Big Brainwashing. Why does Big Brother want us to love dangerous Ann Widdecombe?
Yes, I admit it: I’ve been watching Celebrity Big Brother for the first time in years. Hearing it was the Year of the Women I was intrigued. Hearing that there were, to be frank, political discussions hooked me. Little did I know what was in store.
Well, about that whole Year of the Women debacle I can be short: they never meant it did they? If they did the selection would have been better. (Almost) all of the women selected were lovely and admirable in their own way, but were they the perfect choice to represent the whole of womanhood?
Not according to the audience who voted three out in the first week and another three in last Tuesday’s eviction. But even ignoring that: the year of the women basically ended when the men entered the house … or even before that: the moment Ann Widdecombe entered and opened her mouth.
The reason why she was ever asked to represent in “The Year of the Women” is questionable, as she has always made it blatantly clear she is no supporter of the female sex.
She even admittedly left the Anglican Church to become a Catholic because she did not like their decision to accept women vicars.
On her first night in she revealed she was basically against fighting for female rights or equal payment and victim blamed rape victims.
She then upset trans contestant India by misgendering her, even though she was corrected several times by both India and other housemates. She later also branded Prince Harry’s fiancee Meghan Markle “trouble”, saying the actress’s background and attitude made her “uneasy”.
Which for other contestants should have been enough to be voted out first, if you think about it. But not this time. No-one seemed to even bat an eyelid, and the media reported it as if the comments came from a funny old aunty, not a former Tory politician and media personality who still has quite a lot of influence: she still writes books and columns and is often wheeled out to defend unpopular Tory policies. Then Courtney Act (or Shane Jenek) entered the house, and things got even worse: the Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestant was met with eye roles and disapproving looks from the start. Every conversation about gay rights or feminism was met with contrary statements tuts or more eye roles. Even when the other girls talked about things that had upset them or made them uneasy she refused to show any empathy.
Things got even worse once Courtney struck up a firm flirty friendship with Andrew Brady. This friendship with Brady was labelled “disgusting” by Ann, and their funny play fights were what made her choose the pair as the ones to be up for eviction. She thought their actions were sexual claimed they had “brought the whole house into disrepute” and then upset Brady by suggesting his mother and grandmother would be upset by it.
Strangely it was not Ann who was edited as the bad guy in this, but according to the media, it was Andrew for being so upset he called her the c-word. Sure, not the nicest thing to call someone, but when pushed past the breaking point in a place like that tempers run high. The fact that a lot of housemates had admitted to feeling restricted by Ann’s constant judging, her eye-rolls and facepalming seems forgotten or ignored – even by most housemates themselves.
This was not the first time Big Brother and the media twisted events to let Ann get off scot-free. Year of the ‘bad editing’ and year of the ‘feeble excuses’ would have been a better label. Or … year of protecting the sexism and homophobia apologist … Because frankly, that is what I feel I have been watching. Actually, I don’t know WHAT I’ve been watching beyond a long-running pro-Tory commercial. Several housemates have claimed that Ann seems to get a favourable treatment where edits are concerned. (The edit CBB chose to make of a conversation Andrew and Shane had during a very late night ‘Live from the house’ broadcast compared to what was shown on the official CBB show seems to support this.)
Also, the way the show went out of their way to create another non-existent homophobic row to deflect from Ann was a clear indication of how protective they are of their ‘star’; John Barnes was edited to look homophobic in a conversation with Courtney.
Even though the poor man, who had very intellectual LGBT rights conversations on the show, was obviously talking about what older straight men usually think about gay men. The media did pick up on this in a big way, even though Courtney expressed on camera what a great conversation she had with John.
Meanwhile, more and more people in and around the house became “protective of Ann”; she was so entertaining and funny. She was harmless; it was pantomime, she was close with bisexual Amanda Barrie; it was all a joke. A strange long-running joke then. A joke who wrote a column to support conversion therapy. A joke who voted against: Gay adoption, Equalising the age of consent, Repealing Section 28, Civil partnerships, Equality Act, Making it easier for lesbian couples to access IVF.
She is also against abortion and once agreed with the view that even in case of women who get pregnant because of rape, a life is still a life.
She calls herself “a defender of the unborn”.
In the recent past, she even supported capital punishment and a move to shackle pregnant prisoners in hospital. Looking up the housemates online before going in Courtney might well be surprised by the views of Ann and had every right to ask her about it.
When she was a member of the House of Commons, she was a representative of us, the people so she should be willing to debate and admit what she did and why. There is no need to protect her from this; she chooses to appear on reality TV time and time again.
She chose to go in this house, knowing that there would be debate and made herself a target by goading people like Courtney and Andrew by constantly eye rolling everything they did. She clearly revels in upsetting and placing small ticking bombs that she keeps kicking until they explode, but when they do she blames the injured party for being ‘too sensitive’ and then shuts down, expecting her protectors to finish the job. A neat political trick.
It is remarkable that a person like this is hailed as a “loveable granny” in edits. For most of the time, this series was the “Ann” show, where housemates seemed to always chat about how “funny” and “adorable” she was. Sometimes this continued on into the Bit On The Side studio, where after a while people even forgot to add the, “I don’t agree with her views”, disclaimer that they’d added at the start. There is the strange feeling of it being ‘the year of the conservative’ where the housemates and audience alike are sucked into her views and being to repeat them.
Quietly, Ann trained everyone in the house to look at her for approval… once she achieved that, she made the correlation that she was like Mum or Grandmum. She gave rewards and punishments. Then gradually escalated the levels of what they weren’t allowed to do, thus shutting out everyone who had anything bad to say about her. To disrespect/disagree with Ann would be like doing that to your own loved ones and made the person questioning the rules seem wrong and vindictive. And if you do a Twitter search it seems as if it’s working. Ann is hailed for her views and convictions by a good many people.
The main excuse Ann apologists seem to use is ‘she’s old, and people were like that back then.’
Excuse me? Were they really?
Pardon me, but Ann Widdecombe is 70, not 101, She is not from the pre-war or Victorian age. She is my mum’s age; a woman who fought for equality for women, race and LGBT. If she heard someone like Ann back then, she’d clipped her around the head. Ann Widdecombe grew up in the ‘Swinging 60s’, she is younger than Mick Jagger and most of the Rolling Stones, younger than the remaining Beatles. She is as old as Marianne Faithfull – who was raised a convent girl but became a poster girl for bisexual liberation.
These were the decades of protesting, feminism and sexual liberation – she might not have been part of it, but she can’t pretend she never heard of it. She certainly can’t brainwash people into believing that her attitude was the norm back then amongst her peers.
The worst thing is seeing other LGBT members make those excuses for her, sucked in by the “funny old lady” act. No Amanda, Wayne, Rylan, Biggins, Russell Grant – this was not the norm back then. Shame especially those who are her age: why shame your whole generation? People like Elizabeth Taylor, Joanna Lumley, Barbra Streisand and most of the cast of Grace and Frankie are her peers as is Barbra Windsor.
All these people believed and still believe in gay rights and general equality, even the nuns in the original Call the Midwife books were more open-minded than she is.
What the heck Amanda especially; how difficult is it to understand that gay people did not have the right to marry in the very recent past and that this was because of people like Ann who voted against that. Be friends with her if you must, but don’t say that she and her opinions had nothing to do with your rights! Even on the show Widdecombe still insisted: “Marriage is between a man and a woman.”
She uses her status to create her own little pantomime in which she is the star, knowing that this will continue to give her a stage to present her dangerous opinions… It’s a trick card Donald Trump played as well during the elections.
It has nothing to do with how ‘things were back then’, as this was clearly not the case amongst her age group; it has to do with a narrow-minded woman who enjoys being the villain when it suits her, knowing it keeps her in the media. She uses her status to create her own little pantomime in which she is the star, knowing that this will continue to give her a stage to present her dangerous opinions. It even seems to make her popular with every generation. It’s a trick card Donald Trump played as well during the elections.
Like Trump, Ann too showed she is still vindictive, placing Maggie Oliver up for eviction because of past political clashes. Maggie – who everyone expected to go far was barely seen during her time on the show. “I was talking about police, zero hour contracts, poverty and homelessness and those conversations haven’t been showed,”
She came out of the house saying Ann had ‘no compassion for the homeless or poor’ and is a ‘misogynist’.
“I don’t hate Ann,” she said. “She’s a powerful woman, and I believe that she is a misogynist. She’s playing a very clever game. She is very intelligent, but emotionally she is not. My views on politicians are widely reported, and Ann has proved every comment and stereotype that I have made about people in positions of authority. I don’t believe [her lack of empathy] is her fault, she has lived a privileged life.
Emotionally she has never evolved. Politically she is very smart, but she has lived in a world of men. She has shown that in the fact she is quite vocal on her views about women.”
In a way, this is bigger than Big Brother as this is a small window into the state of the world right now. It reveals how easily people give up their own opinions and freedom and how much intolerance towards those that fight for equality there still is.
The catchphrase of this year’s Big Brother is “respect your elders”. Of course, you have to have respect for those that came before you; so many people fought for your right to exist and a lot of the freedoms we have now. But when someone is disrespectful or hurtful to you – judging you before they have even met you. You are allowed to voice your opinion. No-one is allowed to belittle or hurt anyone, no matter who they are and what their age is.
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Dannii Cohen is a stand-up comedian (drag name Divine Varod) and comedy writer turned author, psychologist, professional counselor, life coach and self-help expert. Specialized in LGBT issues, anxiety, empowerment, children’s issues and bullying.
Published works include children’s books about childhood depression and the importance of being yourself (When Clouds Hide The Sun and Christopher the Lonely Bear) and an easy to use self help manual 50 Things To Know To Have A Better Life: Self-Improvement Made Easy.