I'm Pretty Sure I'm A Bad Feminist For Watching "The Bachelor"

The show is exploitative. Degrading. Absurd. And I’m hooked.
Publish date:
February 7, 2013
feminism, TV, the bachelor, Reality Tv, rose ceremony

I know it’s awful, in theory and in –- well –- reality. A virtual harem of women, holed up in a mansion, desperately competing for the attention of one man. Such is the set-up of ABC’s very successful show, "The Bachelor," now entering its 17th season.

Women exiting limos present themselves in front of the Bachelor and have a chance to make a first impression, then have to compete for his time to even get past the first night. They all live in “the house” together. And through a series of so-called dates, including sketchy 2-1 dates, “group dates” and actual 1-on-1 dates (1-on-1 time is a hot commodity, you will hear it discussed, dissected, and fought over), cocktail parties and humiliating “rose ceremonies” these women are either kept or discarded. In the end, the Bachelor finds the love of his life and proposes.

Exploitative. Degrading. Absurd.

I’m hooked.

But why? The answer lies somewhere between sadism and voyeurism. Not sure what that says about me as a woman, or feminist or other designation. It’s creepy and bizarre. Not only can I not look away, I find myself giggling and eating popcorn through each show.

Perhaps sadomasochism and female submissiveness is simply in the zeitgeist now. That could explain why 50 Shades of Bad Writing is a bestseller. Perhaps that could also explain why I and a kajillion other women tune in every week to see who will be humiliated. Oops! I mean who will find love.

Last week, AshLee literally gave Sean the Bachelor a scarf and asked him to blindfold her, and this would “represent the opportunity to lead me, to lead us, and possibly our future together…and would signify what I’m allowing you to do in this relationship.”


When I was a young girl I used to watch The Miss America pageant. Then, when I grew up and realized all the things it represents -- the objectification of women, participation in a patriarchy that rewards women for their glorification of socio-normative beauty ideals, etc -- and quit watching.

"The Bachelor" is the new Miss America. Plus, you don’t have to sit through any bad talent shows with hyper-coached versions, alto-arranged “I Feel Pretty” to enjoy it.

I started watching "The Bachelor" in Season 1, years ago, but took a hiatus when it all started feeling a little too much like a bad-touch for me. But then, all my sisters were watching and obsessively chatting about it with my mom and I wanted in on the mom-time. So, I watched it. (OMG I just became “one of the women” who wants one-on-one time with my mom. My mom is my bachelor. Creepy. Let’s move on.)

Sure, as viewers, we like to think we’re in on the wink, that we all know it’s heavy-handed. That the show’s host Chris Harrison says things like, “the most dramatic rose ceremony EVER” every time. We know he's being dramatic when he reminds us again that if a women’s name is not called at the rose ceremony she must "immediately say her goodbyes, pack her bags, and be sent home brokenhearted.” Sounds like a super smart, healthy way to find lasting love AND self-esteem!

While the host is always sure to call the contestants the “women of the house,” the women more likely to refer to themselves as “the girls in the house,” which makes everyone think of sororities, which personally makes me think of throwing up. (Sorry, dear friends who are in sororities. It does).

“Ladies of the house” sounds Shakespearean and House of Ill Repute all at once, so let’s stick with “women of the house,” though even that shows shades of polygamy.

I was home watching one episode with a male friend, who said something like, “I don’t feel sorry for any of these chicks, they knew what they were getting into. They get what they deserve.” Hm. Rape culture much? I hear the same comments from women.

No. I can’t agree that they “know what they’re getting into.” Disclaimer -- once, when I was a young, naïve, broke student, I actually appeared on a short-lived show called "Blind Date." This deserves its own separate post, so I will not bore you with the details here.

The point is, I know firsthand you can actually be naïve and get kind of emotionally fucked up from bringing any part of your real self or relationships to television, even if only for one 22-minute episode in the 90s. It, it, it looks so sparkly and shiny from far away!

Regardless, the Bachelor is a Master class in Group Psychology. And Stockholm Syndrome. We could structure an entire college course around the social roles, social constructs, power relations and sexuality, patriarchy of the show.

We all have our guilty pleasures.

But I hadn’t really questioned my guilty pleasure for while. Not until this season, when it all seemed to be going too far. There seems to be an excessive amount of team competitions and activities/let’s-put-you-in-kind-of-unsafe-situations-and-get-really-good-insurance things to do. An unprecedented number of dates include physical “challenges.” Action-oriented dates are good for television, and convenient metaphors for interpersonal “triumphs” and “teamwork.”

Also, apparently there is some chemical in your brain that makes you fall in love with the person you almost die with, as evidenced by Season 14’s inexplicable romance between Jake and Verona or Vienna or whatever city the villainess of the season was named after.

This season's new lows include a competition in which "the women" must milk goats, complete with lots of close-up of teat-pumping and hot goat-milk ejections from said teats. The Magnus opus? Chugging the warm straight-from-the-goat milk with the spillover running down the sides of their glorious pretty faces.

You’d think this show was being marketed to men.

The second new low was a Derby Dolls style roller derby. By the time the nth girl had fallen, this one hitting her head and possibly breaking her jaw, Prince Charming canceled the competition and called for a free skate. Sighs of relief from girlish voices and network insurers alike. Especially cruel was the set-up with the very first one-armed bachelorette, Sarah, who was very weepy about the whole idea, but eventually skated anyway. We’re supposed to take this as some kind of good-for-you-for-facing-your-fears thing.

The third new low was the “Pretty Woman” date. Leslie’s evening date included shopping on Rodeo drive and wearing a diamond necklace. Leslie left us with this golden nugget sound bite of female empowerment, declaring, “Sean has taken control and made me feel more like a woman than I’ve ever felt before.”

But, the big one, the piéce de la resistance of Bachelor lows was the hypothermia test. You heard me. The women go out and in “group date” format, row canoes across Lake Louise in Canada.

Sean the Bachelor announces they are all going to join what is essentially the Polar Bear Club by putting on bikinis and jumping in, completely submersing themselves in order for it to “count.” You can see the dread/disgust/WTF in most of the women’s faces.

But, troopers that they are, they don their string bikinis and force themselves to jump in, EMTs at the ready. After, in the rush of what must be life-saving body hormones, Danielle says, “Sean better appreciate what I’m doing because he did not give me the one-on-one dates… this better prove to him that I can do fun things.” And after all, Sean has said repeatedly and specifically that he wants a wife who “likes to have fun and enjoy life.”

Also during this frozen melee was AshLee, her voice shaking, clearly freaking out (I would be, too, if I felt coerced into doing something my entire body was telling me not to do). Finally, like a good girl, she says, “I’ll do it. I may not like it. I may not want to…but I know I’m doing it for Sean."

In an especially chilling moment, Tierra, who the women and all of America now claim was “crying wolf” by faking hypothermia, looks up at the camera, mascara melting and spreading like a KISS band member, pouts with blue lips and cries in a dead-on, no-irony Betty Boop voice, “I missed time with him.”

It looks like something out of a Tumblr account titled Seanandhissubmissivepet-slut.tumblr

I could go on and on. The point is that the show constantly contributes to female stereotypes like “crocodile tears,” “the little girl who cried wolf,” and the damsel in distress. A key component in the drama of the show is the women’s helplessness. In my reality, these are concepts that make me cringe. But, every Monday night, there I am, remote control in hand, contributing to the madness.

But, you guys, it’s OK.

I’m doing it for Sean.