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Aussie legend said he'd "cut off" a female contestant's head while on live TV.

Former Australian cricketing legend Merv Hughes has made a savagely violent and threatening remark towards a fellow contestant on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Why was our community so quick to excuse it?

On Monday night, cricketer-turned-commentator Merv Hughes made a threatening remark in which he alluded to decapitating lawyer and former The Bachelor contestant, Anna Heinrich.

The 53-year-old sporting legend was filming reality television show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Outta Here when the incident happened. Contestants were discussing who would prepare dinner that evening, when Merv lashed out at 26-year-old barrister, Anna.

What could possibly have provoked it? Anna suggested that one of the men at camp might cook dinner that night.

That’s it.

Former test cricketer Merv Hughes.

Anna mentioned in passing that some of the male contestants on the show had offered to make a meal that night and was hoping to spur them into action. Merv was napping nearby but stirred to grumble: “Sit down and relax, woman.”

When Anna did not obey, Merv said: “Shut up or I’ll chop your head off with this machete”… the knife beside him on his camp bed.

The contestants present seemed too taken aback to challenge Merv directly for his strange, violent remark.

Former Hi-5 band member Lauren Brant, who was evicted from the jungle on Monday night, says that Merv spoke to her like this “all the time” on the show.

“What happened with Anna… For me, it was just another thing Merv said. He said so many of those things to me that never aired,” Laura tells me on the phone from South Africa.

Anna and Lauren (picture via Instagram)

Lauren continues: “Sometimes it was too much for me to even deal with, but I just did. I would stand up for myself when it happened — which it did, all the time.”

To me, Merv just sounds like a brutish misogynist exercising his lifelong right as a famous sport hero to say whatever the hell he wants to and about women. But Lauren has a far more forgiving take on the whole matter.

“I give Merv props for being himself on this show,” Lauren tells me.

“It’s really hard to do, with the cameras on 24-7 and you don’t know which bits they’re going to show. Merv’s just stuck in a time when women and men aren’t equal. He knows he’s a serial pest, he just comes from an environment where men and women get a different kind of respect.”

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Lauren did stand up to Merv while she was on the show. Actually, the clash between Lauren and Merv quickly became one of the main story lines. She confronted him on camera often, but as she tells it, viewers rarely saw why she was upset in the first place.

“When I got out of the production, I was surprised to see how much of the storyline was me going up against Merv. I got showed as being over-opinionated, always going at him. They’d show my reaction but never what Merv said to provoke it.”

And, Lauren says, almost as a defensive afterthought: “At the end of the day, Merv has a wife and kids, so he’s probably a great husband and a great father. But he does say these offensive things.”

Lauren confronting Merv.

Since the incident with Anna, Merv Hughes has admitted what he said was “out of line” and at the behest of other contestants, namely footballer Barry Hall, there was some reconciliation amongst the group.

Merv told the camp: “I reckon I have driven people a little hard at times and I’ve got to learn to take a step back. I do take things a bit far.”

But as welcome as this gesture of self-awareness is, it’s also not nearly enough. There was no apology. There was no retraction. There was no acknowledgement or admission of the fact that he casually threatened a woman’s life on prime time television.

Out of line? You cannot even see the line from where Merv Hughes is standing.

Sadly, this is exactly the kind of casual, public misogyny that creates a society where some men feel entitled to act on the sort of empty threat Merv made on TV last night. A society where hurting a woman, or even taking her life, is considered by some men to be an appropriate reaction when they don’t like her attitude, or her independence, or her appearance.

It is a neat and highly alarming demonstration of the ease with, which men threaten violence against women.

While nobody for a moment believed that Merv intended to follow through on his words; they were still designed to provoke a reaction that belittled Anna and made her feel like less of a person. Her floods of tears following the event showed how hard those words hit her and yes, even scared her a little.

‘Out of line’ or ‘a bit too far’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.

And while one Australian woman a week continues to die at the hands of a man who is know to her, Merv’s behaviour is a little too real – even for reality TV.

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