Love Island is short on sisterhood – and the show is suffering because of it

·5-min read
Indiyah, Ekin-Su, Gemma and Paige in 'Love Island’ (ITV)
Indiyah, Ekin-Su, Gemma and Paige in 'Love Island’ (ITV)

Call it a factory for wannabe influencers all you like; Love Island is also the birthplace of several legitimate love stories. For some, what started as cheeky villa hookups have resulted in years-long connections, with marriage and babies to boot – season two runner-ups Alex and Olivia Bowen welcomed their first child just last month. However, when I think back on the most fulfilling connections of the show’s past seven years, it’s the friendships formed between female contestants that have reflected the greatest loves of all. After a rocky start, it seems this season’s women are steadily learning the value of leaning on each other, and for good reason – it’s a necessary armour against the double standards and judgements doled out by the men.

People don’t necessarily enter Love Island in the hopes of forging deep platonic bonds. Hell, this season’s breakout star Ekin-Su even started out with the mantra of looking for the love of her life and not “seasonal girlfriends”. But the show has repeatedly been at its most charming and interesting when there is significant unity between the women on the show. In last year’s run, romantic bonds wilted but Kaz and Liberty’s mutual commitment went from strength to strength. After breaking up with her villa boyfriend Jake, Liberty chose to leave the programme mere days before the final. “You may not have felt like you found love in Jake, but I found love in you,” Kaz told a teary Liberty just before her departure. Reader, I cried. It was an example of a genuine relationship, and reinforced the fact that friendship isn’t a consolation prize; it can be the thing that keeps you together when your heart gets trampled on national TV.

There have been other memorable examples of Love Island sisterhood. Remember Anna’s fiery defence of Amber after her Michael-induced Casa Amor heartbreak in season five? Along with Yewande, the three women formed a friendship that was filled with laughter and mutual support when their romantic connections went awry. It gave their time on the show additional depth.

Despite this current season of Love Island being one of its most entertaining outings in years, it’s not quite hit classic status yet because of its lack of strong female bonds. For a long time, it seemed as if season eight’s female contingent was falling into the trap of prioritising approval from the male Islanders rather than forging relationships with their fellow women. Ekin-Su’s romantic pursuits in the season’s early days made for TV gold, but occasionally left her as somewhat of an outcast among the girls.

After “terrace-gate”, in which Ekin-Su secretly kissed Jay while still being coupled up with Davide, the men of the house were less than forgiving of her actions. In solidarity with Davide, contestants such as Jacques and Luca were vocally dismissive of Ekin-Su, with the general male feeling towards her being cold. Though disappointing, this behaviour wasn’t a surprise. Sadder to see was the frostiness aimed at her from the women. Support for her perspective was hard to find, as debatable as her actions proved to be. It wasn’t until Davide started to warm to her again that Ekin-Su’s status in the villa improved – the boys forgave her, and the girls felt it safe to socialise with her once more.

Not only does a villa sisterhood show a much-needed alternative vision of love and affection, these connections are essential in a heavily gendered environment like this one. As a sunny microcosm of society, this season has shown how real-world problems like slut-shaming can run riot if not checked. By merely exploring a connection with someone other than Andrew, Tasha was deemed “fake” by the boys and made to feel as if she was in the wrong for weighing up her options – despite this being the main objective of the show. At the time, support for her was minimal, and it left Tasha feeling isolated. It shouldn’t be up to women to prevent things like this from happening, but without a unified stance against toxic male behaviour, there are no limits to how far misogyny can stretch.

Thankfully, Casa Amor seems to have been a catalyst for allowing the girls to get closer. After being split from their original partners for days, the girls and boys had the space to spark up new romantic connections with fresh contestants. While the boys egged each other on to “play away”, the girls were more cautious in their choices. Crucially, they encouraged each other to explore what they actually wanted in the villa – something that may have been condemned in the presence of the other boys.

Seeing the women support each other’s feelings and romantic choices has been a breath of fresh air. Finally, there is some semblance of consensus among the women when it comes to what they won’t stand for, and what constitutes disrespect. Indiyah and Tasha have supported each other after they chose to recouple during their time apart. Paige, meanwhile, has had the women’s support after Jacques was revealed to have “had fun” without her. It’s been key to her being able to take a stand as he tries to win back her heart.

Though slow-growing, the sisterhood that we’ve been waiting for is coming through. It isn’t perfect yet – for one, the new Casa Amor women have yet to be invited to the girls’ routine morning catchup – but seeing the female cast members finally lean on each other has been heartening. And that’s regardless of whether these friendships continue after the cameras stop rolling.

Season eight is already one of Love Island’s best. Once the women pay even more attention to their relationships with each other, it can only get better.