How Reality TV Perpetuates The Dangerous Idea That Women Can (And Should) Ignore Red Flags

Photo: ABC / HBO Max
The Bachelorette FBoy Island

We’ve all had a friend — or are the friend — who can’t stop falling for the wrong guy, despite all of the red flags signaling to stay away. Red flags can be anything from refusing to apologize to being flat out mean to you. 

It seems counterintuitive, but red flags don’t always turn us off the way they should.

Many women struggle with getting out of red flag relationships, and it’s difficult for anyone on the outside looking in to understand why, which leads to the blame being placed on the woman instead of the guy who is actually causing the problem.

So why do women ignore red flags in their man? One factor could be that the media we regularly watch and hear about makes it look like red flags are okay. 

Has reality TV changed what we expect from dating? 

Reality TV shows that revolve around love and dating rarely model healthy relationships. Shows like “FBoy Island” and “The Bachelor” are laced with problematic drama that suggests that red flag behavior is normal and acceptable in dating. 

Here's how reality TV normalizes red flags. 

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1. Competition is the basis of the show.

One of the patriarchy’s most effective tools for suppressing women is, well, other women. “The Bachelor” starts out as a large group of women who are there to compete for one man’s affection.

TV shows formatted in this way pit the contestants against each other, making them hyperfocus on taking down the competition instead of focusing on the man’s red flags.

Because of this, he can get away with cringeworthy behavior while the contestants point out every little flaw in their competition. 

2. Men are praised for superficial qualities. 

Let’s look at what Reality TV is really worried about... abs?

“FBoy Island” would certainly suggest so, as most of the show seems to be dedicated to panning over shirtless men

Unfortunately, most reality dating shows cast conventionally attractive participants, which usually makes looks a big part of the competition. 

To clarify, being attractive and/or having a nice body isn’t a red flag. In fact, it’s encouraged! But when a guy’s looks are the only thing getting him a date, it’s probably not a good sign. 

The apparent obsession with looks on reality TV sends the message that being attractive can outweigh being a descent person. 

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3. Drama is framed as an indication of a good relationship. 

Reality TV has one goal: to entertain. And what do we all love to watch? That’s right, drama.

Reality TV thrives on drama because it’s what people find interesting. We’re drawn to things that make us laugh and cry and gasp and live tweet because that’s when we’re feeling something. 

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Dating shows are no different. Even though they supposedly reflect what’s really going on between participants, it is tailored to make us, the audience, keep watching by playing on our emotions. 

In a real relationships, drama can be a serious red flag. There’s nothing worse than the whiplash that comes with being fine with someone one minute and then not speaking to them the next.

But when dating shows focus on the drama between couples, we start to get entertainment (or the drama) mixed up with what these shows claim to do: find love.

By mixing entertainment with emotion, Reality TV actually warps reality and makes love and drama synonyms.

This is problematic, because when we actually go out into the real world to date, we’re drawn toward drama, assuming it’s love because we feel... something.

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Susie Grimshaw is a writer who covers news and entertainment topics. Catch her covering all things pop culture and reality TV.