Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Made in Chelsea, slut-shaming, and the problem with ‘girl code’


First of all, I know, I know – many people would think me ludicrous to base any deep discussion on the goings-on of Made in Chelsea: Ibiza. But while past story arcs have appeared somewhat dubious to say the least, the latest love triangle – which has spilled out into the Twittersphere – seems very real, and has opened up some really interesting debates. Not least, in my opinion, in its constant referring to the unwritten rules that female friends should live their lives by – the ostensible ‘girl code.’




For those of you who (delete as appropriate) are missing out/would never watch that drivel, the ‘love triangle’ in question centres around Sam – a blonde, uninspiring posh bloke who was basically allowed onto the show because of his sister, and who acts as though his drunken lads holiday to Ibiza is a spiritual retreat through Goa. Somehow, Sam managed to persuade his long-term (and long-suffering) girlfriend – waspishly pretty Tiffany, whose entire raison d'être seems to be getting angry whilst waving a wine glass and is therefore my spirit animal – to go on a ‘break’ with him over the summer whilst he went to Ibiza. One of the rules of this break was that they wouldn’t ‘get with’ any of their mutual friends. Sam, sticking to these rules for precisely six minutes, immediately started seeing fellow holiday pal Mimi, a Canadian whose entire previous storyline on the show had revolved around her inappropriate flirtation with somebody else’s boyfriend.

In this week’s episode, the shit hit the proverbial fan – Tiff showed up on a yacht, cried, waved her wine glass around dramatically and dumped Sam; Sam looked crestfallen and promptly dumped Mimi, who also cried; then Tiff yelled at her. So far so standard reality TV.

But what really interests me about this storyline is the social media response to it. The angle has not been sheer amazement that Sam managed to convince not one but two women to enter into non-relationships with him, but instead anger that in allowing herself to get carried away by a holiday romance, Mimi has broken the girl code. She is the scarlet woman, responsible now for ruining not one but two relationships with her big soulful eyes and her flexible, yoga-practicing body.  

Tiffany herself has barely mentioned Sam online but has turned viciously on Mimi, describing her as ‘easy,’ and – most interestingly - posting a whole host of tweets about the sort of girl you should be (and, by proxy, the type of girl she is suggesting Mimi is not). She wore a top on her Instagram with the slogans ‘All Girls’, captioning it ‘When women support each other incredible things happen,’ and re-tweeted a number of pro-feminist type quotes:

‘The best kind of friendships are fierce lady friendships where you aggressively believe in each other, defend each other, and think the other deserves the world.’

The underlying message here is clear: Mimi didn’t follow these rules and therefore she is not a good friend and she is not a good ‘girl.’ And there are so many problems with this that I barely know where to begin.

The first issue is that the ‘rules’ to this code, like any unwritten moral principles, are vague and potentially far-reaching, and therefore easy to accidentally break. Different definitions I have seen when doing a bit of research on this range from ‘not stealing your friend’s boyfriend,’ to ‘not getting with someone if another friend has said they fancy him,’ to ‘not going near a mate’s ex until they’re over it.’ For numerous reasons, none of these statements are particularly well-defined – for example, what is a ‘friend?’ There’s no real explanation of how well Mimi and Tiffany even knew each other – is it enough if you’ve just met a girl at parties a few times? If you follow each other on Instagram? What’s the definition here? When is somebody officially ‘over’ their ex – and can you just keep a list of men you’d prefer your mates not to get with? If you followed all these examples you could easily cover just about every boy on earth if you weren’t careful, or if –speaking from personal experience here – you attended a very small university and girls outnumbered boys 2 to 1.

‘Girls should always choose their friends over boys,’ one online article blares confidently, echoing some of the girls in this week’s episode of Made In Chelsea. What – always? So if a friend of mine picked a row with my husband, should I divorce him? Even if I think she’s in the wrong? Why are female relationships suddenly held above male ones? 

But even putting the confusion to one side – the main implication, and my real problem, with holding girls up to a moral code such as this is that it allows a form of girl-on-girl slut shaming and it simultaneously lets men slide off the hook.

If a man cheats on his girlfriend (or on a sort-of girlfriend, or someone he’s seeing, etc) the only person who is truthfully to blame for ruining that relationship is the man in question. The ‘other woman’ may well be ruining a different relationship – i.e. her friendship with the girlfriend – but she does not end the relationship. Not ever. Not even if she behaves in a way that might be considered ‘flirty’ or, god forbid, ‘slutty.’ The only person who betrayed the love between Tiffany and Sam was Sam. As Taylor Swift once wisely said, ‘No one can steal your boyfriend from you if he doesn’t want to leave.’

Mimi made the decision that a potential relationship with Sam was worth ruining her friendship (whatever that friendship was) with Tiffany. That’s all. That is hurtful, but these feelings – love, lust, whatever you want to call it – are strong. Mimi did not choose to end Tiffany’s relationship with Sam. He did that all on his own, and to somehow let him get away with that by acting as though he were ensnared and that she should have known better is indicative of the way we treat women as a whole.

We are absolutely obsessed in this society with rating women as ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ It’s not enough to think of Mimi as a flawed human being, a girl who knew it was a stupid idea to form an attachment to somebody else’s boyfriend (something she frequently and freely admitted) but allowed herself to be confused by the circumstances and her own feelings into making a mistake. It can’t be possible that she was misled by a man who wanted to get into bed with her, or that she was naïve, or that she got carried away and didn’t really think of the consequences. No – she must be bad. Tiffany, therefore, can hold herself up as the good girl – the good mate, the one who would never do such a thing to another girl.  The trouble is, people – and that includes women – are not that binary. Good people can be stupid, or thoughtless, or even cruel – and yet we don’t appear to be able to make that distinction. Girls are always good, or always bad – that’s their only option.

That’s why it was uncomfortable in this week’s episode when Tiffany made a faux pas of her own. She described Mimi as a ‘dumpling,’ leading to Mimi releasing a video on Instagram about body-shaming. Public reaction was confused; Tiffany had not followed the correct trajectory. She was meant to be the good girl – and yet clearly calling your size 6 co-star fat is not exactly ‘supporting each other to make incredible things happen’ type behaviour. Some tried to dismiss Tiffany’s behaviour on the dubious grounds that ‘stealing your boyfriend is worse’ – so okay, her behaviour was wrong, but ‘less wrong.’ Others turned on her at once, because she’d shown herself to be, yet again, not in line with the moral code we girls are all meant to follow. ‘I’ve lost all respect for her,’ one girl tweeted crossly, because apparently your whole character and personality can be completely dismissed if you lose your temper for five seconds by mistake.

But Tiffany herself summed it up in her response to the issue: ‘Definitely do not agree with or condone body shaming but in the heat of the moment we all say things out of anger… I’m a girl who is going to make mistakes occasionally that you get to watch and (some) judge.’


Tiffany is right. Girls do say things out of anger. We also say – and do – things out of lust. Or out of fear, envy, love – a million emotions we do not always control, and which do not all adhere to the standards that we hold each other up to so fiercely.  So maybe, before we throw stones, we should look to our perilous glass houses, and be a little kinder before we berate girls for failing to meet standards we never know, until tested, if we could hold up ourselves. Maybe that would be really  supporting each other, and maybe then, truly incredible things would happen. 
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3 comments

  1. Honestly, I think Tiff has shown a lot in the past 2 episodes she was in. She made some slut shaming, body shaming, and xenophobic remarks. I'm not saying she's a bad person because I do not know her in real life but all the things that came out of her mouth was mean. And honestly, even last episode calling Julius the most boring person and just snapping at everyone. It's not a good look. If you recall, she used Julius before to make Sam jealous and now brought Pablo to the dinner party hosted by Julius (the one she bad mouthed) to make Sam jealous, presumably. I know she's only human but she has consecutively shown ill-natured and awful traits on national television and she never apologises for anything, believing that she's right (sincerely, at least). I don't think she's as mature as she would like to perceive herself, she acts so "high school" and just awful. I hope one day she learns from all her mistakes and become more graceful.

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  2. Wow, very nicely written.

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  3. IMO people laid blame on Mimi because she was not naïve to the situation. If you choose to go after a boy who is not truly single and you know the girl then people do not feel sorry for you when it goes pete tong.

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