Love Island has long been clouded by accusations of sexism, gaslighting and racism. But if you thought this year’s show would have laid that all to rest, you’d be wrong: we’ve already seen reports of creepy age gaps, a plastic perfect cast and accusations of “misogynistic and controlling behaviour” – with more than 3,600 complaints in the last week alone and a warning from domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
Welcome to Love Island 2022, as if this year – which has been beset with wider issues of sleaze, sexism and harassment in British institutions like Westminster – hasn’t pushed feminism and the progression of women’s equality back far enough. The current season of the reality TV dating show seems to me to be providing a handy “guide to gaslighting and control” for the young, free and single.
Women’s Aid and Refuge are not alone in their outrage. Fans of the programme have taken to Twitter with comments like “this year’s #LoveIsland is literally sexism and misogyny. No one deserves to win” and “the misogyny this season is unrivalled. Cancel the show #loveisland”.
One of the main concerns of the show is the age of the audience watching it – and I can see why. It concerns me that young teens will casually watch the misogynistic behaviours highlighted by Women’s Aid, the slut-shaming of women and the hypocrisy of men being championed for doing the exact same thing. It worries me that boys and girls will may believe that Luca’s eruption at 19-year-old Gemma for "flirting" with Billy is acceptable behaviour in a relationship when emotions run high. In my opinion, it’s not.
Luca’s family released a statement on his Instagram account in response to the episode in which he accused her of “entertaining” Billy’s affections, saying "when he watches it back, he will be embarrassed and deeply apologetic".
On our TV screens, Luca also said, “Just bring me a f***ing bird now. Trust me when I say, if she wants to play, I will f***ing explode.” And, “f***ing muggy. I got made out to be like a f***ing prick.” If this is love in 2022, then I think I’ll pass.
Dami, another male contestant, has also been slammed for shouting at a female contestant, Summer, and calling her "fake". Meanwhile, Davide has come under fire for calling Ekin-Su a "liar" during their regular arguments. Ekin-Su was previously called a “headache” by Jacques, who has subsequently left the villa.
When Gemma, aged 19, coupled up with Davide, aged 27, Ofcom received 167 complaints. During Covid, Gemma was just 16 years old and now she’s on a TV show where every move she makes, every single word she says is being scrutinised, mocked, laughed at and judged by millions of people. I strongly feel that when people’s lives and relationships become entertainment for public consumption, we start to lose our grip on what’s real and what’s fake – or acceptable.
We are all influenced by what we watch, young people especially. Beautiful people are put on shows like Love Island because audiences watching at home want to look like them. But do we really want to be them?
For me, watching Love Island has become synonymous with watching control tactics and possibly even emotional abuse, which will inevitably influence and affect young people’s understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in real-life relationships. I worry that seeing this behaviour going unchecked and left to play out in an aesthetically-pleasing reality TV show like Love Island risks reinforcing the normalisation of these behaviours in intimate relationships off-screen.
If a man is allowed to shout, scream, gaslight and name-call a woman in front of millions of people and not one person steps in to say “that’s not acceptable” – what on earth do you think is happening behind closed doors in the real world?
They call it a toxic relationship, but they also call it love. And it is my view that Love Island is inadvertently promoting a warped perception of love which is actually based on unhealthy, perhaps even emotionally abusive relationships. So why do so many people watch it? What is funny about alleged abuse, emotional or otherwise?
Domestic abuse used to be confined to soap operas, which usually ended with a strong moral to the story. Yet earlier this year, we saw Amber Heard – a complainant of alleged sexual violence – being mocked, ridiculed and tormented on social media when she gave live-streamed evidence in a defamation case brought by Johnny Depp, which he ultimately won. The reality seems to be: misogyny and alleged abuse sells.
What is also reality is abuse in heteronormative relationships, where physical or sexual violence is the norm for one in three women across their lifetime. As a barrister, I see women blamed for being beaten up and domestic abuse normalised in courtrooms across the country, all the time. “It was just a matrimonial row”, “it’s the ups and downs of relationships”, “she gave as good as she got”, “it was just a domestic” – and so it goes on.
Blaming women, gaslighting them and refusing to take responsibility. I see this in court all the time – DARVO, where many perpetrators deny, attack and reverse victim and offender.
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To me there is something sinister aboutseeing a microcosm of this everyday, tragic reality reflected on an entertainment show such as Love Island: as though it were a playbook for manipulative behaviour. Controlling and gaslighting cannot go unchecked on reality TV simply because the show’s tagline advertises it as being about “love”.
If Love Island isn’t cancelled altogether, then it needs strict guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, like Women’s Aid have asked for. ITV needs to show that contestants will be held accountable for their actions.
At the moment, it is my opinion that Love Island is giving viewers little more than “misogyny and controlling behaviour” porn” sold as “love”, with the promise of a £50,000 prize – and it needs to end. Now.
Dr Charlotte Proudman is a barrister specialising in violence against women and girls and a junior research fellow at Queens’ College, Cambridge