If there’s only one reality TV fan, it is me. If there are no reality TV fans left, I am no longer roaming this earth.
If you didn’t already gather, I am a big fan of reality TV. The biggest.
I’ve never missed an episode of The Only Way is Essex, I’m pretty confident I could win Mastermind with Keeping Up With The Kardashians as my specialist subject and, despite declaring each year that I might give Love Island a miss, my bum will be parked on the sofa religiously at 9pm every night as if it’s as compulsory as jury duty.
I take joy in every part of it – the fashion, the fallouts, the fun, the addressing of hard-hitting topics… even the obvious product placement gives me an endorphin spike.
But there is one reality TV trope that is a common fixture in the genre and is starting to make me feel very uncomfortable.
It’s always been a niggling annoyance, but it really hit me when I got settled for bed and thought I’d give Netflix’s new number one show, At Home with the Furys, a go. I thought it would be an easy watch to send me into a slumber.
It was not.
During a scene in the second episode of the series, Tyson Fury returns home from a work trip in the Isle of Man. His wife of 15 years, Paris, has been looking after their six children, but has also taken the time to make a trifle for his homecoming.
Yet when she walks to the front door to greet him, Tyson immediately chucks his coat over her face and informs her that he’s instead going to see the dog. Her face drops and she quietly returns to the kitchen.
It’s painful to watch her humiliation.
This isn’t a standalone moment. Throughout the series, we regularly see Paris treated poorly, rather than with love and respect. Even Tyson admits ‘she gets the brunt of it all’ when he’s in a bad mood.
The couple are open about how Tyson’s mental health can impact his behaviour, so like anything in life, it is complicated. Tyson does some sweet things for Paris during the series too, including proposing for a third time.
I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of their relationship dynamic or judge them for it, but I am concerned about the millions of people watching it and, perhaps, considering it to be normal.
We regularly see strong, successful and powerful women being treated badly by men on reality TV, more often than not by the person who claims to love them the most – and what message is that sending?
Thankfully, more and more of us are cottoning onto the fact that our small screen romances are not all healthy love stories.
My TikTok is full of now grown-up women posting old reality TV clips after coming to the realisation that the relationships we once saw as aspirational were the very opposite.
The ‘playful bickering’ of many reality couples looks a little more toxic in the cold, hard light of 2023.
Mark Wright banning Lauren Goodger from his events but inviting everyone else wasn’t funny.
Kourtney Kardashian having her weight jibed at by Scott Disick was cruel.
Spencer Matthews shouting at Louise Thompson that he doesn’t respect her because she allows him to cheat on her was wrong on so many levels.
And Jessica Simpson shouldn’t have been told off for spending her own money by Nick Lachey.
I know that reality TV often needs drama to survive and thrive, but the balance needs to be urgently readdressed.
I mean, is it really entertainment to see a woman get treated badly, in their own home?
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I’m pretty sure if it was men that were consistently talked down to and treated grossly then it wouldn’t fly for long. Then, it would be a discussion on panel shows, the subject columnists cover, and maybe even the odd petition to take these shows off air would begin.
We know that mistreatment of women happens in the real world, so I guess in some ways reality TV is doing its job. It is reflecting reality.
People behind the scenes can’t quickly change the dynamics of all their subjects’ personal relationships, men’s attitudes, a history of sexism, or a society geared to patriarchy.
But perhaps they could do more to help the cause.
Maybe a few of these uncomfortable moments should be left on the cutting room floor. Or men starting out in reality TV should be given a crash course on how to speak respectfully to women, or at least encouraged to apologise if bad behaviour is picked up by producers.
If they acknowledge their undesirable behaviour, then viewers will too. If there are signs of an unhealthy relationship then a warning could be shown at the start of TV episodes. Perhaps reality shows could get guidance from charities such as Women’s Aid.
There are many ways to help themselves so that both men and women don’t see cruel behaviour on reality TV and think it’s OK. I worry particularly about young viewers tuning in and mimicking the attitudes, and I think they deserve better examples of how human beings should interact.
Reality TV – and society – needs to treat women better.
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