It's been a rough old ride for some of the Love Island contestants in the past few days. Casa Amor sparked drama on the show and back at home, with 2500 people complaining to Ofcom over the the producers' manipulation of Dani Dyer. It's been interesting to see how viewers and the contestants have reacted to the emotions the show's biggest twist has thrown up. Another islander caught up in the Casa Amor fray was Georgia. When Josh walked back into the villa with new girl Kazimir, Love Island's Georgia Steel remained composed and managed not to cry in the face of serious pressure. She was left till last and the nation watched her heart basically break on television and she didn't shed a tear. While I understand the impulse, celebrating Georgia's lack of tears sends out a really restrictive message about how women should react in emotional situations.
Women's emotions have long been used against them, and crying is often seen as a feminine response. Anyone who has ever choked back tears at work will know just how crying in certain scenarios will apparently undermine your "credibility." While remaining calm and rational, traits usually coded as masculine, only boosts it.
There were lots of posts on social media saying Josh didn't deserve Georgia's tears, and I get it. I really do. I like everyone else, would much rather see Georgia show her vulnerability to her good friend Dani, who clearly cares about her, rather than Josh, who well, *shrugs*. But would Georgia not have been just as deserving of our support had she dissolved into a puddle of tears at the recoupling or not managed to stop herself full on sobbing while talking to Josh on Wednesday's show?
Unfortunately it seems many viewers wouldn't, because as soon as Georgia's composure slipped the slightest bit, the Twitter critics went in. There were lots of posts about how she needed to "get a grip" or "pull it together."
Love Island shows there's a double standard around the way we view male and female emotions. It's true that men have traditionally been discouraged from showing their emotions, and there's still lots of stigma around men crying specifically. But during last year's series male contestants like Chris Hughes were widely praised for showing their emotions, and the islander later fronted a mental health campaign that was based around his tendency to cry.
While this is all great, and I couldn't be more on board with the destigmatisation of certain emotions in men —please men, cry more, cry freely — it irks me that while celebrate these kinds of emotions in men, we condemn them in women. Why shouldn't Georgia be lauded just as much as Chris for her vulnerability? Why is it that we're so much keener to praise shows of strength from women than we are vulnerability?
I reckon it's because it plays into the idea that a "strong woman" is the only kind of woman worth being. There's been a lot of focus on strong women in entertainment in recent years, sometimes it feels like any new drama needs to have a strong female lead to be taken seriously. But why should women have to mimic or demonstrate traits that are generally coded as masculine to be given respect? It sets up vulnerability as the opposite of strength when actually, owning your vulnerability is an incredibly powerful thing to do. And if we are ready to acknowledge this in Love Island's male contestants, we should do the same for its female ones, in the name of equality if nothing else. And while we're at it, let's stop coding certain behaviours as masculine and feminine. Both men and women experience the full range of human emotions, and should both be able to express them in healthy ways, free from gendered judgement.