I have a confession. I have, in seasons past, loved watching VH1’s Tough Love. In a reality television world full of shining examples of the worst personalities known to man, I felt that Tough Love was different from the rest.
I realize that shows like Tough Love are problematic in many ways, and not just for feminists. We have a group of women who lay their emotions and insecurities out on the table for a everyone to see, judge, and tear apart, then the big strong man comes in to fix everyone up. We see the worst stereotypes being reinforced again and again, from the gold-diggers to the clingy baby-and-marriage obsessed.
What I liked about Tough Love of past seasons was its ability to dig deeper into the basis of the issue. It showed us that the gold-digger grew up homeless and poor and lived in constant fear that they were one misstep away from being back on the streets. It delved into the real issues surrounding the insecurity and helped these women gain the confidence in themselves to overcome both society’s and their own expectations. Yes, at the end of the day it was yet another show where a man is looked to to “fix” the women, but it had much more nuance, and one could see that Steve had genuine affection for these women. Plus, his mom is a badass.
Another reason I loved it is because there were genuine female friendships that formed over the course of the season. There are plenty of shows that trump up minor altercations into full-blown cat fights because hair pulling makes for great TV. Tough Love was different. While there were fights here and there (as one would find in any roommate situation), the women mostly supported one another, helped each other through struggles, and showed a side of female interaction that is sorely lacking from today’s television landscape. Instead of pitting women against each other, they were encouraged to lean on one another, trust one another, and to value one another’s opinions. Women actually get along?!?! You mean they aren’t all just “frenemies” (gag) that are so jealous of one another that they constantly back-bite and sabotage each other’s happiness? NO!
But I’ve got my eye on you this season, Steve. I don’t know if I am more aware now than I have been in seasons past, but the fact that you keep referring to these grown-ass women as “girls” is starting to piss me off. They are “beautiful girls,” she is a “smart girl;” enough with that shit. These are women, Steve, many incredibly successful and talented women. I don’t mind the word girl usually, but the way you are saying it borders on and sometimes way crosses over into patronizing. Also, putting someone’s mug shot up on the big screens in a sports bar while the whole cast is there on dates? Not. Fucking. Cool. The point that you were trying to make about dating in the technological age was a valid one. Showing these women the scantily clad images that a simple Google search could pull up was interesting. However, putting the recently sober and clearly defensively fragile woman on blast like that was nothing more than you playing up producer desired dramatics. I have Google stalked plenty of people, even people with DUIs, and have never run across their mugshots. Your point about the ready access to information in the internet age could have been made without having to resort to cruelty.
While we’re at it, Steve, let’s talk about cruelty. You used to help build up these women, dismissing assholish comments from other men and reiterating to them how beautiful and awesome they were. Now you are telling women that if they don’t like the haircut you picked out for them, they don’t have real confidence? If they can’t be confident with an ugly ass dye job, they are really faking it? No, dude, no. We all have things we like about ourselves, and we all have things we don’t. Not loving everything 100% doesn’t mean we are emotional wrecks. Playing up the parts we like does not mean we are hiding behind them. Belittling people for not liking your arbitrary makeover decisions is not like the Steve of past seasons. And BTW, you have no room to be talking down to anybody about their spray-on tans, mister. You and Michael Kors could have a contest right now.
I don’t know if the fame is doing nasty things to the person you were, I don’t know if the executives have pushed you to make more compelling TV (and by compelling I mean revolting); I honestly don’t know. I just want you to know that I am going to keep watching, but I have one raised eyebrow pointed right at you, dude. Take it down a notch, stop dipping into Dr. Phil nonsense, and keep giving the viewers the sweetly honest guy from before. Let these women support one another and grow with one another. Don’t turn this into The Bad Girls Club. I will kick you in the shin, Steve. Right in the shin.