Guilty feminists and Love Island: In defence of Kady McDermott

The angry feminist in me has once again been stirred, this time by a Good Morning Britain clip from a couple of days ago, in which former Love Island contestant Kady McDermott is absolutely ripped to shreds for her decision to have sex during her time on the island. Having been asked to participate in the Christmas light switch on in her home town of Welwyn Garden City, Kady was affronted with a petition that resulted in her being axed from the event, and replaced by, deliciously ironically, a man. Take that as you will.

The segment of the show can only be described as utterly humiliating – Kady looks close to tears as she references the names she’s been called and threats she’s been sent for accepting the lights gig. She is sat next to the women who started the petition, who ridiculously insists that she loved Love Island, but simply could not accept Kady’s participation in the light switch because it would be like “inviting Magic Mike to a scout’s jamboree”. I know. She’s clearly comfortable with enjoying the show and thus benefitting from the behaviour of the contestants, but vocally uncomfortable (deplored, even) by the contestants themselves – the logic is airtight. Her suggested compromise was that a ‘post 10pm lighting’ be organised, so that Kady would not be seen by the children attending and “guys could go and drink beer” and “admire” her. It’s a sad and unfair that because of the choices she has made, Kady is deemed to be worth admiring by a male audience, but too inappropriate to be seen by children.

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9pm on ITV2 certainly made for cringe-worthy watching, especially if your parents were in the room. I’m not sure my dad was overjoyed with ME (an almost 20 year old ADULT, thank you) let alone my 14 year old little sister. I am not completely unable to empathise with viewers who disagree with the activities undertaken beneath the bedsheets by contestants. If you’ve not been in a similar situation yourself – and, let’s be honest, it is a pretty ridiculous situation- it’s quite easy to pass judgement. But if we’re going to talk about feminism, I don’t see any way you can legitimately condemn Kady or the rest of the girls.

Perhaps the line between size 4 girls parading around on television in bikinis and heels for the gaze of men and women having fun and making choices for themselves is hard to define. Admittedly, there are moments on Love Island where the boundary is pushed slightly, and the idea of having to be ‘good enough’ to be picked by someone is an uncomfortable thing to aspire to. In terms of sex specifically though, it ultimately seems as though when the women of the show were able explore the same sexual liberties as men and weren’t judged in the way that many ‘promiscuous’ women have become accustomed to in every day life. There was a subtext that women could do just what the men could do and, rightly, that was ok.

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This year, there was also a great deal of emphasis on the absence of pressure in the relationships- the girls were vocal about their feelings on having sex in the villa and no one was coerced into doing anything they didn’t want to do. Surely, as a feminist, you’d expect to champion this- good on the girls for exercising their rights to say both no and yes, and good on the men for respecting that. Especially this  year, the boys did get called out when they made derogatory remarks or didn’t support the girls equality. We all remember the Johnny and Camilla debacle- it was refreshing to see girls standing up for themselves on TV and that’s exactly what Kady is doing now. She spoke fairly about how, for her, sex was a normal part of a relationship, and living in such intense circumstances, it was normal for feelings to escalate for a partner- she felt loved her boyfriend and didn’t want to wait 6 weeks to ‘do the deed’, if you will. Fair enough, surely. You don’t have to agree with it, but it doesn’t give you the right to pass judgement on it.

To reduce a woman to one incident on a TV show is just ridiculous. Now an ambassador for charities as well other things, Kady is, unsurprisingly, a fully formed, complex human being who cannot fairly be defined by a singular action. But this isn’t about analysing her character, it’s about denying her a pretty simple job in her home town on the basis that she made a choice some people might not like. Even Piers spoke up in her defence at particular moments, and if he’s defending her you know it must be bad. It might seem like a small issue in terms of bigger questions about women, like the wage gap and abortion and rape and abuse and all these huge controversies that daily hurt people, but it’s just so boring and frustrating to still be seeing women shamed for their personal decisions. When will we just get used to empowering women to make their own choices and live and let live already.

To finish, an eloquent expression from my housemate that sums it all up – “it’s 2017, women are allowed to have sex.”

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