Love Island boys accused in new gaslighting row

Storm brewing: Ofcom received 196 complaints after the scenes were broadcast.

Are Michael and Curtis guilty of “gaslighting”? The behaviour of two contestants in the controversial show has sparked a debate about toxic masculinity and emotional abuse in relationships.

Michael Griffiths and Curtis Pritchard were the golden boys of the Love Island villa.

Having charmed his fellow islander Amber Gill (and the public), Michael was favourite to walk away with the £50,000 prize. And Curtis’s partner Amy Hart gushed that he was “the perfect gent”.

Now, after a shocking reversal in behaviour, the men stand accused of emotional abuse, specifically of a behaviour called gaslighting.

It began when Michael and Curtis both decided to dump their partners of four weeks to recouple with new women who had entered the villa. But it was the way the men treated Amber and Amy in the aftermath that prompted most concern.

Rather than apologise to Amber, Michael aggressively called the 21-year-old beauty therapist “pathetic” and “childish”, shifting responsibility for his betrayal on to her. Curtis, meanwhile, blamed Amy’s lack of confidence for his decision to stray, telling her “you don’t ever back yourself”.

Love Island viewers may be feeling a sense of déjà vu. Last year, domestic violence charity Women’s Aid was forced to intervene when contestant Adam Collard showed “worrying signs” of gaslighting Rosie Williams. And, just weeks ago, 2019 islander Joe Donlan was accused of “controlling behaviour” towards his partner Lucie.

According to mental health resource GoodTherapy, the gaslighter tries to make their victim doubt their perception of reality, often by challenging their memories of an event or accusing them of overreacting.

At its worst, gaslighting can destroy a person’s self-esteem and make them question their sanity.

But, over the last year, gaslighting has become something of a buzzword, writes Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen, who fears the term is being overused. She argues that Michael and Curtis are behaving like “regular, boorish players” rather than gaslighting, and that applying the word too liberally risks watering down “a powerful term that heals and validates” victims of domestic abuse.

Toxic TV?

Are Michael and Curtis guilty of gaslighting? There are times when we all lie, or make excuses to deflect responsibility for our actions. Does that mean we are all abusers? Their behaviour might be immature and self-serving, but doesn’t throwing around accusations trivialise the experiences of genuine victims who’ve had their sense of reality stolen?

But even if their behaviour is not the most systematic, calculated example of gaslighting, isn’t it important to call out toxic behaviour when we see it? Many young women will recognise the belittling tactics Michael used on Amber. This public conversation about gaslighting is highlighting damaging behaviour that has gone unchallenged for too long, and teaching young people to identify emotional abuse in all its guises.

You Decide

  1. Should Love Island be cancelled?
  2. Is the term “toxic masculinity” sexist against men?

Activities

  1. In your own words, define “gaslighting”, “toxic masculinity” and ”emotional abuse”.
  2. Design a public health leaflet which describes gaslighting and how to spot signs of this manipulative behaviour.

Some People Say...

“You can never just write off a person as crazy. I think that is the most inhumane thing you can do to someone without physically abusing them.”

Madeline Brewer, American actress

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Love Island 2019 started airing on Monday 3 June, with the final expected to take place on Sunday 4 August. Last week, the couples were separated and the girls were sent to a new villa called Casa Amor, where they were greeted by new male contestants. Meanwhile, new girls entered the first villa and spent a week with the original boys. At the end of the week, the contestants could choose whether to stick with their previous partner or recouple with a new islander.
What do we not know?
How long Love Island will be on our screens. It has been a disastrous year for reality TV. MPs are currently investigating the alleged exploitation of contestants after multiple suicides, including the deaths of two former Love Island contestants.

Word Watch

£50,000 prize
The public vote for their favourite couple and the winners receive £50,000. In the final, the winning couple each vote whether to split the money with their partner or steal it for themselves.
Gaslighting
The term comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light, in which a man attempts to convince his wife that she is emotionally unstable. He makes small changes to their home (for example, dimming the gas lights), and then tells her that she is just imagining it.
Déjà vu
When you get the strange feeling that you have seen something happen before. It literally means “already seen” in French.
Buzzword
A word or phrase that is fashionable at the moment. Politicians, including President Donald Trump, have been accused of “gaslighting” the public.

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