what does love island say about male friendship and gaslighting women?
Adam’s recent actions in the villa have prompted a wider discussion about gaslighting -- a form of psychological manipulation used to create self-doubt and disorientation in a victim. But in taking Adam to task, we should also be questioning his peers.
Still from Love Island, ITV
The new season of Love Island is currently in full swing, and while dedicated group chats across the nation are still flooded with painstakingly written essays praising islander Wes Nelson’s 900 ab muscles, they’ve also been filled with nuanced discussions about recent events in TV’s most infamous camera-rigged villa.
Love Island is a dating show that is essentially the 2015 film The Lobster minus the animal transfiguration. In this much viewed show that is currently in its third, a selection of tanned and toned islanders are shoved together in a remote villa, and must stay ‘coupled up’ in order to win. At times the show has been a difficult watch, and to paraphrase the island’s very own national treasure Dani Dyer, there’s been much said about certain contestants’ “muggy” behaviour as of late.
Many viewers have noted the racial undertones of the show since it first returned, and its lack of diversity. As well as highlighting the issues with various islanders stating that their type is “mixed race” (huh!) people have also been quick to point out how Samira Mighty, the only black woman on the show, has been left to fend for herself while everyone rallies around A+E doctor Alex George in hopes of snagging him a date. And above all, there has also been a great deal of conversation when it comes to one islander, Adam Collard.
Odds are, you’ve probably dated an Adam of some description in the past. Watching his textbook tactics play out on television might be angering, but the wider discussion around his emotional manipulation is still hugely important when it comes to educating people to act respectfully. That said, it’s also worth considering the fact that you’re probably friends with a Jack, Alex or Josh in your own personal life; a well-meaning, nice guy who doesn’t speak up against his mate’s actions, and simply nods mutely along.
Despite the simple fact that Adam chooses to pursue new arrival Zara McDermott in plain view of his partner Rosie Williams -- flirting with the all the subtlety of a bulldozer attempting to ice a cupcake -- he somehow finds a way to shift the blame. As he spreads his new narrative around the villa -- that he never fancied Rosie in the first place, that her insecurity is making his decision easy (as if women are interchangeable entities!) -- his friends don’t voice the concerns they’ve expressed in private when it comes to Adam getting his own way at the expense of other people’s feelings. Instead, they egg each other on; at one point, Jack urges Alex to “break the touch barriers as early as possible” with new arrival Ellie. He’s trying to help out his friend, but he inadvertently spreads the same memo received by every single man who thinks its ok to sidle up behind a stranger in a club and touch them without permission.
“In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse."
Emboldened further by his mates, Adam accuses Rosie of acting like a child, implies that her jealousy has driven him away, and does his very best to paint her as an insecure, weak woman. “I shared a night with you that I wouldn’t share with people unless they meant something to me,” she tells him on Monday’s episode (the couple progressed their relationship sexually two days prior). “I trusted you when I shared that night with you… and you ditched me 12 hours later,” she tells him. Adam smirks through the whole exchange. “I just think it’s funny the way you react,” he says to her.
Many people, including Rosie, have identified this as a form of gaslighting; an abusive tactic used to make others question their own version of reality. The charity Women’s Aid has even taken the somewhat unusual step of getting involved in the discussion around the show, issuing a statement about this kind of manipulation. “In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse," the organisation’s chief exec Katie Ghose said.
From the women in the villa we’ve seen a lot of speaking up against bullshit. When Adam (yep, him again) made a cack-handed attempt to flirt with fellow contestant Megan Barton Hanson, she immediately told his island partner Rosie everything. And when Adam (wow, this is starting to sound like a broken record consisting entirely of massive tossers) unceremoniously dumped Kendall at the beginning of the series because she didn’t fancy kissing him until she felt ready, fellow contestant Laura Anderson marched straight over to give him a talking to. “You don’t want to be with someone who is insecure, you’ve already said that, but your actions are making girls insecure,” she told him “Just take some responsibility."
Look past Love Island’s blazing rows, ridiculous pillow-fighting challenges and flailing attempts at cooking a romantic breakfast, and pay attention to the scenes involving ‘the lads’. There’s not much accountability, and no discussion of consent. Between them, they collectively utter the mantra “boys will be boys” so much you suspect that Eyal Booker has it inscribed on one of his wooden anklets, and again and again, we’re told that Adam’s not at fault for cracking on with every girl in the place; he just can’t help himself. “I love Adam, but he’s a kid in a sweet shop,” Jack confides in Alex, distanced from any women in the villa who might object to being compared to a strawberry bon bon. “He needs to try and remember that everyone’s got feelings,” mutters Alex in reply. The following day the conversation is forgotten. “You’re fine, mate,” he says instead, reassuring his friend. “I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong,” Wes tells Adam, while the rest of the lads nod in agreement.
“I don’t know how he gets away with it,” Jack comments, chatting away in Love Island’s Diary Room. “I mean, he’s like a god, isn’t he?”
"The truth is, dickheads like Adam would be far less likely to strut around with their chests puffed out if their peers actively shunned them for their misogyny, and spoke up against the harmful and degrading ‘banter’ that goes on behind closed doors. "
Love Island is inadvertently educating the public about the warning signs of controlling behaviour, which can only be a positive. However, it’s also demonstrating the key role that male friendship groups play in normalising those exact same actions -- and to answer Jack’s question, it’s their silence and constant excuses that allow Adam to get away with it.
The truth is, dickheads like Adam would be far less likely to strut around with their chests puffed out if their peers actively shunned them for their misogyny, and spoke up against the harmful and degrading ‘banter’ that goes on behind closed doors. If Love Island teaches us one thing, it’s that we all know an Adam, and we need all the help we can get.
On a few occasions, male islanders have spoken up. Former contestant Charlie Frederick had a stern word with Eyal when he was isolating his partner Megan from speaking to other contestants, rightly telling him: “[Alex] doesn’t need to come and ask your permission to talk to Megan”. And on last night’s episode, new arrival Sam Bird was the first male islander to really stand up to Adam at all. “In my opinion, it looked like you used her,” he said of Adam’s treatment of Rosie, after declaring that he was here to teach him “how to treat a lady right”. The Love Island girls, along with majority of the UK, shouted ecstatically in support.
The problem is, these instances are few and far between; both in the villa, and outside it. Most of the time, the nearest Love Island gets to any real intervention between the boys is a perplexed Jack trying to work out how he can pluck up the much-needed courage to finally call out his mate’s behaviour. “He needs to be told when he’s acting like a div,” his island partner Dani tells him. “Well, not by you, because you won’t.”