I should probably stay away from most television. I know from the minute I turn it on that something I see will somehow offend me, yet out of boredom, curiosity, and sincere enjoyment I keep returning to my remote. Occasionally, however, I come across something so absurdly gross that I am ashamed by my own pop-culture obsession; ashamed that I continue to support this crap just by tuning in.
Case in point: VH1’s new show, Tough Love. Really, the whole premise of this show is enough to piss me off—a group of women who can’t “find love” or maintain lasting relationships move into a house and undergo “tough love boot camp.” Their instructor is a “professional matchmaker” named Steve Ward who reveals to the women the “harsh reality” of why they are single. (They’re too desperate, too intimidating, too “slutty,” etc.) There are a myriad of reasons why this—and every other self-help book/show/guru, etc. like it—infuriates every intelligent, female bone in my body, but this blog really isn’t the place for that discussion. On Sunday’s episode, though, the show really crossed the line.
At the end of the episode Steve and the women watch clips from the practice dates they’ve been on, and hear feedback from the male dates. Whoever had the worst date, in Steve’s opinion, ends up sitting in “the hot seat” while Steve clues them in to why they will never find love if they keep acting in whatever way it is that he disapproves of. In episode four, the hot seat belonged to Arian, who made the mistake of talking to her date about sex a lot, referencing her breasts, etc. The consensus was that Arian was acting “slutty” and that if she always leads with the sex talk and revealing clothing she will keep attracting men who are only interested in sex. I will forgo the discussion of what it means to call a woman slutty and how much this alone pissed me off, and get to the point: Steve went on to tell Arian that if she kept acting this way, she was going to end up with an STD or raped. (Conveniently, VH1’s clips of this episode don’t include Steve actually saying this, just the before and after. This clip is from right after he says that and Arian flips out.)
I happened to be watching this show on lunch break at work with my coworkers—a group of women who were immediately as horrified as I was. The women on Tough Love, however, were not so bothered by Steve’s assessment of the situation. They chime in about how it’s too bad that he’s right, but they’re all concerned for their friend that she’s going to end up being raped if she keeps acting like that. I think that at the end of the day, that’s really what gets to me. It’s disturbing to watch a man straight-up inform a woman that she is asking for it on national television. It’s more disturbing, to me, to watch a group of women agree. Women aren’t a monolith. We all have different experiences, different opinions, different values, etc. But as a group of people who are disproportionately the victims of sexual assault, and who would most likely all agree that this is a tremendous injustice, it would be amazing if we could all just come together and say: “No women is ever asking for it. A woman should never “expect” to be raped based on her appearance or actions. Saying otherwise absolutely perpetuates a cycle of blaming the victim that ensures rape will never be treated as the serious crime it actually is.” Over at VH1’s website, “Leah” actually posted a comment about the episode titled “Blaming the Victim – totally unacceptable.” The response is sort of interesting—I’d say it’s almost half and half in favor of Leah’s point and half are in the “Steve is right if you act like a slut you’ll get treated like one lol” camp. But what really gets me is the fact that the VH1 message board actually censors the word “rape.” Comments actually end up reading like this: “He was absolutely right in saying what he said. It doesn’t mean *** can ever be excused but face it, you are much more likely to find yourself in a compromising situation (STD or ***) when you behave like a ***.” Perhaps VH1 or Viacom or whoever comes up with the standards rule chose to censor the word rape in to avoid comments from creeps who will threaten other posters. But the end result is that they are really just censoring the entire dialogue surrounding the issue. It’s like a court room in which use of the word rape is banned because it might bias the jury. But let’s tell it like it is, everyone: Steve Ward told a girl that if she continued to act like a “slut” (to be an overtly sexual person, in this case) she might very well get raped. If VH1 can’t handle that word, if they cut it out of the clips and censor it on their message board, maybe they should rethink airing such a revolting, irresponsible statement in the first place.
To add insult to injury, Tough Love is produced by Flower Films, owned by Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen. Flower Films has a history of putting out movies that espouse the usual offensive tropes about women (see: He’s Just Not That Into You). But even though they never really claimed (as far as I know) to be a feminist production company or even to care about the social messages of their work, it still kind of feels like I’m being kicked when I’m down to have two women make it to the top of their field, have the power to make really interesting media, and then keep promoting misogynistic, sexist crap like this. If anyone can find Flower Film’s contact info, please let me know. I’d like to write them a strongly-worded letter.