Married At First Sight’s Overprotective Dads & Brothers Are The Worst

Megan’s twin brother Mitchell, and Bob, from Married At First Sight UK Series 6 Episode 1
We are all familiar with the overprotective dad trope. From Ariel’s father in The Little Mermaid to Robert De Niro’s character in Meet the Parents, it’s a stereotype often used for roll-your-eyes-what’s-he-like comedic effect or – worse – romanticised as a positive trait. But as far as dating shows go, nothing brings out all the macho dads and brothers quite like Married at First Sight.
Episode one of the new UK series saw Megan Wolfe and Bob Voysey tie the knot, with all the usual awkward photoshoot kisses and frosty top table chat as the two strangers vowed to spend the rest of their lives together. It also featured Megan’s seething twin brother, Mitchell, twitching with anticipation and unable to contain himself before being given the chance to do the obligatory 'what are your intentions with my sister?’ chat.
After a bizarre interaction where Mitchell quizzed his new brother-in-law about why "on Earth" Megan might possibly see his bare arms later, the twin took Bob outside and gave him a grilling before concluding that, actually, he thinks he can "trust Bob with Megan".
This is such a small statement but there are so many things wrong with it – the most obvious being that it suggests Megan is Mitchell’s possession, to be passed on to Bob and looked after. These types of interactions are frequent on MAFS and they’re incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a brother or an overprotective (or even protective) dad but they make me seethe and squirm in equal measure. Not only because they’re embarrassing – and they are embarrassing – but because it screams controlling and sexist behaviour.
Why do so many of the male family members act this way? Sally Baker, senior therapist, says: "Men who want to control their daughters or sisters believe they are merely reflecting the dangers of modern society and protecting their loved ones. This behaviour comes from their own insecurities and fears, and is projected onto others instead. However, strong negative beliefs about someone else’s abilities is misguided at best and potentially harmful. It’s one step away from infantilising adult women."

Female contestants are often treated as objects to be given away, fought over, 'protected' and controlled.

However toxic it might have been, Mitchell’s questioning of Bob was by no means the worst example of this that we’ve seen on the various iterations of the MAFS format. 
Season six of Married at First Sight Australia – the first MAFSA to be shown on E4 – got us through the third lockdown and darkest depths of winter, broke E4 viewing figure records and was packed full of drama and explosive characters. As a result the UK format has changed to mirror it, focusing less on finding ‘the one’ and more on the eventful group dynamics and dinner parties.
Throughout the addictive series, aggressive and intimidating dads and brothers were a recurring theme. Baker notes that this is likely because the ‘macho culture’ is stronger in Australia than it is in Britain. And the macho culture was plain to see across the series.
Remember Susie Bradley? Matched with ‘nice guy’ Billy, she was arguably one of the most bratty and confrontational contestants on the show. Then we met her opinionated dad, Steve... On the wedding day, Steve stated that if he didn’t like the groom, he would tell his daughter "not to go ahead with it" because "she’s my baby." Gross. On the homestay, Steve turned up unannounced to launch a verbal attack on Billy, saying that his daughter was "treasure" and that Billy was "too weak" for his precious Susie.
Susie didn’t appear to take issue with her dad’s behaviour, seeming to lap up the attention and even enjoy the pressure that he was putting on Billy. Baker tells Refinery29 that this is likely because "women who are raised in an overly protective family learn through what they’re told or what is implied that they are unsafe or more vulnerable than the men in their family."
Photo courtesy of Channel 4.
Ivan and Nick from Married At First Sight Australia
‘Cyclone’ Cyrell’s brother Ivan was one of the more extreme examples of toxic masculinity on the show. From flying off the handle at hearing the news that his sister was marrying a stranger to kicking off and throwing Cyrell’s husband Nick out of their family home for no reason – and against Cyrell’s wishes – he clearly felt a disproportionate sense of possession over his sister that was less about looking out for her and more about being in charge of her.
Jessika Power – one of the show’s villains – had both an OTT dad and brother to contend with. Her borderline obsessed brother Rhyce threatened to kill new husband Mick if he hurt her (very ironic considering that it was Jessika who cheated on Mick in the end), while her dad, Troy, warned guests at the wedding that he used to be a professional boxer, stating that it was his job to "fly around Australia and punch people in the head." He made a point of letting Mick know that he was a very "protective" father and that Mick better treat his little princess right.

It's really uncomfortable, and is based on really archaic ideas around ownership. They're dressing it as guardianship. But it's around having a domain over someone else's body, a woman's body.

Sally baker
Justifying his behaviour, Troy explained to producers why he was upset: "I had to give away my baby girl, mine." Given that Troy had been estranged from Jess for most of her life, it’s quite incredible that he feels this level of ownership over his daughter.
While this ‘protectiveness’ might be coming from a good place (or it might just be an extreme example of machismo culture), ultimately it’s about control. Baker agrees: "It’s really uncomfortable, and is based on really archaic ideas around ownership. They’re dressing it as guardianship. But it’s around having a domain over someone else’s body, a woman’s body. The idea that his little princess is going to be forcibly ‘taken’ on her wedding night, by this strange man, is distressing to men that believe that they own the women in their family."
We’ve seen this type of father in other dating shows where families are involved but because of the marriage element and all the associated patriarchal traditions – the bride being ‘given away’ by her father, the bride’s family paying for the wedding in exchange for the new family taking her off their hands – it feels particularly prevalent in MAFS.
It’s a natural instinct to want to protect our loved ones but it plays out in a very gendered way. Of course there are some mums who are less than pleased that their daughter is taking part in this ‘social experiment’, and parents of the groom who seem unsure whether their new daughter-in-law is good enough for their son. But it’s rare that mums or sisters would take the new grooms outside and threaten them with violence, or that the father of a groom would quiz the bride over her intentions towards his little prince.
Baker says: "Why in the 21st century are there still men that are affronted about what their daughters are doing? Their grown, adult, consenting daughters, or sisters? Why do they feel they have a voice?"
She adds that this behaviour can have serious implications. "The extreme version of that is what’s happening in Texas and Afghanistan, where that voice is given credence. We can dismiss them because we’ve got rights. But as we’re constantly learning, our rights are really tenuous."
What are the consequences for ‘overprotected’ daughters and their future relationships and lives? If dads act in an intimidating and aggressive way to ‘protect’ the honour of their daughters, will it be expected that their partner does the same? Baker says: "It’s said women marry their father by choosing a mate with similar traits. Women may be drawn to men who ‘protect’ them. However there’s a fine line between protection and control and dominance."
The overprotective dad or brother stereotype is tired, old-fashioned and feels more out of place than ever in 2021. As Married at First Sight strives for diversity, including the show’s first LGBT couple, perhaps it’s time they addressed the way that the female contestants are often treated as objects to be given away, fought over, ‘protected’ and controlled.

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