The gendered nature of redemption arcs

The gendered nature of redemption arcs

November 17, 2022

Written by Chloe Laws

As Matt Hancock gets a chance to redeem himself in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, Stylist’s Chloe Laws asks why we’re so quick to give men a second chance.

Another week, another redemption arc given to an undeserving, well-known white man. If you’d asked me who I thought would be on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! this year, Matt Hancock wouldn’t have made the list. And yet, when the rumours started, I wasn’t surprised. Why? Because successful men will continue to be given a platform on which to perform (and make no mistake, this is a performance).

Matt Hancock was appointed health secretary by Theresa May in July 2018 and he was in charge of leading the NHS’s response to Covid-19 in 2020. A response which, for many, was appallingly handled by the government, with many MPs not following their own rules. From delays in the first lockdown and how contracts were awarded to inadequate testing and a lack of ventilators, Hancock presided over a lot of life-threatening decisions. He was famously forced to resign as health secretary in June 2021 when CCTV images of him kissing his aide, Gina Coladangelo, with whom he was having an affair, were published by The Sun.

Having first appeared on the show last Wednesday, he has already received a lot of air time, being voted in for the show’s daily trials every night for five days. Last night, that changed, and three other contestants were voted to do the challenges – his redemption arc, it seems, is well underway. 

There’s a lot to unpick about his appearance on the show: he’s not a celebrity, he’s a politician, and by appearing on the ITV show, he was suspended as a Tory MP. Or that voting for him to take part in trials isn’t really a punishment; it’s giving ITV what it wants (views, votes and engagement in the show) and Hancock the opportunity to appear on TV in front of an audience of millions and spin a different narrative. And what about his constituents? Well, he’s abandoned them to make a rumoured £400,000 for his I’m A Celebrity… stint. Is anyone serving them while he eats offal? But I’d like to focus on his redemption arc and why men like Hancock are afforded them so readily. 

Hancock isn’t being exactly subtle about his motivations, either. Speaking with his campmates, he said, “What I’m really looking for is a bit of forgiveness. We all make mistakes; I made a pretty big one.” This statement massively downplays the reality of what he did and the responsibility that comes with being an MP. He did not make a simple oopsadaisy – he made calculated decisions that affected thousands. He misused the power entrusted to him.

Speaking with Stylist, The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group founder Jo Goodman said: “It’s unbelievably painful to have to watch the people who were supposed to protect our loved ones behave like this. Matt Hancock’s pleas for forgiveness are completely cynical. He’s trying to cash in on his infamy from the pandemic with no care for the trauma and pain he’s causing the families who he tore apart and who are trying to move forward with their lives. While he’s counting the money ITV are giving him to appear on I’m A Celebrity…, we’re left reflecting on whether our loved ones might still be with us if only someone else had been in charge when the pandemic struck.” 

For those who are finding entertainment in Hancock’s appearance on reality TV, I hope thinking of those bereaved as a result of Covid-19 challenges that: a few laughs, even if at his expense, is not worth the pain we are putting those affected by his actions through.

In this particular series, there are three men bidding for a change in public opinion. Boy George was convicted of assault and false imprisonment in 2009 after he handcuffed Norwegian model and male escort Audun Carlsen to a wall and beat him with a metal chain. Carlsen told the jury he was only able to get free after breaking the fixture and, when speaking to the Daily Mirror about Boy George’s casting in the show, he said: “It’s hurtful that big organisations like ITV give him that platform.”

Chris Moyles also has a history of misogyny, publicly berating women while he was a DJ on Radio 1. He called Nicola Roberts from Girls Aloud “the ropey-looking ginger one at the back” in his autobiography and a “sour-faced old cow”. He called Halle Berry“ratty” after she questioned if he was being racist (he was doing an ‘impression of a “big, fat, black guy” live on air). He offered to take the virginity of Charlotte Church, saying he wanted to “lead her through the forest of sexuality now she had reached 16”. In July 2006, the DJ was criticised by media watchdog Ofcom for an incident in which he referred to female listeners as “dirty whores” for urinating in the shower. You get the picture. 

This redemption arc and celebrity-washing happens so often that we rarely even take notice. Matt Hancock got the public standing to attention because he is not a celebrity and so the stakes change. Recently, Johnny Depp appeared as a model in Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty Vol. 4 show, following the ugly, high-profile civil trial between him and his ex-wife Amber Heard. In April, Louis CK won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album despite being accused of sexual harassment by five female comedians (he admitted their accounts were true) in 2017. There are many, many more examples of men who have been ‘cancelled’ or left the public eye because of their awful (and sometimes criminal) actions, only to return shortly after and get a second chance. 

This phenomenon does not apply to women in the same way. Theresa May and Liz Truss have endured fewer scandals than Matt Hancock, yet we don’t see them getting a chance at humanising their failings as politicians for an hour every evening on national television. Or take Allegra Stratton, the former political aide who, in leaked ITV footage from 22 December 2020, was seen joking about lockdown rules and a Christmas party held at Downing Street. Stratton was the only member of Number 10 to resign immediately over Partygate, and yet her colleagues who did not resign or take any accountability have remained in the public eye while she has been shunned. All we’ve heard from her in the past six months is that she’s joined Bloomberg News as UK contributing editor, writing an afternoon newsletter called Readout.

Why? Because women are held to higher standards of morality. We are villainised while our male counterparts are let off. It’s the patriarchal boys-will-be-boys mentality that has persisted into adulthood and allowed men to avoid accountability while routinely being given second chances and platforms on which to humanise their inhumanity. Next time you see Matt Hancock crying about his mistakes on TV or laugh at him eating insects, remember that he’s the real winner – whatever happens.

Images: Getty

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