Great Britain

Just because a woman asked Ruth Wilson to strip doesn’t make it better | Barbara Ellen

Is sexism even worse when it comes from another woman? And why do some women try to professionally “out-jock” men?

These were my thoughts when I read about how actress Ruth Wilson left the television series The Affair because of what she claims is a toxic, inappropriate culture involving enforced sex scenes. As a fan of The Affair, I’d wondered why Wilson left so abruptly, with only one season to go. The Hollywood Reporter says that Wilson was labelled “difficult” for objecting to relentless nude sequences (demanded of her far more often than her male co-stars). Wilson refused to do a “rapey” scene against a tree. (A body double was used.) During filming of some sex scenes, monitors could be viewed by non-crew members.

There’s more gruesome detail, including a disputed report on Lena Dunham’s now-defunct newsletter and website Lenny Letter, where producer/director of The Affair, Jeffrey Reiner, spoke to Dunham, praising her nudity in Girls (“You would show anything. Even your asshole”), saying he wished she’d encourage Wilson to “show her tits or at least some vag”. Now it is reported that The Affair’s showrunner, Sarah Treem, also pressured Wilson (and others) into nudity, making remarks such as “You look beautiful” and “Everyone is waiting for you”.

Excuse me while I throw up into a bin. Why can’t women such as Wilson be beautiful and clothed – and why should they feel responsible for disrupting filming schedules for nude scenes they find so distressing they leave a hit show?

If this is true (Treem denies it, saying she’s a feminist), it’s grotesque on multiple levels. Like the recent story about Emilia Clarke dreading nudity on Game of Thrones, it seems that actresses who question the validity of nude scenes still risk being labelled “difficult”. (Note the similarities with porn, where women must not only perform but do so enthusiastically or risk disrupting the male fantasy.) With The Affair, there’s the added factor of alleged woman-on-woman betrayal.

I suppose it happens and not just on television sets. In ill-judged attempts to “prove themselves” in high-octane, male-dominated work environments, there are some women who try to outdo the jocks – doing everything from telling coarser jokes and showing bigger “killer” instincts to deriding other women for being “oversensitive/humourless” via, in this instance, badgering them to do nude scenes. Maybe these women justify the grotty sexism to themselves, rationalising that it’s not the same coming from a woman. Too right – it’s worse.

What a shame if Treem was part of this. Women in positions of power have the opportunity to support one another, not make it so that it isn’t just men that women have to worry about. A woman compelling another woman to do nudity doesn’t automatically make it “feminist”. Woman-on-woman pressure isn’t better. #MeToo has to include female behaviour too.

Child refugee pledges are abandoned with cruel ease

Watch it – the Tories are going straight for the kids. With the passing of the EU withdrawal agreement bill, lone child refugees have been sold even further down the river.

In May, Lord Dubs criticised the government for helping only 480 lone child refugees from Europe reunite with their families when the original pledge was to assist thousands. Now these protections for lone refugee children have been downgraded from a legal commitment merely to an aim.

This is a disgrace that further shames Britain in the eyes of the world. It’s part of the same legislation that strips protections from workers’ rights and removes parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. It comes in the same week as a high court ruling that the Home Office’s£1,012 child citizenship fee is unlawful. The Home Office makes a profit of £640 on each child (Amnesty called it “shameless profiteering) and families are put off applying for citizenship for their children because they can’t afford it.

The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, which helped bring the case for two children affected by the fees, estimates that about 120,000 children live in the UK without British citizenship, even though more than half were born here. The Home Office has been asked to reconsider the fee and we should all keep a weary and disgusted eye on that situation.

We are a matter of days into this government and look at how they treat lone child refugees and children without citizenship. This does not bode well for their attitude towards all disadvantaged children. If the Conservative party is happy to do this to vulnerable children in the first flush of legislation, you have to wonder where it will all end.

Is it really one law for men and another for women?

It looks as though Caroline Flack’s head has been well and truly jammed on to a spike. She has “stepped down” from hosting Love Island (translation: she’s been sacked), after being charged with assaulting her partner, Lewis Burton (who has spoken up for her) during a fracas outside her home. Laura Whitmore will now present the new winter version of the series.

Obviously, there’s no condoning violence but, still, I’m gagging on all the hypocrisy here. ITV2 is acting very moral for a channel that screens the likes of Ibiza Weekender. Love Island itself has been accused of psycho-emotional violence – upsetting and torturing contestants for TV ratings.

Then there’s the ITV presenter Anthony McPartlin (Ant of Ant and Dec), who was allowed time to deal with the mental health issues that lay behind his drunk-driving conviction. Rightly so, but then why the heavyhanded treatment of Flack?

Back in the real world, domestic disputes tend to result in women being the battered victims. Police used to turn a blind eye and, even these days, it’s difficult for cases to make it to court and culminate in a conviction. Yet, when a high-profile woman is allegedly the perpetrator, suddenly it’s all systems go? Flack’s alleged violence is not something to cheer, but is her fame playing too much of a part here?

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist