so! undiluted by the creeping, wearying cynicism of age - as anyone at getting up in arms about perceived injustice - look back at the anti-tuition fees student marches for instance. If you enjoy MIC or any of the shows like it that invite online engaging with the storyline and characters, then go ahead and respond to what you see. Or alternatively, if the show's money-worshipping triviality offends you, then call to account the massive gulf it seems to endorse between the hyper-rich and everyone else. But please, enough of the misogynistic bullying and spite. Feminism isn't about doing whatever you want while hating on some girl for having spots around her mouth or limp hair. Read the Beauty Myth and then go and get pissed off at the people who really deserve it.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this. So frustrating that girls hold other girl's looks as the most important part of them. Its like we cant just be straight up & say "No, i hate her because she did this", its "yeah well she's ugly".

Charponnaise said...

Exactly! If someone's a bit of a cow, call her out on it, but whinging about her looks [a] lets her get away with whatever the fuck she did and [b] just encourages the namecalling to continue from all sides, for the stupidest of reasons.