That’s it, Love Island is over and we can have our lives back. Thank god for that. I’d never watched it before this season and found myself irritatingly, dramatically hooked (for which I blame the strangeness of the past 18 months and a hefty chunk of that time spent alone in lockdown) but I wouldn’t say that last night’s final left me satisfied.
To the contrary: the more I reflect on what happened (and while I will admit to a tear or two during the really schmaltzy bits), the more I’m left with a disquieting sense of unease. That’s because crowning Liam and Millie the ITV2 version of Prom King and Queen only really shows viewers one thing – and that’s that when men treat women badly, nine times out of 10 they can expect to get away with it.
How else to explain the fact that we watched Essex girl Millie Court, 24, cry her eyes out on screen, openly expressing how hurt and heartbroken she was after her Welsh lover Liam Reardon, 22, cheated on her in Casa Amor (he kissed new girl Lillie, 22, and also shared a bed with her) only to see him still take home a 50 per cent share of the £50,000 grand prize?
Millie made Liam grovel (a bit), refusing to smooch him on his return, but eventually he wormed his way back into her favour and the pair reunited. And while it’s true that everyone makes mistakes – who among us hasn’t done something we regret in our long histories of romance – should we really forgive (frankly) sh**ty behaviour so easily?
Jason Okundaye, Twitter’s unofficial Love Island 2021 correspondent (whose tweets I’ve been glued to for the entire series), put it best when he said: “Nah I can’t believe Liam has gotten away with it, I’m going to boo him when he arrives at Heathrow.” He added: “I think this is the first Love Island final where every single couple has strayed in some way.”
And that’s precisely what Liam has done: he’s gotten away with treating Millie badly, which is a tale as old as time. And yes, before the “reply guys” start – women aren’t always “good”, and there are plenty of women who also cheat. But they rarely get rewarded for it. A woman who strays is judged far more harsly than a man who does the same thing – and the science backs it up.
The Good Wife Study in 2019 by Ashley Madison, the world’s “leading married dating website” (so they know a thing or two about cheating), showed that a huge proportion of women (92 per cent, from a total sample of 2,066) report facing worse and more frequent criticism than men for stepping outside of their marriage and conducting an affair.
And, in her 2011 article in the New York Times, as discussed here, journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg said that it is easy to dismiss men’s transgressions as “a testosterone-induced, hard wired connection between sex and power”. Yet when the roles are reversed, powerful women “repel” men, because they’re seen as stepping outside typical feminine stereotypes.
The majority of the men who made the final – Liam, Toby and Tyler – had each stepped out of their relationship/situationship at a time when the grounds for coupledom were already established or implied. They went on to wilfully disrespect the women they protested to care about – on live TV (look no further than Tyler infantalising his affair with Clarisse as an “oopsie”).
Yet in being voted for, they’re still being heralded as “role models”, of sorts – which taps in to a certain “boys will be boys”, “lads’ holiday” locker-room mentality, and sadly shows that a vast and unsettling proportion of the country don’t see it as a “big deal”. Tell that to any woman that’s ever been cheated on.
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