So… is it just me, or have the Love Island men been the worst this year? I’m genuinely asking the question - all of the question. Because usually by the end of Love Island, someone has proven a little bit fanciable/nice/someone you’d not cross the street to avoid. Not this year, for me. But I guess the important part of the question I’m asking is, ‘Is it just me?’ Is it just that 2018, woke-world, post-Weinstein and #MeToo me is judging men – specifically men on Reality TV shows – very differently? And by differently, I mean very, very harshly.
I’m usually not very good at being woke in my crushes – I still hold a candle for some questionable celebrities. So why, at the end of a show designed to put the most attractive people around into one villa, am I so full of rage at basically every man in there? It’s the eternal questions – is it me, or them?
And yes, that includes national treasure Jack Fincham - even after he split the £50,000 prize money with Dani (in the biggest non-shock of the series).
I mainly ask because looking back now, I realise I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of my life over the last eight weeks being so so so furious every time Alex George opens his mouth. Longer articles an explorations have been dedicated to the specific problem women have had with him and you’re probably familiar with some of the arguments. The worst part was at the beginning when everyone thought he was ‘the sweetest’ and was gagging for him to get a date. At that point in the series, it felt like we were in some awful backwards version of Black Mirror’s Hang The DJ, where a whole country of woman would be forced to enter the villa until one agreed that they fancied Alex – and that until he did, we’d be forced to watch the same episode over and over again. Jack, Josh and Wes pumping him up and ‘teaching’ him (the man who claims he slept with more than 30 women) how to touch a girl’s knee. The whole villa watching as he asked his next date what her ‘hobbies’ were (NOTHING – no-one has hobbies Alex, what?). The girls saying over and over, ‘He’s just such a nice guy, I hope he finds love.’ Until we all just died. But by the end, it seemed like most of Twitter had turned against Alex - some even tweeted he was an ‘incel’ and basically everyone celebrating Alexandra’s mum giving him a tongue-lashing. I’d venture no woman would be happy to walk into triage at A&E and find him at the foot of the bed. Most people seemed united in noticing the odd attitudes he had towards women - that strange toxic masculinity that fully believes they are ‘nice’ while being incandescently fuming at the slightest rejection from a woman. Constantly wondering why no-one fancies SUCH A NICE GUY, while being totally obviously awful. Oh, and of course then ditching girls that ‘move too fast’. Let’s just say, Mr Nice Guy he ain’t.
But I can’t help feeling that in previous years, more people would’ve cut Alex some slack – he might’ve been more of a marmite character, than one who seems to have been quite roundly disliked and is readily written about in thoughtful opinion pieces about sexual politics. This year, to me – and to lots of women I’ve spoken to online and in person – Alex has come to personify a certain type of guy we’d all met and until this year hadn’t been able to place our finger on why he’d made us feel so… rubbish/angry/vommy/sad/useless. Now that we’re having different conversations, we can express and recognise that.
Sure, there have been questions of sexual politics in Love Island before – 2017’s Muggy Mike was just so, so muggy that he’s famous for it still. And of course Camilla Thurlow and Jonny Mitchell’s sexism debate last season caused quite a bit of discussion. Women’s Aid even put out a statement about Jonny’s treatment of Tyla Carr, after he said new arrival Theo Campbell would have to ‘prize her’ from his ‘cold dead hands’. But it didn’t receive even half the press that Adam Collard got for his subtle gaslighting of Rosie Williams this year - and the subsequent concern from women’s charities. When, in 2016, Zara Holland got her Miss Great Britain crown taken away because of some bedtime rumbling, to be fair, that was headline news. But can you remember the guy she was sharing a bed with? Me neither – the story was all about her… nobody bothered really about the guy’s role in it all. I can’t help but feel that would be different now.
The point being that the assessment of everything that men have done in the villa has been far more microscopic this year. Sure big ‘events’ have caused discussion before. But the picking apart of the behaviours of the likes of Adam and Alex has been far more forensic – we’re looking more at the subtleties of what goes on between men and women. Jonny and Camilla had a straight-up fight about feminism. This year, we are reading subtle signifiers and discussing them on social media. We’re able to do so thanks to a show that tirelessly analyses everything that happens in a weird dating microcosm – and we’re taking it more seriously.
I don’t remember the same debates or reactions to topics like the plastic surgery and the fragile self-esteem of people like Megan Barton-Hanson and her relationship with the men that give her attention. Or the totally grossed-out reaction of people to the boys’ ‘Do Bits Society’. Or whether some of the games that forced contestants to kiss each other were a bit… weird now.
I remember thinking Chris Hughes and Kem Cetinay were funny and there was a lot of lusting around them both from people… but looking back now (and you really can, by watching previous series on Netflix), both of the real 2017 show winners had really up and down relationships with their partners Olivia Attwood and Amber Davies that I’m sure under today’s microscope might look a bit different. But they were still a bromance to adore – and are still making fame and money as such.
Meanwhile, this year I’ve rolled my eyes so many times at the male contestants it’s basically become cardio.
Bed-swapping and couple changing is the bedrock of Love Island, it’s what really makes it interesting. Otherwise it’s eight weeks of… well, Jack and Dani. But I’ve not found it fun or good telly this year as much as it’s enraged me and given me fuel for interesting debate. I’ve been ridiculously ugghhhed out by Wes and Josh’s behaviour dumping girlfriends like Laura and Georgia for new models, then smugly declaring themselves love gurus for ‘following their heart’. Don’t get me started on women ‘turning their heads’. It just seems so… bloody typical. Adam… well, he was special wasn’t he? I love Reality TV, but his awful behaviour by the end of his time at the villa gave every girl who’s ever had a one-night-stand a familiar chill down their spine. It wasn’t ‘good telly’, it was toxic.
I had a full-blown debate with friends who said they thought it was ‘so cute’ when some of the guys enjoyed looking after the fake babies and that it ‘made them even hotter’. NO. Nooooo. There’s not enough space to get into the ‘women+childcare = normal, men+childcare = special’ debate here, but it was annoying.
Paul? I mean… Paul seems fiiiiiiine actually. Mind you, maybe he’s not been in there long enough to inspire my ire. And Jack, well, I’m sorry, but I just think there’s something… not right. I think he sometimes seems to lead Dani in her opinions, I hated his bullish approach to her legitimate concerns and calls for comfort after the lie-detector and I just can’t get over the very first week when he pretended to not know who Dani’s Dad was, when actually he’d liked loads of her tweets and has a poster of him over her bed. And he really loves Alex – that’s a bad sign. Sure maybe love is real now – but it started on a weird footing and I can’t help but feel like he’s had quite a keen eye on the prize (the prize being the cash, but also the lucrative couple endorsements afterwards) since the beginning. I guess we’ll never truly know – but the fact that I feel protective of Dani I think it still interesting.
The girls aren’t perfect either – I know that really. But I’ve still felt heart-broken by Megan’s insecurity, even though she did technically go for Wes when he was in a couple. I’ve wanted to cry with Samira when she couldn’t find a partner that she was keen on (the total opposite to how I felt about Alex). I’ve become weirdly obsessed with Dani. And every woman seems to have had a moment when they’ve related to Laura. I even took to the bat for Georgia and wrote lengthily about why hating on her was sexist.
And maybe I’ve just been a terrible mood for eight weeks. Or painfully worthy? Maybe I’m exactly the kind of woman all those sexist trolls tweet about, that are man-hating and themselves sexist, persecuting the men of the world at every turn every time they’ve got a break from burning their bra. Obviously I’m going to try and tell you that’s not the case.
Because, I know I’m not alone – conversations on and offline
I don’t believe that this year’s cast of men are terrible he-demons and that previously they’ve been angels. I think that we’ve changed. And that the way we, especially women, look at men and everything from their behaviours to their language has been altered forever. And I’m sorry if it makes the men of Love Island 2018 uncomfortable (they’re probably going to find checking their Twitter pretty rough), but if it makes one woman feel empowered to get herself out of a situation, feel better about things that have happened to her in the past, or spark open conversations with loved ones, then I’m glad of it