The other night I watched I Wanna Marry Harry – a reality TV show in which a bunch of beautiful women are taken to a grand castle and pitted against each other to win the heart of (a fake) Prince Harry.
It left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable and disappointed. And actually, pretty angry.
I cannot believe that in 2014 we are still broadcasting shows that are so harmful for women. I mean, geez, why don’t we just go back to being concubines?
Let’s break it down a little.
I Wanna Marry Harry is the latest in a string of dating/relationship shows based on a similar format. See also: The Bachelor, When Love Comes to Town, Farmer Wants a Wife (and they obviously rate well, given several have run for multiple seasons).
Each of these programs feature a group of attractive women who are made to compete for the love and approval of a man, whom they have never met before.
The women are, without fail, stunning and articulate. Many are highly educated and many boast successful careers. They are shown to have big personalities and opinions and a good head on their shoulders.
Yet they are all missing one thing. A man. They are desperate for a man and repeatedly quoted as saying things like:
“I just need to find a man now to make my life complete me.”
“I’m looking for the missing piece of the puzzle.”
Then it gets worse.
The women are literally lined up for the man to view, to critic, to choose and reject. They are at his mercy.
The women, meanwhile, make every attempt to garner his attention and approval. They dress up, do their hair, make eyes at him. They flirt, amp up the sex appeal, giggle. They are essentially reduced to disposable objects.
The bachelor is entitled to trial them, test them out on dates, lead them on, kiss them. Then, one by one, he rejects them. Throws them out. Next.
In a teary mess, they leave the show.
“I still believe in love, one day I’ll find a man blah blah etc etc…”
As the series progresses, the women appear to become increasingly desperate. They are devolved by the producers into a bunch of crazy, bitchy, jealous and overly emotional women. In some cases, they even turn on each other.
This is a common technique used to make reality TV. The subjects are pushed to mental and emotional exhaustion and then filmed at their weakest. I’m not saying these women are crazy, but the producers have such control in the way that the show is edited, they are made to appear somewhat irrational. What goes to air is always the most impassioned, controversial material, because it attracts viewers.
The implication of all this is damaging for women.
At the start, we are led to believe these women are intelligent, considered, exemplary human beings. By the end, they are falling apart and falling out over the affections of a man. It basically normalises and reinforces the expectation that women – even the ones who have it all together – are weak and vulnerable and desperate behind the scenes. Women are all secretly pining for a man and breaking down about it surreptitiously.
Of course, the bachelor remains cool, calm and collected throughout. He is smart and powerful and in control. He nearly always has the advantage, the upper hand. He has the women eating out of the palm of his hand (quite literally).
I fail to see how any of this could possibly be good or positive or empowering for women. In fact, I think it is quite harmful. The message is clear: women get their worth, happiness, fulfilment, security from a man. Women are vulnerable. Women are emotional wrecks behind closed doors. The man has the power.
Is this not an antiquated portrayal of a women’s place in society, in a patriarchal society? Have we not moved on? We need to stop perpetuating this idea that women need a man’s approval for fulfilment, for validation. That women need to look attractive and sexy to gain said approval. That women need to line up and fight each other in their pursuit of it. God, they don’t even know the man they are competing for.
Why are we still broadcasting this? And why are people still watching it?
It’s not hard to find intelligent, stimulating content these days. There are articles, forums, debates and TED talks online, on the news, in the books on your coffee table. There is better content in the dregs on my coffee mug.
Am I slow to the party here? Surely I’m not the first person to call this out.
It just seems to be a massive step backwards for women and I sincerely hope these TV shows are a distant memory by the time I have daughters. Or sons for that matter.
Picture credit: FOX