I’ve been a pretty committed fan of the ABC reality television show The Bachelor (a.k.a. the show for which I have the most-conflicted feelings) since the first season in 2002. I was 10. Part of me loves the romantic fairy tale vibe (What?! I’m a human being! Why wouldn’t I want a Prince Charming?) and part of me gets sick about the entire concept. Hence, my conundrum with those who tote the show's female-centric spin off (The Bachelorette) as "empowering."
But doubts aside, this past Monday, I watched the 10th season premiere and "met" Andi Dorfman, the latest Bachelorette. Dorfman, 26, is a likeable, very appealing choice for a heroine. She’s smart, educated, driven (she’s an assistant district attorney), pretty, and seems to be taking the quest for love very seriously. All things I love in a female. And now she's supposed to fall in love and get engaged on national television. Because a good marriage is still the social end goal for all of us, right ABC? (Nudge nudge wink wink.)
But still, I was jazzed about Dorfman playing the star. Especially considering that over the years, ABC has chosen some pretty dumb prospects to represent the “every woman” that we’re all supposed to root for on The Bachelorette. There remains a certain gap between television's idea of "every woman" and, erm, every woman I know.
Oh, Desiree :/
Yet I have to check my reaction again. We, as viewers, can sit on our couches and judge these contestants for their choices, for what they wear, for what they say, or how they behave -- without any backlash or consequence for that judgment. In fact, ABC practically begs us to judge them! Even when the women pictured are so-deemed "strong" and "independent," I'm still programmed to size them up in contrast to impossible feminine ideals. So, not so empowering.
The show itself is already structured to reinforce the gender binaries – cis-female and male, heteronormativity, female submissiveness and beauty myths and male dominance and masculinity...you get the idea. I sometimes think I'd be able to fully enjoy the show if it took diversity seriously – meaning diversity in races, genders, sexualities, financial backgrounds etc. (It’s time, ABC. Keep up with America.) Perhaps...
Okay, okay. So the arguments in favor of the show-being-empowering are weak for a reason: everything in my personality says I should be vastly against the gestures at feminine independence found in The Bachelorette. So why am I still glued to the TV on Monday nights? How can I seriously call myself a feminist and watch this show?
I hate the term “guilty pleasures,” because it implies an inflexible understanding of a person. We all contain contradictions and vices, and assigning guilt about liking this or that only reinforces a basis by which to judge other people (highbrow vs. lowbrow...you get the idea). And just as we shouldn't be sheepish about what we really like, perhaps we shouldn't police feminism so harshly. We shouldn’t allow a conversation about television show to become a semantic dance that determines if “you’re either this kind of feminist or you’re not.”
Sometimes I need to tell myself to take a break. Deep down, I'd like to consider myself a feminist superhero. I try to unpack every gender binary that comes my way and critic women’s media and the whole wide world around me. But perhaps there's nothing wrong with having something in my life that conflicts with this larger context.
As long as you know what you believe and what you stand for, I say you can sit and watch The Bachelorette (and hope Andi does indeed find love!) while still calling yourself a feminist.
And here's my final, personal defense of The Bachelor(ette): I think I like it because I want to believe that true love exists, and that we can all find love in this crazy, mixed-up world... in a fantasy-based setting, while 25 men compete for our attention (that’s not exactly my fantasy, the idea of that gives me personally major anxiety, but to each their own). In the bottom of our cold, black hearts, maybe we want other people to be happy – and part of being happy (for some people, anyways) may be to find love.
Just ask Bachelorette success story Trista and Ryan from its first season!
Feminism to me is following whatever makes you happy – whether it means banning “bossy” or “bitch” from your vocab, or binge-watching The Bachelorette or fighting superhero battles versus the evil Patriarchy, do what makes you happy.
Also, if you’re into it, check out this “Bachelorette” drinking game.