Power, Possession and the Male Gaze in Love Island

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On June 4th, I spent the whole day proudly declaring I wasn’t going to watch a reality show surrounding vapid degenerates, so predictably, come 9pm I eagerly settled down to watch my first ever Love Island with an open(ish) mind.

In many ways, it was exactly as I expected it to be: models, bleached hair, fake tans and abs. Someone didn’t know what superficial meant, and within half an hour the bombshell that someone called ‘Dani Dyer’ was the daughter of Danny Dyer was dropped. Who would have guessed? Witchcraft, clearly.

All well and good. Light entertainment, right? The selection process initially seemed balanced, with women stepping forward if they liked the look of the men. However, alarm bells started ringing when it was said that men get to have their pick of the women, and although they could express a preference, it was the men who got the final decision of who they ‘coupled up’ with. If I remember correctly, aren’t relationships a two-way thing?

Nevertheless, I noted that this was meant to be a challenged-based lighthearted reality show so I overlooked this. However, as they all ‘coupled up’, a typical reality show trope occurred as they threw in this extra singleton, Adam, to ‘rock the boat’ between these couples. This would’ve been fine, but I was again troubled by the fact that he was able to pick any girl he wanted from these established couples within 24 hours.

The fact that Adam has the freedom to choose any girl he wants suggests a slight commodification of the girls in this show, but what makes it worse is the fact that the choice is completely determined by him: the girl he chooses has no say in the matter. Based on Adam’s choice, a girl will share a bed with him, when she may as well not want to. There was, for example, genuine concern by some of the girls like Dani and Kendall, who were worried about being separated from the one they chose to ‘couple up’ with through no choice of their own. Whilst they signed up for the show, they appear to be powerless.

Although the women were able to express who they ‘fancied’, it appears that men are the only ones with decisive force. The worst part is that this element of sexism isn’t attitude-based: rather, it has been instilled as a rule in the show. But why? Is it because it is, or should be, the norm? Why are they presenting these male-centric rules to a public audience?

The reactions to Adam by the other men may have been orchestrated ‘drama’, but this too demonstrated a worryingly recurring theme of possession. Jealousy is a natural emotion, and maybe physically clinging onto your partner when you felt threatened can be seen as an exaggerated joke, but it seemed to go beyond that. Some of the men simply pouted about it but let their partners get on with it – which is a difficult thing to experience – but is the approach that ensures the most autonomy for all parties.

Meanwhile Wes, who had known his partner (Laura) for literally an hour, went to intercept a conversation between her and Alex, whisking her away for a ‘private chat’. The plain fact of the matter here is that he stopped a woman from talking to someone purely based on the fact that she was ‘his’.

That would be questionable, borderline controlling behaviour in a six-month relationship – but displaying this within the first few hours is utterly ridiculous. There is no love and a fear of losing your partner this scenario, so what explains the possessiveness? I would argue that what Wes was doing here was ‘staking his claim’ to Laura. Because he had chosen her, he felt entitled to her and felt she was ‘his’, and that meant no other man had the right to talk to her.

The most ironic part? With the emphasis on getting ‘texts’ and Instagram accounts in the show, it is clear that the set-up is designed to be in touch with modern culture. But if that’s the case, why are gender power dynamics stuck in the 1950s?

Love Island airs at 9pm every day except for Saturday on ITV2.

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  1. avatar

    Well the same thing will happen next week when the girls have the power to choose whichever boy they want to couple up with. The power plays actually exist for both equally. There are definitely some resounding problematic issues within the framework of this show but I don’t personally think anything you’ve touched on here is really valid.

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