Ok bear with me on this one…
Since it began in the U.S in 2002, and in Australia in 2013, The Bachelor has come to represent almost everything I am morally opposed to. But despite its less than two dimensional portrayals of women, I am an avid, avid fan. Once, I was so upset about who the Bachelorette chose (Georgia Love, I’m looking at you) that I couldn’t stop crying and could barely get myself together to go to a Halloween party that night.
Throughout my emotional attachment to this reality TV show, I’ve struggled to admit my shameful love to others, especially to other feminists. But what I’ve come to realise is that feminism and The Bachelor are not mutually exclusive.
For the uninitiated, the premise behind The Bachelor is simple.
Each episode, an eligible Bachelor (or very occasionally, a Bachelorette) spends time with an array of single contestants looking for love on national television. There are challenges, one-on-one dates, producer-organised cat fights, cliff hangers and dramatic reveals, all culminating in a rose ceremony where the Bachelor/Bachelorette gives a single long stemmed rose to their chosen love interest/s. Those left standing empty handed are marched off the set, and so it goes until there is just one contestant and the Bachelor left.
Cue wedding bells.
Yes. It is a terrible show. And I love it.
But rest assured, no matter how much I love this show, I can never completely ignore how problematic The Bachelor is. Its portrayal of marriage as the end game, especially for women, never fails to make me shudder. Case in point: in 2016, during the third season of the Australian edition of The Bachelor (back when ‘Cool Bananas’ Richie was the Bachelor) female contestants had to spend the day with creepy robot babies attached to their bodies, so that the Bachelor could see who was ‘the most nurturing’.
The fact that the contestants are almost always straight and cisgender is difficult to miss and equally problematic. In the rare instances that a female contestant has identified as anything other than 100% straight, her sexuality has been used as a deal breaker for the Bachelor or like some shocking secret she’s scared to reveal. So far, nothing like this has ever happened with a male contestant.
The show is also incredibly white-washed with approximately 95% of contestants looking the same (this is not a scientific statistic, just an observation). In 2017, the U.S had their first African-American Bachelorette. Rachel Lindsay was (and still is) a strong, smart and funny lawyer (although I’m not actually sure if she still practices law? I think she mostly does Instagram campaigns). Impartially, she was the perfect choice to lead the franchise.
Despite Rachel’s greatness, the first 5 episodes recorded a 1 million viewer drop from previous seasons. Even the show’s creator, Mike Fleiss – who I generally disagree with on principle due to his dude-bro-frat vibes and determination to keep putting gross, abusive men on the show – even he thought this was problematic. He said to the New York Times,“I found it incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way… How else are you going to explain the fact that she’s down in the ratings, when — Black or white — [Rachel] was an unbelievable Bachelorette”.
What happened to Rachel really tests my ability to watch or even support a franchise which is progressing so slowly compared to the rest of society. But even so, I’ve been committed since its first Australian season. I have now expanded my repertoire to include the 3+ American iterations (The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise – and this year, Bachelor Winter Games). This means that, scarily, at certain points of the year I can be watching up to 4 episodes a week. In the past few years, I’ve been wrestling with whether being invested in this show makes me a bad feminist, or a bad liberal in general. But the thing I’ve come to realise is that nobody else gets to make that decision for me.
I love watching the relationships grow, even when they don’t last, and I love getting immersed in the lives of all these new people. I love cheering loudly when women decide to dump the gross male contestants and feeling those warm fuzzies when the women realise that the best thing they got out of the show was a new, wonderful friend.
Strange as it sounds, this incredibly backwards franchise has introduced me to a huge community of incredible, progressive, strong, smart women. This has happened in real life – with The Bachelor watch parties and long debates – and also online. Claire Fallon and Emma Gray’s podcast Here to Make Friends is a perfect example.
Each week Claire and Emma discuss and dissect the American Bachelor, ending each podcast episode with a rating of ‘feminist fails’. Then there is ex-Bachelor contestant, Ashley Spivey. I found Ashley on an episode of Claire and Emma’s podcast and was drawn to their description of her as someone who’s Twitter timeline is equal parts Bachelor and politics (for a minute I actually thought they were describing me?).
Earlier this year, Ashley Spivey played a significant role in finding the records of a contestant who had been convicted of indecent assault before he went on the show (he was charged after it aired). Ashley also started an online book club, of which I am a very enthusiastic member. Women like Claire and Emma and Ashley make me feel like it is possible to love politics and feminism and also enjoy this show. It’s been incredibly liberating to find this group of people like me and to realise that it doesn’t have to be a case of either/or.
I am never going to defend The Bachelor as a franchise. So, when I say that this show has made me a better feminist, I’m not saying that the show itself has. Rather, watching it has made me more aware of my autonomy – my ability to choose what I love, what I complain about, what I yell about with my friends on a Wednesday night. The Bachelor has introduced me to a community of smart, funny women across the world. I’m continually grateful for the fact that I can watch it, enjoy it, and whilst vowing that I will never love someone just because they gave me a red rose.
Jess is a volunteer at the Victorian Women’s Trust, mainly focused on the communications side of things. She graduated from Monash University in 2018 with an Arts degree majoring in politics and journalism. Jess is passionate about political engagement and education especially when it comes to helping make more people aware of inequality. When she’s not doing that, she’s mostly reading romantic novels, watching romantic comedies or trying to find the best everything bagel with cream cheese.