MAFS’ James Got Called Out for ‘Gaslighting’. How Do We Stop Normalising It on TV?

MAFS James

During Sunday’s Married at First Sight commitment ceremony, expert John Aiken called out James Susler’s behaviour as “gaslighting”.

“This is classic gaslighting behaviour and it has to stop,” Aiken told a red-faced Susler.

“What we mean by this is you start to deflect and dodge and put it back onto Jo. We watched it for hours and it’s toxic and it hurts people that are close to you,” Aiken continued.

Susler, unable to identify what Aiken meant, asked for an example, which then led to the expert re-hashing the incident where Susler called Belinda Vickers “frigid” before failing to grasp how it was wrong.

Sexologist Alessandra Rampolla had previously called out the use of the word, saying it was “outdated”, “archaic” and “prejudicial”. Something, Susler could not comprehend.

“It wreaks of sexism and misogyny and the fact that you even came to that word, I think is very telling,” she said.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that we have seen gaslighting behaviour on this series of the show.

In an earlier episode of the season, Bryce Ruthven reduces his bride, Melissa Rawson, to tears after she asked him if she was his usual type.

“Ummm. It’s a tough question. I’ll be completely honest. Not 100 per cent,” he said. “I’ve always gone for the blonde hair, blue eyes, tan kinda girl. And usually tall. I can’t say 100 per cent I’d come up to you in a bar and buy you a drink. When I first saw you I thought, ‘Not my type’. But, I thought, she’s not … ugly?”

Of course, Rawson is reduced to tears and asks Ruthven if he’s on the show “for the right reasons”. Ruthven then turns the scenario on its head and say’s he’s “pissed” that she would ask such a thing.

Then, more recently, Rawson admitted she stayed with her husband because: “I have this intense fear of losing people and I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want to voice what I actually feel.”

According to Medical News Today, gaslighting is “a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories” and those people who are experiencing gaslighting, often feel confused, anxious and unable to trust themselves.

The term was derived from the 1938 play and 1944 film, Gaslight, where a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness.

Gaslighting often develops gradually, making it difficult to detect, with various techniques used including countering (questioning someone’s memories), withholding (refusing to engage in conversation), trivialising (when a person belittles or disregards the other person’s feelings), denial (pretending to forget events or how they occurred), diverting (changing the focus or discussion) and stereotyping (the intentional use of negative stereotypes of a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age).

Over the past month or so, fans who have tuned in to MAFS have called for this type of entertainment to stop. In fact, watching someone being openly gaslit is not only disturbing but can be triggering for those who have experienced it themselves.

On February 25, after the Ruthven/Rawson dyamic initially went to air, journalist Eliza Barr took to Twitter to call out the series and asked for accountability.

“This show should have to be accountable for the emotional abuse and time wasting it continually perpetuates,” she wrote. ““Don’t call me a cheater because I cheated once” mate you don’t get to decide that. Who set this poor woman up with this man? Who would do this? #MAFS

While responses varied from “why do you watch it then” to, a wholehearted “here, here”, Barr makes a very important note. Accountability.

Surely, there is more to a storyline than (in this instance) two men outwardly gaslighting women who have signed on to a TV show.

Of course, this year, unlike in previous years, MAFS has done something right. This year, the experts aren’t putting up with such behaviour and are openly slamming the participants. And maybe, while it is a hard watch, maybe this is the point of showing this disgusting behaviour. Just maybe, we’re finally starting to learn a thing or two.

Maybe next year there won’t be a Bryce or James. Maybe next year, we’ll see other relationship problems. Ones about who leaves the toilet seat up and who takes down the rubbish.

Because if there’s one thing for sure, we shouldn’t be normalising this behaviour on National Television.

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