Bachelor Nation and Feminism: How I can do both

*Disclaimer: I know there are many many reasons not to watch this show (especially Season 11 of the Bachelorette). You can (and should) read about those reasons all over the internet. But stick with me for a couple minutes because I think there is *some* value to glean from this charade so many people, myself included, have become obsessed with.

I need to make a confession. I am the commissioner of one Bachelor Fantasy League and I participate in a second one. I have been watching The Bachelor(ette) with my family growing up, and fantasy leagues allow this very competitive but not very skilled lady to be good at something inconsequential. And I love it. I love the fun points for dumb stuff, the legacy characters that Bachelor Nation produces (like fourth-time-is-a-charm-Nick), and the community that comes with betting your friends a solo-friend-date that your band of misfits will earn more points than theirs.

I make this confession because the feminist in me can sometimes feel very conflicted about what happens on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette.

Like any other show, The Bachelor makes characters out of their cast. They pick up on one tendency or trait of each person and design their screen time around a script they’ve all but written in order to create a show that has lasted 30+ seasons (not including Bachelor spin-offs like Bachelor in Paradise or Ben and Lauren: Happily Ever After?)

In the case of The Bachelorette, where 25+ men compete for the love of one woman, these traits are usually basically positive. They play up the strong, supportive bromances that develop. They lean into find the funny one. There's rarely an especially horny guy. While they love to play up traditionally manly careers (former athletes, firemen, military veterans), they also give the other guys room to express their intellect. They pick one villain and one or two meatheads, and the rest get to basically be nice guys.

This is not generally the case on The Bachelor, where a bunch of women compete for one guy. On that show, they script the worst stereotypes about women and basically showcase only them. They love to show women fighting with each other, playing to the idea that women can't have meaningful friendships when there's a man to win. They script the villain of course, but her role is always in the context of her thinking the other girls are too catty or emotional or dramatic. ABC loves the naked horny girl and will always play up her attempts to win a man with her body (while picking up the inevitable slut-shaming the other women do behind the first girl’s back).

Pausing to see if Bachelor Nation is playing back scenes of Chad, Grant, Olivia, or Courtney right now. Or basically any scene with Kaitlyn Bristow or Ashley I.

Most of the time, I find myself falling prey to the plots that have been scripted for these players. I hate the villain, slut-shame the naked one, emotion-shame the crying one, and blindly glorify the single mom or widow.

I practice feminism by fighting these urges. If a woman wants to use her boobies to score the affection of a guy (and score a fantasy league player 80 points), good on her for utilizing what she has to stand out. If someone isn’t there to make friends but “is there for the right reasons” (40 or 50 points depending on the audience), then good on her for knowing what she wants and not deviating from her goal.

So, here are my goals for Season 21 and beyond: I want to stop getting so annoyed at women for being women and having awesome bodies and crying and having a drink during a cocktail party. I want to embrace the women in my fantasy league and use shows like this one to bond with awesome people who can remind me of the nuance of relationships (while also sharing wine and salty and chocolaty snacks). I want us to remember that these contestants are real humans that sometimes have pain or mental illness that is hidden from us, and remember that there are real consequences for what we say about them.

Pausing to remember Gia Allemand, Julien Hug, and Lex McAllister.

Recognizing all people as equal can be hard in a society that portrays “feminine” traits as weakness and shames women who try to own “masculine” traits as their own. I think there’s a way to use the Bachelor as an opportunity to practice building women up instead of tearing them down.