Kara Kennedy

The thrilling misogyny of Love Island

It’s grim. That’s why we love it

The thrilling misogyny of Love Island
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The thought of Love Island starting tonight gives me that same fuzzy feeling I had as a child when I lost a tooth, aware that I’d be waking up a slightly richer woman. I realised after years of turning my nose up at the show that – once you get past the initial guilt – watching trivial nonsense is a bit of a sugar rush. All your friends are watching and, crucially, badmouthing, the young 20-somethings prancing across our screens each night.

Love Island is a moral vacuum, one that much of the nation loves being sucked into. Good manners are cast out the villa window and what is frowned upon in the real world – infidelity, nastiness and misogyny – is amped up, even celebrated.

If you aren’t familiar with Love Island, the show begins with bikinied women in high heels lined up like Barbies on a Toys 'R' Us shelf, stepping forward if they like the man brought out in front of them. The men choose their partner – but the joke is that the men appear one by one. What if, having seen the other male contestants, the newly coupled-up women prefer someone else? Tough. ‘Isn’t that all a bit sexist?’ I’d normally ask myself. It seems skewed to encourage female jealousy. But they sign up for it, and we all want to watch it, so time to set aside the moralising and have a good chuckle. After all, it’s fundamental to the show.

And they really do sign-up for it in their droves. However vacuous you think these people are, (and some really are) appearing on the show has become something of a viable career option. Each year, men and women throw their long-term jobs away for six to eight weeks in Majorca, in a seemingly desperate attempt to find love. In 2018, Rosie Williams quit her job as a solicitor to appear on the show. She was booted off after just 20 days, one of five seemingly-fame demented law graduates to enter the villa. Last year, halfwit Hugo left his job as a teacher to try to find love (or was it sleb status he was after?). While in the villa, his school publicly announced that there was no chance they’d have him back. Another twist in the thrilling silliness of the whole thing.

Contestants – invariably the women – spend hundreds of pounds on non-surgical ‘tweakments’ to become the perfect Love Island contestant. Last year, one islander, A.J., admitted she spent £1,000 the month before the show on four sessions of filler. There was little point. At the ripe old age of 28, she was swiftly labelled a granny by the British public and voted off.

The misogyny of Love Island is so pervasive that even the most ardent feminists fall victim to its dimfluencer culture. Viewers with #BeKind plastered all over their social media find themselves whispering that this or that contestant could have done with a crash diet or that a contestant’s bikini makes her look saggy. Last year one contestant, Faye Winter, faced weeks of social media cruelty over the shade of her lipstick, an unflattering shade of brown. We hate ourselves for saying it, but isn't that part of the fun? Every night for six weeks we switch off our feminism and switch on the guilty pleasure of petty bitching.

Why does Love Island get a free pass? You could explore the erosion of traditionalist values or point the finger at permissive third-wave feminism. Or you could see it for what it is: misogyny is entertaining. When it’s happening to others, away from viewers’ own lives, there’s something titillating about the whole thing. These perfect women are systematically turned against each other for nothing more than a date with Scott, the 22-year-old plasterer from Wigan. It’s ridiculous. That’s why 4.2 million of us tune in every week.

We may feel like we’re better than these Love Island stars, with our office jobs and Pret a Manger subscriptions, but perhaps it's them who are getting the last laugh. Molly Mae is now sitting comfortably on £2 million after she and her TV boyf were runners-up in 2019. Most contestants get enough exposure to bag some social media sponsorship deals. They might even, in the first few months out of the villa, get to live the life of a low-grade celebrity. 

But is it really worth it? Look at Molly Mae, who earlier this year tried to make a well-intentioned but ill-expressed comment on the power of self-motivation. She was abused for days as some brainless Thatcherite with her comment that:

You're given one life and it's down to you what you do with it... I understand we all have different backgrounds and we're all raised in different ways and we do have different financial situations, but I think if you want something enough you can achieve it... I've worked my absolute arse off to get where I am now.

I doubt most other C list celebrities would have been met with the same level of vitriol as she got for those comments. Feminists sometimes talk about ‘objectification’. Well, if you want evidence of it, just look at Mollie Mae. Fans wanted her to be pretty and shut up. To just sell a bit of make-up on TikTok and turn up as a ‘VIP’ to the occasional Essex nightclubs.

It’s a testament to how well the show conditions its fans, how well it inculcates cruelty towards its contestants, that this anodyne expression of girlboss ideology was met with such harsh criticism. That cruelty is at the heart of the show. Really, when it comes down to it, Love Island is a bit like a catcall: it’s sexist, and as feminists we are supposed to be disgusted by it. But sometimes we can’t help but secretly love it.