Apr 10th, 2018, 03:00 PM

Does Watching The Bachelor Make You a Bad Feminist?

By Amanda Clizbe
Image Credit: Pexels/ picjumbo
In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, reality show The Bachelor continues to gain viewers despite promoting damaging images of love, women and sexuality.

“This morning I woke up and thought about you,” said Arie Luyendyk Jr. to Becca Kufrin on this season's Bachelor finale. “I thought about our kids together; I thought about us when we’re old.” But a few minutes later in TV time (6 weeks later in real life), Arie was thinking about someone else – Bachelor runner up Lauren Burnham – and breaking up with Becca in an excruciating, unedited clip of her sobbing uncontrollably on live television.

This is, of course, absolutely absurd in terms of normal-people standards, but breaking off an engagement after simultaneously dating 25 women just to choose another one is perfectly normal in the Bachelor universe. Although the show has exhibited plenty of other cruel and questionable instances, this breakup was unusually harsh in that both ABC and Arie chose to blindside Becca, capturing footage that was used to capitalize on her humiliation. In 22 seasons of The Bachelor and 14 seasons of The Bachelorette, this has never happened before.

For those of you who are not familiar with the show, the premise is actually quite simple: a single man is presented with a big heap of women to date for the following weeks. Each week ends with a "rose ceremony," in which the women who get to continue on the show are handed a flower and those who do not receive one go home. By the end of the season, two women remain - one is proposed to and the other is sent packing, ugly-crying in the back of a limousine on her way out. The Bachelor is nowhere near the most feminist show on television. It, after all, showcases dozens of conventionally beautiful women who are putting their careers on hold to compete for a husband. The program has had major problems with racial underrepresentation, and the women are routinely objectified with date activities, such as modeling beachwear for Sports Illustrated and skiing in bikinis.

"Bachelor" Arie Luyendyk Jr. with contestants. Image credit: Craig Sjodin—ABC

The backlash of this particular season’s finale, however, is so fierce that the question now being raised is why people, specifically feminist women, are still watching. Does it strike anyone else slightly odd that the same women who march in the streets for equality are buying into new lows of manipulating women and reveling in their emotional torment? This season's Bachelor comes in the middle of the #TimesUp movement and the worldwide focus on sexual abuse and misconduct. Women of various backgrounds and industries have united in the name of #MeToo, and Hollywood especially has been vocal about igniting change in the conversation about gender equality. As far as TV shows go, The Bachelor is a feminist nightmare. But despite this, thousands of feminists are completely obsessed with it- breaking from their successful careers by day for spirited viewing parties and vigorous live tweeting by night. Among avid Bachelor fans include avowed feminists Amy Schumer, Emma Roberts, Anna Kendrick, Ellen DeGeneres and Jennifer Lawrence, to name a few.

"The Bachelor is something that we can sink our teeth into as engaged feminists, says Emma Gray, executive women's editor of the Huffington Post and co-host of the Bachelor/Bachelorette podcast Here To Make Friends in an interview with Vogue. "It taps into all of these really base and often regressive ideas our society has about how love and sex and courtship should look. That makes it really ripe territory to analyze from a sociological perspective." Jennifer Weiner, New York Times best-selling novelist who has been vocal about the disproportionate praise heaped on male authors in comparison to their female counterparts, shares similar sentiments in an email to Vogue.com. "It's a way to talk specifically about the way women are treated, and about the persistence of double standards and how the culture needs to change."

Image Credit: Paul Hebert/ABC

For Beatrice Alba of The Conversation, perhaps the problem lies in our idea of conventional heterosexual romance, and not the Bachelor franchise itself. "The pattern of male leadership and female passivity in heterosexual romance is woven into the formula on The Bachelor. He makes the first moves, while the women wait passively for attention, dates, and a rose. The core problem of male decision -making and power remains even when there aren't multiple women competing for him. Ordinary heterosexual dating is really just a rose ceremony for one."

But are all women watching the show watching to gain sociological perspective? Probably not. While some believe that reality television has societal repercussions, a lot of women don't associate the franchise with real-life issues. "Just as watching Game of Thrones does not make you a rapist, and watching the Walking Dead does not mean you're 'complicit' in the invasion of flesh-eating zombies, watching The Bachelor says very, very little about my politics," says Jessie Stephens in 'Mamma Mia Out Loud' podcast. "Women have been told their entire lives, in one way or another, that getting paired off with a man is the ultimate marker of successful femininity," says Stephanie Convery in The Guardian. "So should we really be surprised that women - including feminist women - might identify with The Bachelor or The Bachelorette? Or that they might find in both series' cartoonish characterization of love a fascinating exploration of a phenomenon that has dominated their lives, whether they wanted to or not?"

Becca Kufrin and Arie Luyendyk Jr. discuss their controversial breakup on ABC's "After The Final Rose" episode. Image Credit: Paul Hebert-ABC 

The particularly ugly nature of this season’s finale was all but confirmed in an Entertainment Tonight interview with ABC executive producer Robert Mills. “You can’t help but feel this thing came out great,” he said, referring to the 22-percent rating boost of the finale. Do women viewers really want to support a show that thinks so little of a woman that it openly gloats about her emotional turmoil? Can we, in good conscience, continue watching this show? Granted, The Bachelor has never claimed to produce meaningful or even thoughtful content, but shouldn't it’s mighty, vocal female viewership at least threaten to defect – at least attempt to force a little more humanity for its female participants?

Feminists may claim to hate-watch the franchise or to watch it ironically but inevitably, if you are investing that much time and energy into looking into any sort of cultural product, you’re buying into it to an extent. “After all, it is viewers, even in their supposed outrage and hate-watching, who fuel this machine,” as USA Today recapper Justin Kirkland wrote this week.

“As many of us hit social media to complain about how grotesque the process was, we were seemingly cosigning along with the franchise’s larger goal – gather viewers, create an audience, provide a base for the next season,” Kirkland wrote. “One side of The Bachelor’s equation depends on the men and women who believe in its process enough to take part in it, but on the other side is us. We cannot condemn the misery of contestants until we stop demanding it.” Dana Weiss, a prominent Bachelor franchise tweeter noted on Twitter, “if we really had principles, like we really gave a shit about other people, then we would stop our sanctimonious tweeting and stop watching this show. But we won’t. So, we’re all complicit in this dumpster fire. We act so horrified, but we’ll watch tonight.”