The Bachelorette drama usually takes a familiar shape: girl meets 30 boys, a handful of those boys turn on one their own, that unlucky boy is accused of harboring “the wrong reasons,” and rumors circulate until someone involved in the kerfuffle is sent home during a fraught two-on-one date. Sometimes folks are sent into the wilderness (ask JoJo Fletcher) and other times a simple resort couch is all that’s necessary (at least in a pandemic).
The men of Katie Thurston’s Bachelorette season 17 turn the traditional conflict formula on its head. As many joked on Twitter, these contestants unionized. Last week, their efforts successfully booted bumbling would-be manipulator Karl Smith. With Monday night's “Week 4,” the suitors chase out Thomas Jacobs, the cast’s latest enemy of the Bachelorette state. Katie’s bait-and-switch rejection of Thomas — wherein she tricks Thomas into believing he’s about to get a rose, only to call him an “unkind” liar and show him the door — is stellar for-the-books reality television.
Yet, the road to Thomas’ memorable exit isn’t exactly empowering. Instead, The Bachelorette’s narrative about defeating Thomas is dripping with subtle, stomach-churning misogyny.
One theme continues to come up over “Week 4:” “Protect.” Multiple people use it over the course of the episode. “Protect” is the kind of word that brings to mind damsels in distress or endangered land — both of which are often in need of defense. Katie, a 30-year-old woman who was so good at being on The Bachelor that she snagged the Bachelorette gig after a mid-season elimination, is no imperiled princess. She’s a savvy person who clashed with Victoria Larson less than a year ago and easily got the upper hand.
Still, the men enter “Week 4” determined to “protect” Katie from Thomas. In “Week 3,” Thomas admitted the possibility of becoming the next Bachelor had crossed his mind before meeting Katie (this is, honestly, very normal). “You need to protect the people you care about,” Christian Smith says when the plot of tattling on Thomas is brought up during a group date cocktail party. “As much as every single guy here is competing for your heart and for your love, I think a lot of guys are putting that aside and coming together as a group to protect you as well,” Brendan Scanzano later explains to Katie.
“We stand together against Thomas, as a house … We have to protect her. That’s the biggest thing,” Brendan continues in a confessional.
The cast's macho speak ignores what Katie really requires as a capable woman going through a confusing situation, which is support. Katie doesn’t need to be shielded from the “manipulations” of Thomas — she deserves a partner who will be there with her, step by step, to think through the difficulties of The Bachelorette and beyond. She deserves someone who trusts her judgment. Unfortunately, even when contestants aren’t using the word “protect,” they’re still prescribing actions for Katie rather than waiting to hear what she actually wants to do. It’s this kind of behavior, en masse, that suggests many of the men don’t actually believe in Katie’s agency as a Bachelorette and prospective partner. They seem to think their opinion is what matters most in her decision making.
“I don’t think [Thomas] deserves to still be here for Katie,” Justin Glaze tells Quartney Mixon during a hangout session in the Bachelorette house (aka a New Mexico Hyatt hotel). “Absolutely not,” Quartney agrees. Later, Quartney says in a confessional, “I don’t know how [Thomas] comes back from this. I just don’t. It wouldn’t sit well with me,” and “I’m not sure what Katie’s thinking. But, if Thomas got that rose — I would be livid.” In a separate confessional, Aaron Clancy admits he believes Thomas can “manipulate Katie.”
This undertone of paternalistic thought has been lurking in The Bachelorette since last week, when the men made history and banded together to ouster Karl. “It’s a guy’s job to protect [Katie’s] heart,” Mike Planeta says in a confessional. He then doubled down on that sentiment, telling Katie during the rose ceremony, “We feel, as a unit, it’s our job to protect your heart. And we’ve come together in solidarity that we think that, unfortunately, what Karl said wasn’t the truth.” Although Katie planned to keep Karl — possibly due to production’s need for a clear-cut villain — she reversed that decision in response to the men’s proclamation. These twists and turns were exciting television; they were also our first glimpse of Katie sublimating her own decisions in the face of her contestants’ preferences. The show seems to have no issue with this development.
At least two men in the Bachelorette bunch do not seem as entitled to shaping Katie’s perspective as the rest of their co-stars. Early breakout Andrew Spencer spends “Week 4” pushing back against the cast’s Thomas coup. “I get everyone wants to ‘protect’ her, but it’s a cop out. It’s insecure,” he says, directly criticizing the episode’s overarching theme. Andrew also believes in Katie enough to say she’ll “figure out” the Thomas mess herself and he “trusts” her. Similarly, fan-favorite Michael Allio asks the men to “make sure to remember that we all care about Katie” and is one of the only people on camera to actually ask her how she is doing amid the Thomas chaos. It’s sweet.
“Katie doesn’t have to worry about going home, but she does have to worry about picking the right person that she’ll spend the rest of her life with. All the guys adding all this additional stress onto her just doesn’t seem fair to me,” Michael summarizes. If more men spoke this empathetically, Thomas wouldn’t have even been a threat in the first place.