Married At First Sight Australia is epic TV but we need to address the toxicity
There is no doubt that Married At First Sight Australia (MAFSA) has been a saviour of lockdown, with the sixth season of the dating reality show – which airs on weeknights on E4 – giving us a much-needed dose of non-coronavirus related drama and loving scenes in equal measure.
The series sees singles march down the aisle to wed someone they’ve never interacted with before. The couples are then put through a number of relationship challenges to see whether they’ll last the course – spoiler, most of them don’t.
And I think that’s largely to do with the men these poor women are paired with.
The show is rife with toxic masculinity, with comments about ‘crazy, emotional, sex crazed’ women making an appearance in nearly every episode.
One of the most blatant instances of this is the treatment of Elizabeth Sobinoff by husband Sam and his pal, Mike Gunner.
Elizabeth and Sam didn’t get off to quite the best start in their marriage, with the groom stating that his new bride was ‘bigger’ than the women he normally goes for in his on-camera interview, suggesting she should be working out more.
Things then took a turn when he disappeared the morning after their big day, just hours before they were due to go on their honeymoon.
At the time, he insisted that this was because he had to attend the funeral of his ex-girlfriend’s mum, but he failed to contact his wife for the next five days and didn’t bother returning her concerned voicemail.
Although he didn’t reach out to even let Elizabeth know he was alive, he walked into the first group dinner of the season without a care in the world, making light of the situation and trying to turn things around on his partner, shocked that she was so hurt at being left high and dry.
Even the ‘experts’ were left dumbfounded when he had the gall to ask why she was so angry and stated they should ‘talk like human beings’, with Mike suggesting that she would ‘simmer down’ eventually.
My jaw was on the floor. I couldn’t understand how neither man could see that Elizabeth had valid reasons to be upset.
It’s totally understandable that he had to leave to attend something important. But what wasn’t OK was him treating her like a total idiot for his own lack of care.
All she asked for was an explanation and I felt like he made her out to be psychotic, loud and too emotional – labels that women have been lumbered with for years.
On top of that, Mike later stated that his bestie had been ‘a gentleman the whole way through’ the experiment, claiming that he had dodged a bullet when his ‘completely unreasonable’ wife had failed to turn up for the second dinner party – on doctor’s orders.
What part of the above screams ‘perfect gentleman’ to you? Was it calling Elizabeth overweight? Publicly stating he was ‘turned off’ by her attempts to get intimate – without her even in the room? Leaving her alone for five days without a word? Or pretending to want to work on their relationship while secretly cheating on her with a co-star? Because ‘gentleman’ Sam has ticked all of those boxes so far and we’re not even at the end of the season.
I would love to say this is a one off, but it’s a trope we’ve seen countless times on every reality TV show going (including previous series of MAFSA) – a man does something wrong, a woman dares to stand up for herself and react, and gets called out for being ‘too emotional’ and ‘picking fights’.
Similar scenes have aired on Love Island, Big Brother, Towie, Geordie Shore and many more, and it makes my blood boil just as much as the sight of Boris doing a daily briefing. It’s wrong, it’s gaslighting behaviour and we honestly need to stop giving it a platform on prime-time TV.
I’m not trying to say the women on this particular show are perfect. Ines Bašić, for example, is known for her wild antics – including her meltdowns towards new husband Bronson Norrish and attempts to have a secret affair with Sam Ball. And although Elizabeth was on the receiving end of unfair jibes about her weight, she also said Sam looked ‘tubby’ when she first saw him.
But these instances pale in comparison to the way the men treat their spouses.
Even the men we’re really, really rooting for can get it massively wrong, as demonstrated by Mick Gould, who was paired up with Jessika Power. After their relationship hit a stumbling block at the first dinner party – when Jess yelled at Mike for branding her fake (who protested his innocence but definitely did say it), and then blasted her husband for not defending her – they put the drama behind them and genuinely seemed to form a connection.
So much so that they eventually had sex, after a ‘pep talk’ from their co-star apparently helped them along. However, things hit another snag when Mick let slip of their sexual antics on a boys’ night out with Mike and Mark, getting a pat on the back from his pals.
There’s just one problem with this, Jessika had explicitly told him that she didn’t want anyone knowing about their intimacies, asking him to keep quiet about their sex life. She was fuming about the betrayal – leading to him putting together a poolside picnic the next morning.
Talking about sex is a normal part of life, but there is absolutely no excuse for breaking someone’s trust and blabbing about the bedroom.
There are even more examples of toxic moments – so much so that to list them all would take longer than if I was to just sit and watch the show peacefully. Mark being rude to Ning during a workout then leaving her to cry while taking his wedding ring off and telling her that he was better off single just spawns red flags, while Matthew very loudly telling his fellow MAFSA stars that he wasn’t sexually attracted to Lauren at the dinner party – without giving her a heads up first – and not understanding why she was upset was beyond out of order.
All these women are asking for is to be listened to and given a smidgen of basic respect, and they’re being left hanging by the men they were hoping to spend the rest of their lives with.
Don’t even get me started on the treatment of Lauren after she said she had previously dated women and was keen on threesomes.
While the men on the show are more than happy to detail their sex lives in front of the camera in graphic recounts, with bedroom talk nearly always the first topic of conversation, other contestants were aghast when details about her intimate life were revealed, which really shouldn’t be the case.
I don’t understand how it’s still shocking in 2021 – or 2019, when the series was filmed – that women like sex as well, and that they’re shamed for anything they enjoy doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
While it may not seem as though I like watching the show, I truly do – it has proven to be the trashy tonic I needed to get me through lockdown, especially since we’ve been left without Love Island for nearly a year.
Despite getting annoyed at the grooms’ behaviour, one thing that has soothed me is seeing the responses from other viewers on Twitter. It’s exhilarating to see fans rushing to call out the toxic moments in their droves, demanding justice for those who have been wronged, and comeuppance for the bad behaviour.
People flocked to defend Elizabeth through one of the most devastatingly embarrassing things that she has ever had to endure, while also backing Lauren for sharing her sexual preferences, showing that there is progress happening to change attitudes all over the place.
Now if only TV bosses could listen to their critiques….
Married At First Sight Australia season six airs on weekdays, at 7.30pm, on E4.
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