Strictly mired in sexism row over comments made to male competitors

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Oti Mabuse and Ugo Monye during the dress run for the first episode of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 - PA
Oti Mabuse and Ugo Monye during the dress run for the first episode of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 - PA

Strictly Come Dancing is embroiled in a sexism row after the judges were accused of making "predatory" comments to male competitors.

The BBC has received 128 complaints in relation to one episode, including sexist comments about a male contestant as well as blasphemous language and viewers finding a same-sex dance partnership inappropriate.

One charity group, acting for male sexual abuse and rape survivors, said there would be "outrage" if the comments made about male contestants were said to women.

Tensions this series seem to have boiled over as in previous years the BBC has not received close to this amount of complaints, if any at all, about sexism against male contestants.

The September 25 episode saw judge Shirley Ballas tell contestant Uge Monye, a former rugby player, that in his "pink outfit, you have all the gear, my dear… there is not a part of your body that doesn’t want to move, even if it’s not supposed to, it wants to."

"And that’s what I like," she added.

While it is not clear whether the complaints to the BBC refer to her remarks, this year’s series has already seen other comments to a male dancer that show a "double standard", according to a male sexual abuse charity boss.

During last week’s episode, judge Craig Revel Horwood told professional male dancer Gorka Márquez that "it really has made my night seeing you on all fours, darling."

Strictly judges Shirley Ballas, Anton Du Beke, Craig Revel Horwood and Motsi Mabuse
Strictly judges Shirley Ballas, Anton Du Beke, Craig Revel Horwood and Motsi Mabuse

Duncan Craig, founder and CEO of Survivors Manchester, said that if this remark had been said to a female contestant by a man, "there would be absolute outrage, and quite rightly so."

He added: "I think we have to say it’s a double standard and I think it sometimes feels like it’s an uncomfortable thing to say, but the double standard is really harmful."

Mr Craig said there was "a sort of acceptability when it comes from a male to a male, or it comes from a female to a male," and that this is what needs to be tackled.

"I'd be interested to see what people said if it was a straight male saying it to a male contestant, would they see something different, would they see it as being predatory, or would they say it in the same way as people often present that kind of thing - the camp TV presenter or TV judge saying it," he added.

Complaints about gender discrimination

A review of audience complaints to Ofcom found that out of the 113 complaints made about Strictly since April 2017, six fell into the category of gender discrimination and offence.

However, examples are not limited to this year alone, with Mr Revel Horwood telling male contestant Kevin Fletcher in 2019: "Well you’re obviously in touch with yourself darling. We can certainly see that. It was full of machismo which I loved. It oozed masculinity. It was filth."

Peter Tatchell, a prominent gay rights campaigner, said that "supposedly harmless banter" can sometimes convey "a whiff of sexism and homophobia".

"Cheap, smutty gags are no substitute for intelligent wit and astute judging of the male dancers.

"I’m all in favour of free speech, but the sexual objectification and innuendo directed at the Strictly men is tawdry and unnecessary," he added.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at his home in London - Paul Grover
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at his home in London - Paul Grover

A spokesperson for The Survivors Trust, an organisation that offers support services for rape and sexual abuse victims, said that these sorts of jokes "can be very harmful to male survivors of sexual abuse."

"Sadly, joking about and dismissing sexual violence and harassment against men and boys is still commonplace in society."

The BBC and Strictly Come Dancing judges mentioned were approached for comment.

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