Darwin, Come Dine With Me, Orgasms and more! – An historical overview.
While sitting through my ninth month of the pandemic it was becoming harder and harder to find a continuous source of media to fill my thoughts. Then I struck gold. Suddenly a goldmine of 48 episodes of Couples Come Dine With Me arrived on Netflix. Suddenly I had a long-term plan to fill the unending void.
Couples host their co-contestants with varying levels of success, yet with each episode I was aware of the apparent obsession with dominance and power within their relationships. This was seen in the way they interacted with one another, their greetings, their story telling and their scoring of each other. The dynamics between couples varied markedly with the continuous theme of identifying who was the dominant one in the relationship. Moreover, there was a significant difference in the appraisals of male and female contestants with men getting away with being ‘brutish’ and women chastised for being ‘bitchy’.
This intrigued me, as a gay man, I don’t seem to share this obsession with dominance and look at relationships as a partnership, so maybe I needed to look outside myself and toward the culture these relationships exist in.
Darwin & evolved misogyny
As outlined in an article by Laina Bay-Cheng, there has already been much debate on the importance of ‘who wears the pants’ in a relationship. And, as stated, these relationships do not exist in a [cultural] vacuum, so it may be prudent to look toward our evolutionary tree for answers.
Going back millions of years, the first life forms existed within the constraints of competition for resources. This competition gave an advantage to stronger life forms with the ability to protect their territory and offspring. Soon enough species differentiated into male and female forms with the females often bearing the role of provider and mother. Whereas males offered their ‘protection’, in exchange for the rights to pass down their genetic information in their offspring.
This came at a cost. The sexual reproductive behaviours of animals vary greatly, with different patterns and types being seen across the animal kingdom. Some, such as that of ants, bees, meerkats are collectives run by a matriarch, with power held by one all-powerful female. Conversely and more similarly to humans, there is a reproductive template in which the males are the domineering force.
In such systems we see what is termed a ‘Harem’. In which the strength and dominance of the male is essential to protect and dominate the females of the species. Only with the strongest males being able to achieve control over their group of females. This competition bred specific differentiation between genders (biological sexes). This can be seen in many examples across nature, though primarily in mammals:
- The mane of a male lion.
- The enlarged calcium growths that form male stags’ horns, which are used to fight over female deer (does).
- The silver patterning of the silver back gorilla.
All of these developed to control and protect their social group from opposing males. This can either be through visual cues such as patterning and physical growth of fur/hair or through practical physical growth to equip one for direct fighting. It is for this reason that the males of many species have a significantly larger body mass and size compared to that of females, along with increased aggression hormones such as testosterone. All of which evolved to keep and protect their female group and offspring.
This enlarged body type is – generally – seen in humans too. And is arguably responsible in many ways for the sexism toward, and domination over women for all of human history. This physical disadvantage of women places an uneasy and uncomfortable reality that if push comes to shove the average woman can be overpowered by a man.
Such stories have played out throughout history, with men committing atrocious acts of sexual and domineering violence toward women. This effort to control with the ultimate threat of violence saw women unable to work, unable to vote, and unable to make real change in this world. Women were seen as trophies to be won or earned by men. Such a culture forced a further differentiation between the genders.
Academia has shown on numerous occasions that there are two distinct forms of violence shown within history. These are the direct and indirect forms. As it sounds, direct forms of violence come from direct actions, often seen in physical fights and sexual or predatory violence. Such behaviours have been shown to be enacted by men to a far greater extent than women. Indirect violence comes in the form of gossip, manipulation and more subtle methods that are shown seen more proportionately in women.
This difference can be seen back on Come Dine With Me with male contestants offering more assertive, dominating, and controlling lines of conversation and when ‘threatened’ showing a greater preoccupation with direct aggression. An example of this is the famous ‘long handshake’, in which two men shake hands for an awkwardly long length of time squeezing each other’s hand until the one gives in. Contrastingly, female contestants often hold back on such tactics and only reveal reservations in private. Of course, in reality there are no real rules to this, and many people switch between both forms of violence, what is interesting is the reception each type receives in the collective awareness we all share.
Attitudes to gendered violence
Direct violence, an evolved aggressive trait used to control others of one’s species and fight off opponents has been one of the most bastardized and twisted forces through history. From this origin multiple glorified concepts such a bravery, heroism, and even patriotism have been derived. The worship of such acts is the cornerstone to many nationalist ideologies. The belief, built on superiority of one’s nation or origin, all too often focuses on the memorials of those who died in wars or violence. This is despite many veterans from WWl & WWll insisting upon rejecting the label of ‘hero’ and claiming to just be doing what had to be done. Yet the core belief is upheld that these men and their acts were heroic and should be celebrated. Such glorification is not seen in rhetoric regarding indirect violence.
In fact, social tactics associated with indirect violence often have negative associations. Whether it be cowardice, sleaziness, underhandedness or manipulation, the tactics available to women receive a significantly poorer reception to those available to men. The overriding sense of a lack of bravery is common among these attitudes, yet when the cards of physical strength are stacked against women so strongly it is confusing as to why they are expected to conform to the tactics commonly associated and more suited to men.
Once you realise that we exist within a world catered too and suited to men, and protection of the male ego, it is not so confusing or surprising as to why indirect violence is seen as weak and morally corrupt and direct violence is celebrated and used as the measuring stick for all courageous deeds. All too often men are used as the baseline for what is normal and what is not.
The ‘orgasm gap’
The ‘orgasm gap’, as outlined by Vanessa Marin refers to the largescale and common inability for men to sexually satisfy their female partners to the point of orgasm. Men love to boast about their sexual prowess and obsess over the objectification of women, yet when it cums dow-, sorry, comes down to it, many men cannot sexually satisfy their female counterparts.
This has led to the misconception that reaching the female orgasm is impossible and the rhetoric states that the female orgasm is ‘hard to achieve’ or too time consuming. Regardless of the inaccuracy of this train of thought, it perfectly illustrates once again how the norms for the male is used as the gauge of normalcy for all of humanity. The ‘fault’ is placed on the sexuality or biology of women for being too complex. Tipped on its head it is perfectly feasible to argue that the male orgasm is reached too prematurely in an all too quick burst. Yet this is not the commonly held belief as once more the female experience is seen as abnormal and the male experience is seen as the norm.
Linking back to violence, the same can be seen. Traditionally male tactics are allowable and acceptable seen as heroic, brave and excusable. Meanwhile traditionally female methods are considered inferior. The same can be seen in Come Dine With Me. Yes, you can be forgiven for forgetting that Come Dine With Me was the starting point of this wonderous journey, but I feel it perfectly illustrates this point.
Reception to violence in Come Dine With Me
The behaviours seen between contestants highlight the differences in standards, tactics and expectations placed on each gender within the confines of a hostile and competitive environment.
Male contestants openly boast and brag about the work involved in each course, acting as a spokesperson for the couple. Additionally, men often engage in direct confrontation with one another as they try to ‘out do’ the other. The bizarre nature of this is swept under the carpet entirely as this is what we come to expect from men. It is allowable and excusable by the patriarchal culture we live in. The only time men seem to get involved properly is on occasions meat is involved.
God forbid there is a BBQ as at which point the whole episode breaks down into a children’s tea party in which little boys proclaim their masculinity and manliness based on their cooking and eating of various meats. Often referencing ‘cave men’ traditions. All of this is shrugged off and put down to vague slogans/clichés and excuses such as ‘boys will be boys’.
Meanwhile, the female contestants are shown to put the majority of the work into planning and preparing courses while simultaneously getting critiqued much more for their appearance and getting labelled as ‘loud’ or ‘rude’ whenever they engage in actions associated more with men. On top of this, women engaging in indirect violence are not afforded the same excuses as men, it’s not put down as an acceptable trait but as an immoral and harmful act, with the reoccurrence of the label ‘bitchy’.
In essence, Come Dine With Me gives an insight into the cultural and gender norms that exist in our society. The ones we no longer see and no longer question, as odd. It highlights not only the differences in actions but also differences in how we permit, accept and excuse those common to one gender while demonising those common to the other.
This little stroll through evolution, culture, and our relationship to gendered norms would not have happened, had I not been sitting through hours of Couples Come Dine With Me. So, to each contestant, the arrogant winners, the sore losers, I say thank you!
From an eclectic background in the arts and media, Joel holds a BSc in Psychology and is currently undertaking a Masters in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at King’s College London. Ferment believer that access to education is a privilege that many take for granted, and as such personal projects and writing seek to address disparities as they come to the fore. Currently based in Lincoln, their other creative persuits include artistic outlets, with this medium providing a commercial and personal outlet for Joel. Most of which can be found on Instagram @Noble_artt.