Women's safety or ratings? Nine needs to draw a MAFS line in the sand

Women’s safety or ratings? Nine needs to draw a MAFS line in the sand


Another season of Married at First Sight (MAFS) is drawing to a close, and as always it’s been nothing short of a shit show.

I won’t pretend that I don’t get carried away with the drama each year. As a full-time working, business-running mum of a 1 year old, there’s nothing more enticing for me than to curl up on the couch and get lost in the mind-numbing glory of senseless reality shows. I’m actually a fierce and vocal enthusiast of crap TV. It’s a life saver for my mental wellbeing.

But what I can’t get on board with (and sadly what MAFS relies on for ratings way too much) is putting vulnerable women at risk.

This season, we’ve seen one of the most controversial couples in the history of the show. Bryce Ruthven and Melissa Rawson were paired to take part in the “experiment” together, which has essentially meant 8 weeks of Melissa being subjected to Bryce’s controlling behaviour, isolation tactics, volatility and emotional abuse. It’s made for brutal watching.

It started in the very first week, when Bryce informed Melissa that she wasn’t his “type” because her eyes weren’t blue and her hair not blonde enough. He placed her fourth on the (horrendously gross) ranking scale with the other “wives”. But reassured her that while she wasn’t who he’d go for in a bar “she’s not ugly”.

When she withdrew from him hurt after the comments, he ignored her for an entire night. Textbook gaslighting, he made her feel bad for (very timidly) speaking up and voicing her feelings. She had to apologise to him the next morning.

These early red flags have subsequently manifested into something more sinister. Isolated from the group because of Bryce’s behaviour, Melissa’s demeanour on the show is one of confusion and melancholy. She can see that Bryce’s conduct is unacceptable, that he’s a bully, but she’s patently too scared to raise her voice. This is compounded by complex feelings. She clearly likes him in a sense and craves his approval and validation.

Each week makes for more and more uncomfortable viewing. On some nights, I’ve actually laid awake thinking about Melissa’s situation.

She’s not the first woman on Nine’s hit show whose safety has been sacrificed for a ratings surge.

Another woman on this season, Coco Stedman was paired with Sam Carraro — a clothes designer from Perth. Within a week, he’d informed his new wife that her personality was “too extra” and her boobs and body not curvaceous enough. Through the screen, you could palpably witness Coco– a vibrant, ambitious, successful woman– deflate. Her self-esteem in tatters.

Or fans of the show might remember Lizzie Sobinoff of Season 6? Paired with tradie, Sam Ball, Lizzie was regularly gaslighted, body-shamed and emotionally ridiculed. When Sam engaged in a relationship with one of the other women on the show, he attempted to twist the situation to make Lizzie look like the culprit.

Throughout the years, there have been any number of these controversial pairings. And while I concede that the medium thrives off pseudo “relationship drama”, there has to be a way of doing this in a way that doesn’t endanger the women on the show.

Producers and the Nine network have a duty of care. Not only to the women who put their hand up to be part of this exercise, but also to the hundreds of thousands of impressionable girls who watch this religiously. They need to understand that these are not normal relationships. You shouldn’t be scared, controlled, and voiceless to “keep a man”.

With a change.org petition gaining traction, with now more than 10,000 signatures, viewers who have watched these conflicts between Melissa and Bryce this season are calling time on toxic masculinity. If Nine’s smart, and is reading the room at the present moment, it will heed the advice.

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