When you watch reality TV, you take it with a pinch of salt, knowing that a lot of the show is likely manufactured or edited in a specific way. Though some may believe that their favourite show is the exception, it isn't controversial to say that Love Island isn't exactly 'real'. It's entertainment, designed to keep us engaged and watching ITV2 for an hour, six days a week.
Reality TV stars have claimed in the past that the producers of the show have control over what happens, with Love Island 2021's Rachel Finni most recently claiming on a BBC podcast that her entire storyline last summer was made up. We suspect on some level that the shows we watch aren’t entirely real but we’re accepting of it so long as the show is enjoyable.
But this season of Love Island has taken away all the enjoyment and injected a dose of reality that none of us wanted to see. In recent episodes in particular, the boys’ misogynistic, controlling and simply abhorrent behaviour towards the girls has reflected the rise in day-to-day misogyny that women have to deal with while dating or even existing in the outside world.
On the evenings of Friday 15th and Sunday 17th July, Love Island aired its infamous 'movie night' challenge, showing clips of the islanders during their time in Casa Amor. This set off a chain of events that has caused several of the girls to cry on camera and prompted viewers to submit complaints to Ofcom about several of the boys. A clip of Gemma Owen, the daughter of footballer Michael Owen, sent her partner Luca off the deep end as he claimed that another guy flirting with her was her fault. It had big victim-blaming energy, akin to saying that she "asked for it". Gemma is an attractive girl and Billy wanted to "crack on" with her so obviously she was in the wrong because she "confused" Billy so much with her womanly wiles that he couldn’t help but flirt with her.
Similarly, Ekin-Su’s clip showed her in bed with Casa Amor boy George, although nothing was happening between them. George has since claimed that the show's producers set that scene up while stating that nothing happened between the pair. Despite this, Ekin-Su's partner Davide immediately jumped to calling her a "liar and an actress" (as he has done previously), saying that she keeps giving him reasons not to trust her. This stems from Ekin-Su's one transgression early on in the show when she kissed Jay Younger, having known Davide for about two minutes. Since then she has made efforts to prove herself loyal.
Both Ekin-Su and Gemma were vilified for these clips by the boys, while Davide, Luca and Dami were encouraged and egged on for the disrespectful ways in which they acted in their respective clips. Every time one of them appeared on screen engaging in a three-way kiss or saying they didn’t like their original partner, the boys screamed and laughed, saying that it was "no big deal".
In every season of Love Island we have rooted for the friendships between people as much as the relationships – think of Chris and Kem, Luke T and Luke M, Maura and Molly-Mae, Amber and Anna. This season hasn’t given us any friendships to root for, just a misogynistic boys' club who eagerly support each other in demonising and disrespecting the girls while simultaneously telling those girls to calm down about their own behaviour. This is clear gaslighting, an attempt to convince the girls that their reactions are over-the-top and unnecessary.
Later, Dami says that the way the boys have been treated is "unfair", as if they are the victims. "It’s one rule for the boys and one rule for the girls," he says, laughing while the other boys all agree with him that the girls are firmly in the wrong (when, in fact, it’s the opposite). Alongside Dami and Luca’s treatment of Tasha, consistently attacking her character and claiming that she was "playing a game" when she was rightfully exploring her options – as is the point of Love Island – this is further proof of the boys' misogynistic behaviour.
This season hasn't given us any friendships to root for, just a misogynistic boys' club who eagerly support each other in demonising and disrespecting the girls while simultaneously telling those girls to calm down about their own behaviour.
As a result of this behaviour, Ekin-Su, Gemma, Indiyah and Tasha are continually doubting their own actions and reactions, wondering if maybe the boys are right and they did do something wrong. It is clear as day that they didn’t but this is what gaslighting does – it convinces you that you didn’t see what you saw, that you did something when you didn’t.
Ruth Davison, CEO of domestic violence charity Refuge, told R29: "Gaslighting and emotional manipulation are types of behaviour that can be displayed by perpetrators of domestic abuse. Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse and is a crime." Davison warned that the show is showing clear examples of this.
For once, Love Island is 'reality' TV with an emphasis on reality. While it is jarring to see it on the show, this sort of misogyny is par for the course for a lot of women. The way women are treated in online spaces, on dating apps and in person is not a stretch from the behaviour we’re seeing in the villa. Research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that UK traffic to online incel sites, where misogyny runs rife, increased from 114,420 monthly visits in March 2021 to 638,505 in November of the same year. These online platforms are radicalising young boys and men, normalising misogynistic behaviour across the spectrum and allowing it to bleed into the real world and into shows like Love Island. Violence against women is increasing and our rights are being eroded in real time. Misogyny is everywhere. A lot of us have dated a Davide or a Dami or a Luca and have felt berated, controlled and gaslit throughout the relationship. It may seem like a small issue but it can have a serious knock-on effect for our confidence, our independence and our safety.
Forty-three percent of Love Island viewers are under the age of 30 and research by the Mental Health Foundation has found that people who watch the show have been negatively affected by its focus on slim, fit participants. Why would it be any different for toxic behaviour? Young girls are seeing how Luca, Dami and Davide treat their partners and how Gemma, Indiyah and Ekin-Su still like them and do not walk away from the relationship. Why shouldn't they believe that they should stick around if they are being treated similarly?
Though Davide, Dami and Luca have since made up with their partners, with the latter two also apologising to Tasha for how they treated her, those apologies feel insincere. Apologising individually while publicly continuing the 'boys will be boys' mentality is unacceptable. When Dami was placed in the bottom two in Wednesday’s episode, he was confused and asked what he had done to deserve the public backlash, showing that he has not looked inward or thought critically about his actions (and let's not forget that it was okay for Dami to be upset at the vote but when Tasha was equally upset about being in the bottom three, both he and Luca essentially told her to "get over it").
"Refuge is increasingly concerned about the misogynistic and abusive behaviours being displayed in this year’s series of Love Island," added Davison.
"Love Island has a huge audience, particularly among young people, and Refuge urge the producers of the show to recognise and respond to abusive behaviour when it happens. Popular culture has an important role to play in challenging these behaviours rather than perpetuating them.
"That this behaviour appears to be being carried out by some men in the villa and broadcast as entertainment is extremely troubling and should be called out."
Domestic violence charity Women’s Aid said that "a programme based around the formation of romantic relationships must have guidelines on what behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable in those relationships."
Women's Aid is talking to ITV about what the show can do to address this behaviour but what will happen in the meantime? What will happen to the girls who are experiencing this behaviour on the show and the girls who are internalising it while watching at home?
As viewers of Love Island we need to call out this behaviour for what it is, however we can. Happily, that process has already begun: Ofcom has now received over 3,000 complaints about the misogynistic bullying broadcast on the show. The rest of us must ensure that we don’t simply forget about this as soon as Love Island is over and continue to hold the individuals and the show to account over what has happened. Four years ago, islander Adam Collard was called out for his manipulative behaviour and yet he found success making appearances across the UK and is now back on the show. We cannot let this happen again in four years' time.