The latest Married at First Sight controversy shows a massive double standard.

Video by Channel 9

It’s hardly surprising that when men and women go on reality television, they come away with a very different set of experiences.

Just this week on Bachelor in Paradisewe’ve watched Jake Ellis and Davey Lloyd grapple with their relative ‘ownership’ of Florence Moerenhout. Can Davey take Florence on a date when she already belongs to Jake, even though she’s had precisely no say in the matter? Then, is Jake allowed to ask Florence on a date when Davey was having a turn with her?

They’re the types of questions we can’t imagine anyone asking about a man, because men generally aren’t playthings. They’re the ones who do the playing.

Likewise, the tabloid gossip coming out in the wake of the most recent season of Married at First Sight is unarguably gendered. Sarah was too clingy and scared Telv away. Ashley’s getting ‘revenge’ on Troy by dating Justin. And Tracey is ‘abandoning’ her daughter to pursue her relationship with Sean.

Clare and Jessie Stephens discuss the moment Tracey decided to leave Dean. Post continues after audio.

Speaking to New Idea this week, 35-year-old Tracey Jewel announced she was moving from Perth to Melbourne with 34-year-old Sean Thomsen, and her eight-year-old daughter won’t be moving with her.

“We are moving to Melbourne!” she told the publication.

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“When we move there, I want to focus on my writing and Sean’s almost qualified as a personal trainer. I’ll travel to Perth regularly to see my daughter and she’ll come here on school holidays.”

The reaction online was swift and brutal. On Monday morning, Tracey shared a photo to Instagram, presumably in an attempt to quash the outrage.

Alongside an image of three magazines, one of which featured the headline, ‘I’m leaving my daughter to live with Sean,’ Tracey wrote, “Monday Magday #coffeeneeded #mondayfunday #dontbelieveeverythingyouread”.

She was likely making fun of the juxtaposition between the story about her moving to Melbourne with Sean, and OK! Magazine‘s headline that their relationship was already over, as well as reminding her followers that truth is inevitably elusive in the world of tabloid gossip.

But commenters immediately weighed in. “What kind of woman would leave her daughter behind for other’s to raise to shack up with her new boyfriend?” wrote one woman. “Not much of a mother!”

“The poor little girl is all I can say,” wrote another one of Tracey’s followers. “How on earth can you leave your child!! Shows what sort of person you are!! Little children need there [sic] mum. Very very selfish is all I can say!”

While Tracey responded to some comments, reiterating the sentiment that magazines are renowned for their inconsistent stories, her lack of a black-and-white denial further exacerbated the outrage. Impassioned opinions were published by news organisations, and critical commentary thrived on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

When Mamamia reached out for comment, Tracey said, “In regards to Melbourne I can’t comment… however this is isn’t the whole story.”

“The reason I can’t comment is I have family orders in place.”

Putting aside the fact that none of us actually know the true circumstances around Tracey’s relationship with her daughter, there’s another significant problem here: the blatant double standard between our attitudes towards Tracey and men in comparable scenarios.

Married at First Sight‘s Telv has two children from a previous marriage, and when he shared the news of his move to Melbourne, the rhetoric was markedly different. He wasn’t inundated with judgements about being a bad father or selfish, and no one wrote an opinion piece labelling his decision to leave them as a “genuine concern”.

In fact, audiences were far more critical of Sarah, for not considering Telv’s children when she asked him to move to Melbourne with her. As though it’s always a woman’s responsibility to think of the children, even when they’re not hers.

Similarly, Justin from the same reality show shares two kids with his previous partner, and hasn’t been labelled a bad parent for his extensive travel, reportedly spending half the year in Europe and Dubai.

In a piece for Marie ClaireAlexandra Carlton wrote that Tracey’s daughter needs “the adults around her to be adults”.

“That little girl still needs to have a sense that her mother is nearby and there whenever she needs her,” Carlton wrote.

Married At First Sight's Sarah
Telv has two children in Perth, and recently moved to Melbourne. Image via Instagram.

"Unless there are exceptional circumstances, a child not only needs regular contact with both parents, but they also need to feel that their parent is prioritising that contact above anything else.

"Without it, the child at a risk of suffering from the effects of abandonment: low self-esteem, control issues and difficulty in forming relationships into adulthood."

As a 35-year-old with an eight-year-old daughter, why is it so difficult for us to imagine that Tracey's former partner might be the primary caregiver? Why do we immediately make significant judgements about a woman's character when their arrangement with their children isn't what we expect, while not holding men to the same standard? Why is a woman's decision to put herself first an ultimate act of selfishness, while the same decision in a man is entirely normal?

These seemingly trivial double standards are a major barrier if we genuinely want to work towards challenging gender roles and expectations. Don't we want men to play a bigger role in the family unit, and take more responsibility for children? Isn't that a necessary shift if we want women to have equal opportunity in the workforce? Don't we need to adopt a more flexible perspective when it comes to men, women and care giving?

There isn't a barrage of criticism falling on Telv's shoulders for moving to Melbourne and leaving his kids in Perth. There aren't pitchforks aimed at Justin for spending six months of the year away from his children.

So is the mass outrage towards Tracey really about her daughter's wellbeing? Or about what we expect, and ultimately demand, of women?

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