Another day, another woman is getting dragged online based on nothing more than speculation. This time it’s Katya Jones, professional dancer and Strictly Come Dancing icon, currently competing in her sixth season of the show, alongside Olympic Swimmer, Adam Peaty. Her crime? Getting into the role for a sexy dance on a show where competitors are rewarded for their characterisation. Right.
You see, in Saturday’s show, when performing the Argentine Tango, a dance known for its sultry and seductive sensuality, a moment passed on the screen where Peaty appeared to go in for a kiss. Since then, a video clip of the moment has been circulating online fuelling speculation that what has come to be known as the “Strictly Curse” (when competitors have affairs with their dance partners, as has been known to happen a few times in the past) is playing out in front of our very eyes. And before the watershed at that! Scandalous!
Let’s rewind a little to another scandal involving Jones in 2018, when she was photographed actually kissing her dance partner, Seann Walsh, out of hours in the street outside a club. At the time, both Walsh and Jones were in long-term relationships, which made the story explosive when it hit. At the time, Walsh’s long-term partner who he lived with, Rebecca Humphries, left him very publicly. Not long after, Jones split from her husband and partner of 11 years, fellow dancer on the show, Neil Jones. She is now single, but, importantly, Peaty is not.
Annoyed by the speculation, Peaty took to Twitter to clear things up and to issue a stark warning. “To everyone who wants to see what they want,” he said, “your comments have real life consequences. I will not be overcome or lowered by your gossip. Protect your energy.”
For her part, his partner, Eiri Munro, with whom he shares a child, took a much more light-hearted approach to the speculation, sharing a funny Tik Tok video about how it feels to watch your boyfriend almost kiss another woman on live TV. Her sense of humour in the face of intense gossip about her relationship suggests that she knows she has nothing to worry about.
But the world’s persistence in trying to hold Jones in the narrative of ‘the other woman’ is telling. The context of the two situations could hardly be more different. One happened on screen during prime-time viewing hours on the BBC as part of a dramatic dance, and one happened in the outside world late at night where the couple in question had reportedly hoped not to be seen. And, I don’t know about you but…. If I was going to have a very high-profile affair, I probably wouldn’t flaunt it on live TV.
Such assumptions also suggest that as human beings, our mistakes aren’t temporary but are rather cast in the dye of our very existence and impossible to move on from. Once a cheater, always a cheater etc.
But is that really true? Don’t we all make mistakes ALL of the time and learn from them. If I stole a penny chew in my youth am I destined to be a thief for life? Of course not, we all know better than that. So why do we assume that people in the public eye are any different?
I don’t know any of these people personally, but what I’ve observed from the coverage of this issue on social media suggests that people are all too keen to push Jones into the role of femme fatale; a seductress who leads men astray. The problem with all of this is that it’s not just reductive, but it’s also pretty sexist.
So far all I’ve seen is a narrative that wants to hold Jones in a very narrow and heavily dramatised role that does little to suggest that Peaty is also a human being and adult who might wield some responsibility in his own life.
It’s a trope we see play out time and time again in fiction and reality TV. Sexy woman with malevolent undertones willingly swipes a man from the clutches of his existing partner. In almost all of these scenarios, the man is portrayed as weak and vulnerable to the advances of the woman’s sexual magnetism.
For the purposes of this argument, if Jones and Peaty were to be doing anything untoward (which all evidence suggests they weren’t) then that would be both of their responsibility, so why is only one person getting accused of being responsible?
I’m sure you already know the answer to that one.
But the wider point also stands that to keep pushing Jones into the role of the ‘other woman’ is to completely reduce her to a fictionalised character rather than what she really is, a human being who is trying to get on with their life.
This is especially hard to weather as a woman existing in a media landscape that scrutinises every single aspect of your behaviour and lifestyle. In 2021 we should have all learned by now how harmful it is to force women into reductive stereotypes and to circulate unfounded speculation online that can’t be substantiated.
Instead, why can’t we just assume that both Peaty and Jones are doing their job, getting into character, and doing both of those things well (based on their high scores)? Because doesn’t Jones, like any other person deserve a shot at redemption? Until we let her move on from her past indiscretions, that doesn’t seem possible at all.