As an intersectional feminist who spends her time regularly bashing the media for its unhealthy portrayals of women, you might be surprised to learn that over the past 10 years, my favorite shows of all time have aired on ABC on Monday nights, enjoyed with a chilled bottle of rose. That show, my friends, is THE BACHELOR. And THE BACHELORETTE. And BACHELOR IN PARADISE. And BACHELOR WINTER GAMES. Yes, it’s a little pathetic that I have a portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in my bedroom and my shelves are lined with books by Angela Davis, yet I have been ride or die for this patriarchal, problematic “reality” shitshow franchise through a recession, three presidential elections, my own high school and college graduations, and beyond.
17-year-old unabashed BACHELOR fanatic Lauren, who believed in a thing called love
In order to understand why I even watched THE BACHELOR in the first place, we have to go back in time to 2008. I was an awkward, hopelessly romantic 17-year-old with bad fashion and even worse taste in pop culture. When I turned on my TV and was introduced to a striking British financier by the name of Matt Grant, of course I was immediately smitten. While dashing and dreamy to my hormonal teenage self, he was only an accessory to the extreme fantasy surrounding him: this giant mansion with a killer pool, the exotic dates around the world, jumping off a boat into turquoise oceans and slow-dancing on rooftops while fireworks went off. I was here for the romance of it all. (This was, of course, back in the good old days when the man you were winning the affection of was an Italian prince, or an heir to a fortune, and maybe just maybe he’d pick someone like YOU, a mere mortal from the middle of Arkansas. Nowadays, I find it ridiculous when these same women fall all over themselves to impress a nerdy software salesman from Wisconsin who wears ugly, chunky turtlenecks… but I digress.)
As I grew older, I cared less about the romantic relationship aspects of the show. I knew they’d inevitably all meet their end. However, I became more invested in the contestants themselves. For an uninitiated BACHELOR-viewer, most of the women on the show seem like blonde bimbos (usually also named Lauren) who look good in a sequined gowns, with nothing else of substance to offer. There have been times where this is the case, but more often than not, these women are not only immaculate looking—they are the total package. There have been nurses that spend their days saving lives, opera singers, lawyers, and small-business owners. Most of these women are smart, driven, and successful in their own right, and they have deep and meaningful insights on the topics of life, love, family, relationships and overcoming obstacles. Any man would be blessed to spend their lives with any of these incredible women—Italian Princes and frumpy software salesmen alike.
“But why would all these women from such successful backgrounds want to go on a desperate show like this one?” you might think. I mean… they get free trips around the world and the chance to make out with a ridiculously good-looking person, and the ability to get famous just for doing that. It’s a preeeeetty sweet deal, if you ask me.
Wow a sky full of fireworks! What a surprise! Nobody in Bachelor history has EVER had a date like this!
People rarely talk about the secret, feminist heart of this series: the female friendships gained from this intense pressure cooker of a situation. Yeah, it’s 30 women competing over one mostly mediocre white man, and audiences want that kind of environment to breed drama and cattiness and girl fights. But for the most part, if you pay attention to the women after the show is done airing, they’re all friends with each other! They go on vacations together, have late night Facetime calls, babysit each others’ kids. Contrary to the cliched statement that “I’m not here to make friends,” a lot of these women clearly go on the show to make friends for life. The truth is, many of these friendships will be more long-lasting than the potential relationships with men they’ve maybe only spoken to a handful of times in a matter of weeks.
And why wouldn’t these powerful relationships form? Most of these women are trapped with each other in a room, cut off from the outside world, and manipulated day-to-day by producers who make them sit around bored in a house without entertainment. They HAVE to get to know each other, because it’s their only way to survive going absolutely insane. You watch these women develop a sisterhood within a single night of shooting—because how else could they possibly cope with the unreasonable expectations of this hyper-romantic scenario without the help of 25 other women that are in the exact same boat? In a way, I found it weirdly empowering to see that all these beautiful women, who were at one point there for one man, found love and kindred spirits with each other.
Introducing the cast of “Sisterwives”
In the past few years, I’ve seen an unfortunate shift. See, when I started this unabashed love of all things BACHELOR, there was no Instagram. Hell, there was barely a Facebook. And there was no such thing as an “influencer.” Now, ALL the contestants from THE BACHELOR are influencers—whether they came to the show that way or not. Every time I open up my app, I see them hanging on a yacht in Mexico together, “candidly laughing” in a bikini, while hocking the benefits of detox tea at me in the caption or telling me to “swipe up” to learn how to get their skincare routine. This is a far cry from the empowering sisterhood I fell in love with.
In addition to my full-time job as a feminist, I also have a full-time job as a marketer. I understand the appeal and allure of going on a show like this and coming out as an automatic influencer—and hell, I’m not saying I wouldn’t do the same if I were in their shoes. But the truth is that when people leave the show, when the cameras are off, these women are altered forever. With the rise of social media, these women will never truly ever be “off.” They’ve become sentient billboard ads for teeth whitening and waist trainers—and in a society that constantly is trying to sell women things to make them look and feel “beautiful”… how do I justify this show to myself anymore? It seems that if I’m really going to be along for the journey with these characters, I’m also signing up to be advertised to by them at every turn. I watched THE BACHELOR because I wanted an escape from reality by ironically tuning into “reality” TV. But the lines between reality and fantasy in my virtual world are blurred now.
This workout box looks great with your dead cow wall hangings!
I didn’t watch this last season of THE BACHELOR—I couldn’t have cared less about Colton. But I saw clips on YouTube of girls screaming at each other, and weirdly treating the process as if it were some sort of weird Olympic sport, and I thought—yeah, I’m out. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to be sold the fantasy anymore—and I especially don’t want to be sold the reality.
Apparently Hannah B. is the next Bachelorette. I don’t know who she is as a person, but I see her sponsored ads in my Instagram feed from time to time. And I think that’s all I need to know.
Long gone are my days of haphazardly articulating my thoughts on why the BACHELOR franchise is even a little bit feminist. I’m getting too old for this stuff. Maybe I’ll just stick to reading one of my dusty Angela Davis books from the shelf.