11/07/2017 07:37 BST | Updated 11/07/2017 07:40 BST

Love Island's Jonny's Controlling Behaviour Towards Tyla Is Dangerous, Not Romantic


On Sunday night's episode of Love Island, while the nation was once again gripped by the antics of gorgeous people searching for romance (or perhaps just fame and fortune) on a beautiful island, two off the housemates smiled and laughed as they plotted to end a developing love triangle. On the surface all was well and good.

New arrival Theo had been trying to get the attention of Tyla, currently 'coupled up' with Jonny, and Jonny wasn't happy. But when Jonny said that Theo would have to prise Tyla from "his cold, dead hands", it was not romantic. It did not demonstrate just how much he liked her and it certainly wasn't funny. It was possessive and controlling. For a survivor of domestic abuse watching, it would have been a chilling moment. For me, it brought back so many stories of coercive control that I've heard from women: of threats dressed up as humour, manipulation dressed up as a threat to self-harm, a pattern of behaviour that seemed fine at first.

The underlying sentiment was that this man believes he owns this woman. Often batted away as 'laddish behaviour', or 'just a phrase', in isolation one comment seems innocuous, but it's not. Statements like this normalise the objectification of women and men's power over us. They normalise sexism so that we accept it. We see it as 'how things are'. And then we see men's power over women as inevitable. And then women feel they have no option but to accept abuse. Let's be clear: I'm not saying Jonny has any intention of abusing Tyla. What I am saying is, let's not ignore the chilling subtext beneath off-the-cuff remarks. Let's be aware of coercive control and strive to ensure it's better understood.

When Tyla heard about Jonny's words, they rang alarms bells for her. She clearly had experience of this already - hardly surprising given that controlling abuse is very common. She told another islander of a previous relationship that was "so controlling I just wanted to run away".

Misogyny and sexism give men permission to abuse. It's as simple as that. This laddish banter isn't just not funny - it's dangerous. Misogyny puts women in danger. It kills. Two women a week are killed in England and wales by their partner or ex-partner. It is no laughing matter.

And it harms men too. Inequality eats away at trust. It means women don't trust men's motives; they cross the street because they fear them. Or they resort to laughter, but it's laughter with an edge - men can feel it. Is this what we want for our relationships, for our futures? Mistrust and misunderstanding, with domestic abuse appallingly common? Or would we rather work together, women and men, to change the record at last?

This is happening because when sexism asserts itself, not enough people say no. And then women are robbed of the power to say no. Well, we have that power and we are using it. That's why all of us have a duty to name sexism for what it is.

#callitout #loveislandnothateisland

Polly Neate is CEO of Women's Aid