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8 December 2017

Is this the most feminist series of The Apprentice yet?

“They just do as they’re told. Like good little men.”

By Anoosh Chakelian

Contains spoilers!

Black cab-based psychological thriller The Apprentice isn’t exactly known for gender equality. For its 12 and half blessed years on this planet, the business women have been called “girls” – or “gels” when Lord Sugar (née Siralan) is talking – and any time female candidates dare to argue, they are sombrely termed a disgrace to women in business by Karren Brady, while the men nod and practically mime nagging with their hands.

While petty bickering is the very lifeblood of this programme, the women are supposedly letting their gender down – whereas the men who take chunks out of each other simply remind Lord Sugar of his younger self trying to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of 8-bit processors.

But the worst is the sexism of the candidates themselves, laid bare in the tasks they must complete to become head elf at the Walkie-Talkie, or whatever it is they’re trying to win.

There are just so many examples:

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 > Women told to flirt for sales.

 > Men assuming they’ll win DIY or manual labour-based tasks (there are a surprising number of these – classic test of business skills).

 > The team in Series Ten who invented a quiz boardgame called Relationship Guru (“Q: What do men least like? A: A visit to the mother-in-law”, “Men don’t tidy up their clothes”, “Do women like a man to ask them out over text?”, “Women prefer chicken salad to chocolate”, “Men prefer cricket to waxing”, etc).

 > And the notorious advert task in Series Six resulting in Octi-Kleen, with which a wife cleans eight surfaces and has hands to spare for giving her idle husband sexual favours.

The Mail has labelled this year’s series “one of the worst in terms of same-sex bickering”, referring to “the notoriously catty ethos that seemed to run amongst the ladies’ team”.

But, as the candidate making these complaints was Sarah-Jayne – only the second woman to leave after six weeks – something seems to be working particularly well for the women this year. The gels are fighting back.

First, we watched the men’s team lose, three times in a row. OK, they were led by Michaela in that third task, but she relished the opportunity to oppress her minions:

“I’d go over to the boys definitely, as long as I can be PM [project manager]… [I’ve] got four brothers and keep them all in place.”

It took four weeks for a woman to be fired, and now there’s only one man against four women left in the process (down from two men versus six women last week), and the women are loving it.

Take this exchange – in the back of a cab, where else? – in the most recent episode between Michaela and Sarah.

Michaela: “The boys have had no chance, have they?”

Sarah: “No. They just haven’t shone at all… The two that are left are strong. So if they can work with us, take our lead, they’ll be all right.”

[Knowing laughter. Note to reader: Harrison was not, in the end, all right.]

Michaela: “Yeah, if they just do as they’re told. Like a good little man.”

[Rapturous guffaws.]

Sarah: “If they know who wears the trousers, they’ll be fine. Look!”

[Camera pans over all three women in the cab wearing trousers. They howl uproariously. Patriarchy crumbles. End of scene.]

Week after week, the men have been consistently objectified and shuffled into junior roles.

In episode seven, the sell-a-car task, Andrew – as the only man in his team’s advert – was instructed to just “be a guy in the passenger seat”, and “look pretty” (“he did a good job of it”, smirked Michaela afterwards).

His alternative idea for the ad? “You could even use assisted parking while she’s putting on some lipstick, or something like that?”

Silence from his female colleagues.

“They’ve just put me to the sideline,” he complained. “I thought this was going to be Jason Statham kind of stuff, and it isn’t.”

Suitable punishment, surely, for his sexist comments in week four’s corporate hospitality task, when he denigrated women’s football. “Last year, more people came to watch the Women’s FA Cup Final than came to watch the men’s England game,” Michaela hit back.

“The women kicked your arse,” Lady Brady coolly informed him later in the boardroom.

In week ten’s task, promoting a fashion line, Harrison was accused of simply being “an assistant” – dutifully ferrying clothes back and forth, taking notes, and putting chairs out, while James’ only role was to humiliate himself model the menswear and put his hair in a centre parting, like a Nineties A1 cast-off.

This was while the women in his team lecherously recruited male models.

“OK, you’ve got a 30-inch inside leg,” leered Elizabeth from beneath her chosen model. “YES, Elizabeth!” cackled Michaela, as they inspected each man’s six-pack.

Cue a shot of extremely uncomfortable beautiful men.

And this may be the problem with The Apprentice’s new approach to gender politics: there is still no equality. Someone, whoever they are, has to be ritually degraded. Twice, Lord Sugar instructed the last remaining male contestant James to “man up” – proving that it’s still about as far from enlightenment as Canary Wharf is from the show’s true location.


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