On most Monday afternoons, I receive a blast of texts with food orders. “Usual for me!” “Tom Kha with tofu — spicy level 6, please!” “Cashew chicken. No spice. Literally not one single pepper.” Around 6:30 p.m., I call the orders in to a local Thai restaurant, and by 7:45 p.m., my apartment fills with anywhere from five to seven women and one very good-natured man, as we pass out chopsticks and predict whose fantasy team will suffer the most casualties in the coming hours. This is how we — and about 6 million other Americans — watch The Bachelor and its many spin-off shows.
But earlier this week, allegations of sexual misconduct abruptly cancelled the franchise’s upcoming installment of Bachelor in Paradise and sent the fans of Bachelor Nation into a tailspin — and me into a moral conundrum.
As someone who watched The Bachelor from its first season, when a pleasant, but rather bland man named Alex Michel pioneered the journey through the uncharted territory of Group Dates and Fantasy Suites, I always knew my relationship to the show was troublesome. The premise of the show is by definition degrading and misogynist — and even the female-centered spinoff, The Bachelorette, is not immune to dealing in gender stereotypes — and yet, The Bachelor is beloved by some of the smartest and formidable people I know.
In my viewing group alone, we have an award-winning journalist, a former Clinton staffer, a film producer, and a bevy of professional feminist women. I am also a member of a Facebook group of writers and comedians who love the show and consistently share pithy observations and painstakingly well-written recaps and podcasts. These women's personal pages are full of messages of resistance. We all joined the Women’s March. We’ve all fought against inequality in the workplace. We’re all horrified by the daily utterances of our elected Groper-in-Chief. And yet, when the clock strikes eight on Monday nights, we swallow our value system and allow ourselves to gawk and laugh at a parade of young women as they run in circles trying to please one usually not-very-deserving-man.
I always knew my relationship to the show was troublesome.
My husband, who saw me crumple up into myself on election night, doesn’t understand my penchant for a series that portrays women as disposable accessories. “It’s escapism,” I tell him. “I just want to turn off my brain for a little bit.” This year, especially, I was more excited than ever for The Bachelor to begin. The horror of 2016 had finally ended and we didn’t know what was ahead, except for a weekly dose of levity. There was so much to be angry about, but for some reason, this was the one place I could let it all go. (This year, even my beloved Tony Awards sparked rage when I noticed multiple female winners thanking their children for “letting” them work away from home, something that no man would ever be expected to say.)
Since the current season of The Bachelorette, starring attorney Rachel Lindsay, began airing a couple weeks ago, I’ve had a little hope that the show was actually improving in ways that wouldn’t leave my morals quite as compromised. After 33 combined seasons, ABC had finally chosen a Black bachelorette. And at 32 years old, she is also the oldest. (There is nothing like watching a 26-year-old woman telling America she’s worried she’s going to end up alone.) And Rachel came out of the gate on fire. She used her strong rhetorical skills to dismiss a suitor who appeared to have not broken up with his girlfriend before beginning the show. She cut the most annoying contestant in Bachelor history by the second rose ceremony instead of carrying him along for the sake of ratings. I felt like maybe my guilty pleasure was getting just a bit less guilty.
But then, the news coming out of Mexico earlier this week was at once shocking and completely inevitable. Details are still murky, and an investigation is underway, but the prevailing story is that a sexual encounter occurred in which the female contestant was too drunk to give consent. The show has never shied away from exploiting a drunk person for laughs. In the first episode of the current season, we watched as Mohit, utterly charming in his pre-taped package, stumbled around aimlessly once he was taken over by nerves and alcohol. Even more telling, last summer’s Bachelor in Paradise featured a drunken incident between contestants Lace Morris and Chad Johnson that went from kissing to shoving. Chad was removed by production the next day, but not before all the drama was captured on camera. With hindsight, it was all leading to the current situation. At some point, the other shoe had to drop.
The Bachelorette was pre-empted this week by the NBA Finals, so it has yet to air under its new cloud, but I already feel uneasy about it. The things I ignored in the past aren’t going to be as simple to push away. And that honestly feels apropos for the current state of affairs. As a white cisgender woman who grew up in an upper middle-class community, I’ve enjoyed a large amount of privilege in my life. Even though I’ve always been very politically aware (I gave a pro-Anita Hill speech to my fifth grade class. Not as an assignment. I volunteered it.), I could always turn it off when I needed a break and escape back into my safe bubble. But, ever since that bubble popped — rather, exploded — on November 8, it’s been nearly impossible to find respite. And that has made me a better citizen and a better neighbor to those who didn’t have an escape hatch in the first place.
But I did still have those two hours on Monday nights.
To be honest, I will likely finish out Rachel’s season. I like her a lot and the hopeless romantic in me hopes her engagement leads to true happiness. But I can’t use the same detachment that protected me in the past. My antennae are up, and I don’t know if they're ever coming back down.
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