I hadn’t heard of this VH1 show “Tough Love” until I saw the above episode of “Target Women”, and so I went and checked out some clips and bios on VH1’s website. The show intrigued me, because the women on it mostly seemed to be engaging in behaviors that were just fucked up, and the premise is that the dating coach would tackle these problems. Pretty much all reality shows are based around excruciatingly sexist premises, a world populated with lunkheaded men and bimbotastic women. They pretty much all buy into certain premises about the desirability of male dominance—even the show “Tool Academy” that was supposed to be about reforming cheaters and abusers had a number of exercises involving letting men take the lead in the relationships, and of course they didn’t do the responsible thing and advise each and every woman on the show to dump the loser and get on with her life. Like Sarah Haskins says, pretty much all reality shows buy into the idea that being single is so terrible for women that anything is better, including being with a guy who has a history of cheating on you and berating you for no reason.
But I can see that the buy-in for “Tough Love” is actually a little different, because the dating coach on there seems to be a little bit more pro-woman than you usually get on these shows, and even better, he’s trying to shoo women away from behaviors that indicate that the women buy the entire patriarchal line. You have a woman who is determined to marry at 25 and has her entire wedding planned out, but of course no boyfriend. She’s the most obvious, but they did fill the roster full of women who are needy and grabby and desperate to get a man because they feel worthless without one.
Of course, you also have the women that are deemed “too picky”, which is just a joke, because they put these women in social situations with men, and then have the men analyze them and unsurprisingly, each and every choad they pick for this show finds every single woman beneath him. Too fat, too slutty, not slutty enough, too stupid, too intimidating—being good enough is deliberately constructed by the show as hopeless, so that the participants cling even more to the dating coach for salvation. But men can’t be “too picky”. In the world of reality shows, male judgment of women is homogeneous and absolute, and women have no choice but to conform or be left, as one show bio actually says, as lonely cat ladies.
Still, the fact that they’re trying to get the women on the show not to do things like tell guys on the first date that they’ve got their entire wedding planned is an interesting hook. Some of the advice he gives feels almost feminist, like don’t be a clingy monster who seems to have no other purpose in life but to get a man. Or to present yourself first and foremost as someone with a mind worth getting to know, and not just a body that’s available for fucking. Deal with men like they’re people, not just targets.
And that’s what makes this show even more disturbed and sleazy than more obnoxiously sexist reality shows. Because this dating coach is instructing women to pretend that they’re confident, self-sufficient women so they can achieve their goal of luring a man in that will define them so they don’t have to be confident, self-sufficient women. It’s like, “Want a groom to plug into that wedding that you’ve already planned out? Then you’re going to have to front like you didn’t do that.” But the show runs like hell from anything that would actually instill real confidence and self-sufficiency in these women, because the first step for them would be to define themselves as whole, complete, worthy people, whether they’re currently in a relationship or not. What they need is not a dating coach, but good, old-fashioned feminism. But feminism doesn’t make for good reality TV, because it means that you’re going to see what’s deeply fucked up about having to watch videos of men tear you up and judge you, while you’re expected to act like said men are authorities, and that you should be grateful that they permit you to be around them.