(Warning: Mild “The Bachelor” spoilers lie ahead)
Hi, my name is Ally and I’m a feminist who loves “The Bachelor.” Please send help!
Let me put this out there before you think I’m a snob. I love reality television. In fact, I work in reality TV. I will watch models walking the runway, cooking competitions with child prodigies or Michelin-starred chefs, or whatever other warped wall shenanigans you want to throw at me. And I’ve dabbled in “RHONY,” “Teen Mom,” and “90 Day Fiancé.” My entire maternity leave was spent begging my infant to sleep and watching “Say Yes to the Dress.”
I recently (it only took me 20 seasons!) discovered the unfettered joy that is “The Bachelor” franchise and its spinoffs. This is guilty-pleasure television by very definition. I spent the summer glued to my devices inhaling episodes of “The Bachelorette,” and coveting JoJo’s perfect hair.
The Bachelorette was my entry point into The Rose-lifestyle. (Side note: The Bachelorette also gave me The Chad, and for that, I am forever grateful. If you’re unfamiliar, The Chad is an all-protein-consuming, hard-drinking, alpha-male sociopath who competed on “The Bachelorette,” and later made a brief cringe-worthy splash on “Bachelor in Paradise.”)
I’m married and I don’t plan on dating anyone ever again . . . knock on wood, pray to the “Marriage Gods” aka Barack and Michelle, etc. But I got sucked into “The Bachelorette’s” Forever Love, Fantasy Suites, and contestants who are there for The Right Reasons. “Bachelor in Paradise” was a fun diversion that really only served to introduce me to “Nice Guy” Nick Vial.
I’m now finally watching the O.G. of all the shows, “The Bachelor,” starring the aforementioned Nick.
I’m simultaneously drawn in and repulsed by the series. I guess that’s the definition of hate watching. It hurts my heart to see these women compete for Nick Vial (pronounced “vile”, rhymes with “bile”). In episode two, one of the group dates involved taking wedding photos with Nick. Each woman was given a bride (or in some unlucky cases, bridesmaid) character to embody, from the Princess-y Bride to Shotgun Wedding to Beach Bride. The idea was to “have fun,” but it also gave Nick a chance to see his potential True Love in a wedding dress. Or in some cases, wedding bikini.
Just the idea of a wedding-themed date makes me cringe. Clearly, the purpose was to bring out the worst Bridezilla in some of these women. One contestant, a mental health counselor with a master’s degree, dressed in a full princess bride dress and gives us a peek into her intense crazy eyes. The purported villain, Corinne, who at every turn attempts to “steal Nick away” from the other contestants, shows just how much she equates winning and self-worth to her body and her physical connection with Nick. She is given a Beach Bride ensemble, and grows resentful that another competitor’s wardrobe is sexier than hers. Her reaction is to toss off her own bikini top and ask Nick to “Janet Jackson her” during their weird group-date photo shoot. She’s later rewarded by Nick with a first-impression rose, simultaneously giving her, the other girls in the competition, and all of the women in America a terrible message about what your potential partner should value.
My feminist bones rattle as I wish these contestants put this much effort into their careers, instead of trying to outmaneuver each other for a dude. The slut shaming of villain Corinne, (who has a nanny . . . as an adult), simultaneously amuses me in the way of all great trashy TV, but also shoots red flags aplenty. She’s clearly immature, and in fact, may not be an age-appropriate partner for this 36-year-old man.
By episode two, the women are already beginning to question Nick’s motivations. This brings to mind a moment from season one of the brilliant scripted series “UnReal” (itself a meta examination of “The Bachelor”), where one of the top competitors discovers the “suitor’s” true nature and turns the tables on him. While Nick may have sent a woman home for not having The Right Reasons, the other contestants are starting to question his true motivations for doing the show. Is he just there to sleep with as many women as possible, or does he genuinely believe he’ll find a soul mate? Or at least someone to star on a Freeform spinoff with?
While I’m busy questioning Nick’s motivations and subsequent repercussions, I’m also questioning what the repercussions for my viewership should be, if any. Does consuming “The Bachelor” mean that I’m required to turn in my Feminist Card . . . or is it possible to watch something without approving of it? Am I co-signing this outdated narrative about women, relationships, and love by dedicating my Monday nights to the show? And by the way, I can’t let myself off the hook for making hugely uninformed opinions about these women based on how they’ve been portrayed by producers. Perhaps it’s unfair to assume they aren’t putting that much effort into their careers. After all, there’s a civil defense lawyer, a neonatal nurse, and a teacher who speaks three languages amongst the cast. There’s also a dolphin-enthusiast dressed like a shark. Just saying.
It’s not solely “The Bachelor” and its many iterations that rankle my feminist hackles. I’m a ride or die fan of “ANTM.” I even watched that “British vs. USA” cycle (I may be the only one). I can’t pretend that a modeling competition doesn’t get my Spidey-Lean In senses going . . . but I love the damn show. (Full disclosure: I worked on an early cycle. But I would watch regardless!) You can bet your ass I was excited to see it brought back to life by Vh1. And I’m well aware that “Say Yes to the Dress” continues to put forth the female-focused narrative of a “Happily Ever After” once you say your marriage vows, but you can pry that series out of my cold, dead fit-and-flare-loving hands.
Examining reality shows and their deeper societal meaning is not new. The New York Times recently published an in-depth piece on Andy Cohen, the “Real Housewives” mastermind, and in describing his juggernaut reality franchise, they said, “It is love-watched, it is hate-watched, it is background-watched, it is pored over by at least one very funny podcast (“Bitch Sesh”), it is debated by feminists, it is singled out for a particular kind of cultural degradation that has seeped into our national conversation . . .” Maybe I won’t personally be able to make a sweeping societal assessment around my love of “The Bachelor,” but I’d like to at least make some assertions about what it all means for me.
Some women find “Law & Order: SVU” comfort-food television. It seems counter-intuitive, but a cursory search on Google brings up countless think-pieces on the topic. Is the same true for “The Bachelor,” SYTTD, ANTM, etc. and feminists? Maybe there is a vicarious experience (much like justice being served on SVU), in watching this play out and imagining my own handling if in a competitor’s situation. This could also be the respite I need from the waking nightmare that is our country’s current political situation.
Reconciling my frustrations, whether it’s with mansplaining, misogynist dog whistles, or impostor syndrome (especially as I try to teach my daughter about these concepts), with my “Bachelor”-fandom (and other questionable series), is confusing and difficult to wrap my head around. Especially when it’s a show I don’t even want my four-year-old to overhear, much less watch when she’s older.
But part of being a modern feminist is the belief that we have options. We have the option of competing for a man on a reality show, or for having them compete over us. We have the option of watching this dating ritual, or abstaining altogether. We have the option of forbidding our daughters from viewing the Rose Ceremony, or letting them watch and squeal with us as so-and-so gets picked.
Part of being a modern feminist is knowing that it is not all or nothing. I can be a stay-at-home mom or a lawyer. Or, throughout my life, perhaps I’ll do both. One decision does not cancel out all the other choices.
As I look at my daughter decked out in a princess tutu and Darth Vader mask, I remind myself that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to what I enjoy. As one fellow feminist mom wisely told me, “You do you.”
And why would I unnecessarily deprive myself of Dolphin Girl?