Married At First Sight has never been a show that’s modelled healthy relationships or critically examined gender roles… But last night’s episode has had many Australian men crying foul.
Last night’s ‘commitment ceremony’ saw the relationship between 40-somethings Josh White and Melissa Sheppard end in a rather dramatic fashion (even by MAFS standards).
Tensions emerged early in the relationship when Melissa, who by her own admission had a high sex drive, felt as if Josh, a more sensitive bloke, wasn’t being intimate enough with her. To cut a long story short, during the commitment ceremony, Melissa doubled down on her criticisms of Josh, who eventually opened up about Melissa’s controlling behaviour during the ‘experiment’.
“You’re saying that I’m some kind of shrew or a 40-year-old virgin! Which I am not, in any way shape or form… There is a significant issue in this relationship about control,” Josh revealed.
“In this relationship, Melissa has attempted to restrict my access to the TV. She’s attempted to restrict my access to the mobile phone. She’s tried to place limitations on the times I can read my books. She’s tried to tell me when I can go out, where I can go out, who I talk to, when I talk to them.”Josh White
“She has used degrading and dehumanising language to me – questioning my manhood… And, can I say, if I was a woman saying these things, the crowd would feel very differently about these things,” he said.
Rather than apologise, Melissa doubled down: “I just feel like he’s not a big, like, man… I’m used to a man. I want a manly man.”
In a rare moment of lucidity for the experts, they actually called Melissa out on this toxicity – “how would you feel if he questioned your womanhood in the same way?” – and did something they’d never done before in the show’s history: intervene and allow Josh to leave the show early.
One of the other blokes on the show, Duncan, also came to Josh’s defence: “I reckon one of the most frustrating things is when somebody says ‘you’re not a man.’ Like, what is a man? A man is someone who can really talk about their emotions and get deep and get vulnerable… What a man isn’t is somebody who just wants to chop it up and not talk about anything. That’s not a man,” he said.
Naturally, the episode sparked plenty of debate online, with both Australian men and women alike weighing in on this double standard among the genders.
The first double standard is the expectation around sex. Melissa belittled Josh and made him feel uncomfortable with her expectations for intimacy… But if a man tried to pressure a woman into sex like Melissa tried to do with Josh on a reality TV show, he would be immediately vilified.
The second double standard was around respect. The way Melissa spoke about Josh, the way she shut down his attempts at communication, the controlling behaviours… Again, if the genders were flipped, it wouldn’t fly – or rather, it wouldn’t have been allowed to fly as long (MAFS has certainly been guilty of letting toxic, disrespectful relationships run for far too long).
If a man demolished a woman the way Melissa just utterly humiliated and demolished Josh he’d be dragged through the mud. Just disgraceful. #MAFS— Debbie Schipp (@debbieschipp) February 19, 2023
Josh being moved to tears by Melissa, broken, serves as a poignant reminder that despite societal constructs, men are not impervious to their emotions or vulnerability. Equally, to be vulnerable is to entrust. No person should be diminished for baring their truths #MAFS #MAFSAU— Sahar Adatia (@sahar_adatia) February 19, 2023
Men are often told that they need to be more open about their emotions – but when men are vulnerable, they often find that their partners aren’t ready or willing to hear them out. Toxic masculinity cuts both ways: both men and women reinforce outdated standards of masculinity that ultimately, hurt both genders.
MAFS probably won’t solve gender relations or stop women dismissing men when they’re vulnerable (or indeed the other way around – MAFS has no shortage of toxic men) but last night’s episode might have been a wake-up call for many Aussies.