Masculinity takes many tattooed forms in Love Island and the behaviour of two housemates this week shone, once again, a TV torch on one of its darker corners: gaslighting.
Manipulation is nothing new in the villa, but seeing so much of it in this year’s show is a sad reflection of life both inside and out in the wider world: in a culture where it’s no longer acceptable to be a caveman, those who want to keep women under control are looking for new ways to do it.
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Of course, this is a TV circus, so the couple switching and histrionics are encouraged, but there’s a worrying trend emerging, too. In the post #MeToo world, no man wants to be seen as disrespectful towards women or to put it in Love Island parlance, come off as “muggy”. And this is where more subtle tactics come in.
At the centre of the current drama lie two of the villa’s “nice guys”, Michael and Curtis. For the uninitiated, mild-mannered ballroom dancer Curtis was the Ken to lovable Amy’s Barbie. Who then made a move on new girl Jourdan, but was rejected. Meanwhile, twinkly eyed firefighter Michael, who last week branded Amber “perfect” and “a female version” of him, has since made a dramatic volte-face and recoupled with Joanna instead.
These men don’t want to be framed as villains, so they’ll grab any chance to blame the women in an attempt to maintain their nice guy image. “I’ve been lying to myself,” is Curtis’s shorthand for “I’ve met someone else”. No wonder Amy looked at him aghast when he said: “Our relationship has stuff we need to work on.” (It’s been four weeks.) And the key issue for him is trust, which, presumably, is why his head was turned by someone else. “You don’t ever back yourself,” he told her, because knocking her down even further would clearly help her confidence.Q&A
What is gaslighting?Show Hide
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person – often a woman – is made to question their own perception of reality through deception and the withholding of information.
The term derives from the 1938 play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to convince his wife of her own insanity in order to distract her from his criminal behaviour. The play was twice adapted for film, first in a 1940 British production, and later in a 1944 Hollywood version that starred Ingrid Bergman.
While the term 'gaslighting' has been present in academic literature and some colloquial use since the 1960s, it is only in recent times that it has come into common usage with the rise of social media. It has been a recurring subject in popular culture, with films, TV series and radio serials such as The Girl on the Train, Jessica Jones and The Archers including storylines that feature the trope.
The term has also been used in political commentary, most frequently in reference to US president Donald Trump, who has been accused of gaslighting US citizens with frequent lies and misinformation.
In May 2018, Theresa May suggested that she would seek to strengthen UK laws around gaslighting following the death of the daughter of Commons deputy speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
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Both Curtis and Michael blamed “problems in their relationship” for their decision to get together with other women, even though they were quite happy having a light dry hump under the duvet with the erstwhile objects of their affection less than a week ago.
Behind the theatrical nature of Love Island, Curtis and Michael are dealing with the feelings of young women, not robots. Some take the game in their stride and others, such as Amy, are clearly more emotionally invested. Laddish behaviour in its more straightforward mode, reared its head last week as Maura, who set out her overtly sexual stall early, overheard Tom wondering if she was “all mouth”. Maura, with her confident, say-what-you-see attitude, called him out on it straightaway.
But Curtis and Michael’s determination to make the women around them doubt themselves is more insidious and seems to be gradually eating away at those on the receiving end of it. Amy’s decision to open up to Curtis about her feelingswas greeted with him trying to explain to her how him trying his luck with a new girl is all her fault.
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Michael’s manipulation is more straightforward, accusing a calm Amber of raising her voice and calling her “childish” and “pathetic” because she dared to challenge his behaviour. Anna and Amber have been demonised for calling him out on his decisions and “immature” for not taking the passive route.
It’s not the first time male Love Islanders have been accused of gaslighting – earlier this series Joe faced questions about his manipulative behaviour towards Lucie when he told her she should be spending time with the girls rather than the boys. And last series there was an intervention from a domestic abuse charity in the wake of contestant Adam Collard’s treatment of a prospective partner. The only positive thing to come out of these incidents is that if they’re so obvious on screen – and heartily disapproved of on social media – women might recognise it and have the courage to speak out if it happens to them.