The behaviour we fight against is systemic. It’s ingrained so deeply in our culture, we’re often having to argue that our experiences with men are even PROBLEMATIC. We literally find ourselves in battles over whether someone invading our space, grabbing us, using their physicality to intimidate or coerce us, lewdly joking about us is “right” or “wrong”.
This systemic behaviour runs all the way down to what we saw on Married At First Sight last night. Bryce Ruthven kissing Bec Zemek on the cheek midway through an argument, as she pushed him away.
In case you aren’t caught up, Bryce is this season’s villain. His portrayal has included isolating Melissa, his wife in the experiment, from the group, repeatedly criticising her appearance and displaying concerning behaviour that has been called out by other cast and fans. He is all kinds of toxic on screen, to the point where petitions have been created asking for producers to remove him from the series.
He’s also been embroiled in an on-screen battle with fellow MAFS star Bec, who accused him of having a secret girlfriend outside the experiment. Repeatedly, we’ve seen Bryce complaining about Bec upsetting his wife, yet also insinuating her issue with him stems from her being romantically interested in him.
This came to a head during last night’s episode, when Bryce, during an argument with Bec and her “husband” Jake, walked up to Jake and tried to shake his hand, “crowning” him the King of the Experiment. He then walked up to Bec to crown her Queen, but instead of shaking her hand he forcibly kissed her on the cheek while she yelled at him to get off her.
It was tough to watch, but particularly tough if you’ve experienced a similar invasion of your space as a woman, as most of us have. Contrary to what many men on the internet believe, it is closer to being “All Men” than it is to being “Not All Men”. The fact is, most women can think of not one, but multiple scenarios in which their personal space was invaded or body was touched without permission.
I don’t actually feel Bryce was intentionally trying to intimidate Bec. But the behaviour shown on screen is, I believe, still alarming - feeling okay with invading a woman’s personal space is so ingrained in male culture, many men don’t even recognise it’s wrong. How many times have you swatted off drunk men trying to put their arm around you, or had to step back when a man arguing with you invaded your personal space, and been met with them dismissing your reaction? This is historical - for centuries, men have been given the right to dominate women. What we know is intimidation, coercion, domination, because we’ve felt it, we’ve dealt with the ongoing psychological impact - they often either don't recognise the impact of their actions, or they simply don't care.
Last night we saw a man who has repeatedly taken Bec’s criticism of his behaviour as “she wants me”. We saw a man who treated another man’s space with respect, and a woman’s space as fair game. We saw a scenario play out that many of us have personally experienced - a man feeling empowered to touch a woman who was physically and verbally indicating she did not want to be touched.
Nothing about this kind of behaviour is harmless. It’s not some “innocent fun” or “a game”, excuses I’ve heard many times in my life as a defence from men after they’ve grabbed my ass or physically blocked me from walking away from them. I’m not saying Bryce intended to intimidate Bec, but that was the result of his actions.
Men need to step back and think critically about the way they behave toward women.