Love Island: Watching The Men Rank Women Based On ‘Relationship Material’ Was Deeply Uncomfortable

Lots of people have plenty to say about the boys reasons for someone being 'girlfriend material' compared to the girls...

Love Island - ITV

by Nikki Peach |
Published on

The first episode of Love Island is always a fairly excruciating watch. A group of 20-something-year-old strangers arrive at the villa in their shorts and bikinis, move in together and have to start flirting on straight away. And it's all on national television.

We’ve all seen the ITV dating show, which is now in its 11th series, and we know how it works. Everyone introduces themselves as ‘alpha’ or ‘super confident’ and says they’re ‘not afraid to step on anyone’s toes’, but in reality, they’re probably all quite nervous.

Which is why it’s always uncomfortable to watch them rate and rank each other half an hour into the first episode. During the first challenge, in which the boys and girls had to rate each other from most to least ‘relationship material’, the language the boys used to illustrate 'girlfriend material' raised alarm bells.

While the girls avoided making personal remarks, given that they’d only just met, the boys exposed their thinking straight away. Welsh boy Ciaran Davies immediately said, ‘Welsh girls are wifey as f**k’, whatever that means, and Sam Taylor judged Harriet Blackmore for only breaking up with her ex-boyfriend four months ago – using that as a reason to put her lower in the rankings.

It might seem harmless given that it was part of the challenge, and that the girls did it too, but it’s an early insight into how quickly women are judged for things they have little control over. Not only that, but there is a societal power imbalance – especially on this show – that means women are often judged by men for things they'd never be judged for themselves. Watching some of the girls squirm while the boys huddled up to decide how relationship-worthy they are was an uncomfortable watch.

It seems unnecessary to put any islander – male or female – in a position where they feel vulnerable and pitted against their peers that quickly into the show. Although Love Island has taken steps in the past few years to make the opening episode fairer and less misogynistic, it seems there is still a long way to go.

Rather than being separated by gender, men and women now enter the villa together, which helps to diffuse an instant pack mentality. And rather than stepping forward for each other based on looks alone, the public match people up so that no one is left without a partner because they weren't picked. Games where they have to rank each other's relationship credentials based on first impressions, however, seem to undo all of that progress. It's almost as if they are designed to signpost the prejudices that make dating so hard to begin with – many of which, sadly, are gendered.

At the end of the day, Love Island is a dating show and people are going to be judged based on first impressions, appearances and their personalities. It's not always fun to watch, but that much is not going to change anytime soon. But given that the show has been on for nearly a decade, you'd have thought they would have found a way to encourage flirtation and conversation, and to show us who likes who, without pitting everyone against each other in the first hour. Alas, perhaps that's wishful thinking.

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