Dr Ciara Kelly: 'We need Love Island's Maura, an unexpected feminist icon'

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'We need Love Island's Maura, an unexpected feminist icon'

I’ve mentioned once or twice on social media that I’m watching Love Island which, in the main, has drawn surprise and consternation from people who seem to expect that an intellectual like me would be above such things – I’m not.

There has also been much disparagement in general of a show that is seen as superficial, trite and vaguely ridiculous.

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In case you live under the sea, Love Island is a reality TV show where impossibly good-looking (and by impossibly, I mean a whole heap of time, effort and cash went into looking that perfect) young singletons live in a villa in Majorca for most of the summer and form romantic entanglements with each other. At the end, the public will vote for the best couple – who will then win €50,000. Basically they go in to ‘find love’ – while competing for hard cash.

I’m slightly bemused at how surprised people are that I watch it. After all, half the country watches people run up and down a field kicking a ball between each other. And when I say I don’t get that, they explain, very possibly correctly, that’s it’s the back story; the investment in your team; the knowing the struggles; the savouring the highs because you’ve been crushed by the lows; the admiration for the skill and hard graft. And I say to them, that’s exactly why I like Love Island.

It is as devious as Leinster House. Has as many skilled and outrageous passes as Croke Park. And it shows all sides of human nature in a tragic Greek kind of way. Best friends stab best friends in the back. Lovers are ruthless in their desire for power and money. And all the while, an occasional player is thrown to the lions – us, the viewers – and evicted. What’s not to love about it?

And then into this mix you add Maura Higgins – Longford woman and total badass. Maura exploded on to our screens as she strutted into the villa a week after the show started with some other girl who is now forgotten, and blew our minds. It was not only that she is stunningly beautiful in a way only fairies are supposed to be. It was not only that she has the broadest accent ever heard outside Carrickboy. It was what she said in that accent.

Mostly, the young English women in the show are fairly upfront in a way that’s not really normal for Irish women. But Maura out-upfronted them all, announcing the first night she was there that the Love Island boys gave her “fanny flutters” and that she wished one of them was eating her. “The things I would do to that man,” she said, devouring Tommy Fury – Tyson Fury’s brother – with her eyes as she ate Easi-Singles (no pun intended) on white sliced pan.

It was vaguely thrilling! We really weren’t sure what she might do next.

Well, she followed up by literally hopping on Tommy and trying to kiss him, uninvited, and by eating ice pops all over the villa in a way that could only be aired after the watershed.

She owned her sexuality. And it was incredibly refreshing to see.

But when she really came into her own was when things started to go wrong for her. She didn’t end up with Tommy – he picked the hard-to-trust Molly Mae instead of our Longford lass – but she wasn’t ousted. Two more lads arrived and after some jigs and reels, she ended up coupled up with Tom, a drippy bloke who spent a lot of time patting his fringe. And that’s when it got interesting.

Because Maura went from pretty, sexually outspoken girl you wouldn’t think much about, to strong, determined woman who stuck up for herself and commanded respect.

She had been offered a night with Tom in the hideaway – a private bedroom that is opened occasionally for couples so that they don’t have to sleep in the communal bedroom with everybody else.

Just before they were due to go, she overheard Tom talking to the lads about whether she would actually sleep with him or if she was “all mouth”. The lads were braying and shoving a condom at him at the time. She realised that sexual double standards were alive and well in the villa and she was clearly very hurt, but also furious at him talking her down to the lads. She tore strips off him for belittling her. And as he pathetically stammered something about her talking about sex a lot herself, so why wouldn’t he think that. She came back with the perfect reply: I can talk about my sex whatever way I want. You talking about me with disrespect is a whole different thing.

A few days later, having heard that he was telling others she was “too loud, too much and made him cringe sometimes”, she unceremoniously dumped him for not treating her properly. (He was happily voted off the island that same evening by the other islanders – and even then, she comforted him and used the great Irish expression: she didn’t really believe he had a bad bone in his body.)

But she was absolutely right to ditch him. Him speaking about her in that way – implying she wasn’t quite good enough for him – was an inversion of the facts.

He was dull, vain and weak. She is funny, feisty and straight-talking. He didn’t deserve Maura. In fact, I’m not sure if any of us do. But we need her. She is the unexpected feminist icon for the next generation. And she’s from Longford. What is not to love?

It is what it is but I’m telling you, the Premier League and The lliad have nothing on this addictive, bubble-gum TV.


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