Love Is Blind’s “Shake” as a Microcosm of Brown Men in the Diasporic Dating Scene

Feminist analysis of Love is Blind’s Shake

Netflix’s Love Is Blind is a blind-speed dating reality program in which singles meet only after they get engaged. Here viewers are introduced two South Asians in a romantic dynamic. 

This is a welcome surprise because this is a context in which we rarely see ourselves represented.

Stillshots of participants Deepti and Shake in individual interviews.
photo credit: netflix

Unfortunately, the relationship is riddled with toxicity that many brown women are all too familiar with. 

So why are men like Shake so easy to find but hard to tolerate? Why is it so common for brown men to display habits typical of bad partners? And why do brown women condone this behavior?

In short, how and why do oppressive social constructs infiltrate the South Asian diasporic dating scene?

In witnessing the disaster that is Love Is Blind, the general consensus seems to unanimously crown Shake as the show’s villain. And I don’t disagree with this verdict.

Still I feel urged to explore the bigger picture regarding the ways in which his behavior–while unacceptable–isn’t rare. It’s a symptom of a larger problem. 

An Indian couple sitting on couch. Each person is showing body language that makes it clear that there's been a disagreement. One crosses their arms while the other grips their forehead.
Photo credit: Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

In this feminist analysis of Love Is Blind’s Shake, we will look at the systems in place which enable and reward their behaviour, making too many brown men the beneficiaries of oppressive systems and double standards at the expense of their female counterparts.

See also: Writer, actress Sujata Day on her new film and telling Bengali American stories.

More than just an individual problem

A large percentage of the show’s audience, predominantly white women, was appalled by his chauvinism and hypersexual comments.

Yet as a brown woman, it did not strike me as any surprise.

Rather, it was oddly validating to finally see the way we are so often treated in relationships represented on T.V.

Photo of Indian couple clasping both hands and touching foreheads taken from an low angle looking up.
Photo credit: rajat sarki on Unsplash

I can confidently say that any brown woman who dates brown men has met some variation of this man. 

These comments and attitudes are all too familiar for women in my community.

Unfortunately, for many, dating brown men means risking a run-in with a lovechild of covert white supremacy and patriarchy. Far too frequently, we must deal with a compound of internalized racism and misogyny in their own relationships. 

This is unfortunate because relationships are a dynamic that should be loving, not fraught with contention.

Therefore, to perform  a feminist analysis of Shake and what he represents, we must consider how patriarchy in brown communities is supplemented by other driving forces. 

See also: Gender Bias in lion dance and the weight of representation for queer lion dancers.

Calls for accountability

Unfortunately, the othering and putting down of brown women isn’t rare among brown men. 

As a symptom of the privilege they are bestowed in society, boys are valued over other genders. This leads families treat their boys like a prized possession or a window to success.

Consequently, generally speaking, brown boys are often highly indulged and praised in their home life.

These dynamics facilitate environments that make it difficult to learn self-awareness and accountability. 

Crowd of South Asian women protesting with the sigh that says, "Don't tell your daughter not to go out, tell your son to behave properly"
photo credit: CNN

The combination of boys praised for the bare minimum and girls held to impossible standards often results in the expectation that women should be content to baby their inadequate or toxic partners and victim-blamed if they dare complain. 

Can love really be blind? 

During the blind portion of the speed dates, Shake infamously finds ways to ask women whether or not they’re thin without posing the question verbatim. It’s clear to everyone that he is prioritizing a eurocentric body type. 

And while his attempts to subvert the program is his own prerogative, the things he conveys have far more sweeping implications. 

So although Shake may have been simply expressing his personal opinions on his notion of female beauty, identifying with this “preference” goes beyond the personal and into the political. 

In these statements he channels fatphobia, colourism, internalized racism, and misogyny. 

Photoshoot of women with all different types of body types.
photo credit: not so pink

On top of everything, he’s also always attempting to conceal the overtness of how oppressive his standards are. 

Whether or not Love is Blind, the politics of dating remains informed by oppressions based on our physical entities and how those are read by colonial society.

Even post rejection, Shake recites some incel narrative about how he’s glad she said no to him. He focuses on soothing the bruise on his ego, as if a woman’s act of self-care is an attack on him. Even here, the focus is on himself. 

In exploring a feminist analysis and critique of Love is Blind’s Shake, we must hold the same energy of accountability for men in our community. 

See also: Holding corporations accountable to diversity and inclusivity.

Euro-centric beauty standards  in the Indian Diaspora 

Multiple times throughout the show, Shake never misses an opportunity to complain about Deepti’s appearance.

He confides in another guy on the show that “[he’s] not physically attracted to her,” and that “it feels like [he’s] with [his] aunt,” erasing Deepti’s desirability behind her back. 

Illustration of all the shads of skin colour from light to dark, each with captions of commentary on how the skin tone is received in Indian society.
photo credit: Illustrations by Srishti Guptaroy for BRIGHT Magazine

Every brown woman I know who dates men has experienced weaponized comparison to white women. We are never fair enough, our hair not fine or blond enough, and bodies not thin enough. 

Never mind that some medical professionals also have explained this standard is harder to reach for women of colour whose bodies have developed metabolic disorders as a result of famines in colonial times. 

We all recall being told to stay out of the sun. If your skin is dark, you are less likely to marry into wealth or caste-privilege, and therefore have less social power — a prophetic cycle. 

And although the caste system has existed prior to British colonial rule, the caste-oppressed became associated with darker skin in conjunction with colonial involvement and indentured servitude. This only contributed further to their distancing from the power and privilege of whiteness.

Consequently, under centuries of colonial rule, proximity to whiteness has become a status symbol to many South Asians. 

Even narrower definitions of Beauty

A package of skin-lightening cream in a shop India. The name has since been changed to  "Glow and Lovely."
photo credit: npr

Evidence of this rings through every level of society. From the normalization of skin lightening cream to the prevalence of fairness in Bollywood. 

Even in the Indian dramas, perhaps the most realistic component of these soaps is the way dark skin South Asian women characters are limited to laborious identities. This is while every star — every humanized character — is “upper” caste with light skin. 

It’s no surprise that so many brown men’s beauty standards have been widely shaped by white supremacy.

In this instance, the expectation is on Deepti to be perfect. Or at least a type of perfect coded in qualities such as thin, proximate to whiteness, and hypersexual.

Ultimately this plays into an extremely narrow definition of beauty for brown women in diaspora.

Shake in the pods of Love is Blind, sitting on a sofa with his hands behind his head and hit feet up on a stool.
photo credit: Netflix

Applying this to the context of Shake’s obsession with wealth, we can see how his beauty standards parallel larger symptoms of covert white supremacy as they relate to misogynistic ideas of women as trophy wives. 

This is ironic because the show was supposed to showcase love as being “blind” not “extremely judgemental.”

Expanding the Choice to choose 

Ultimately, viewers rejoice in the season finale in which Deepti rejects Shake at the altar.

As we’ve seen through the feminist analysis of Love is Blind’s Shake, we suffer at the hands of a desirability politics that has fallen prey to capitalist infused white-supremacy and patriarchy.

We deserve to be shocked to witness such an oppressive partner. This shouldn’t be our norm. 

photo credit: love is blind twitter

And while I’m happy for her for “choosing [her]self,” I can’t help but wonder about the women who don’t have the opportunity to do so.

For some women in arranged marriages, there can often be no say in the matter. No way to say no. To choose ourselves.  

As fans of Deepti, we must empower women in similar situations so that following in her footsteps would be a supported and safe decision. 

This is possible through community support. One not only for women but also to support brown men in unlearning behaviours such as toxic masculinity.

This is a model that exists but we desperately need more of. 

If men practice calling in one another with reminders of the realities of their behaviours, combined with the efforts of brown women — whose cries for change have often fallen on unsympathetic ears — we can imagine a different dating scene for the diaspora. 

At the end of the day, so many of us Brown women shouldn’t be able to so easily relate villainous characters to our own dating history. 

Women of colour deserve the support of our communities. Not have our love lives infiltrated by systems that oppress us in every facet of our existence. 

See also: Mulan: A critical look at its portrayal of feminism and Chinese culture.

 

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