"The Bachelorette" Is Starting To Look Too Much Like Real Life
I want to start this off by saying that I haven’t watched every season of The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise.
But I have spent $30 on a three-layer cake for a watch party I hosted for the finale of Andi Dorfman’s season of The Bachelorette (because if your only fiancé choice is between Nick V. and Josh M. you need that much cake).
So I think that gives me a certain amount of credit to say what I'm about to say: It's getting hard to enjoy The Bachelorette.
As a heterosexual, introverted Enneagram Type 5 who hasn’t been truly interested in 28 men in my entire life, watching The Bachelorette’s typical first episode–when the Bachelorette meets all her potential suitors–is as close to my own personal nightmare as I allow myself to get. The couch was a great place from which to judge the assortment of ABC-vetted bros picked out for this season's Bachelorette, Becca Kufrin.
I scanned the group of men as they arrived and stupidly bet five dollars in my Bachelorette bracket pool that David Ravitz would be the man with whom Becca would end up. David charmed Becca by exiting the limo pulling up to the Bachelorette Mansion in a chicken costume.
Just like real life, most of the men on The Bachelorette temporarily wow the woman they’re vying for with over-the-top “romantic” gestures–like David's chicken costume–only to later end up proving themselves to be immature bros. This season, there's the tedious side comedy of stuntman Leo Dottavio; the awkward sweetness of NFL player Clay Harbor; and several black guys who reasonably roll their eyes at white contestants arguing about how many Tinder matches they’ve had. Among so many men this season, The Bachelorette brings us one of the truest of truths: that straight men have the potential to be the most dramatic of all creatures.
Watchers of The Bachelor franchise, hosted by everyone’s both over- and under-involved Dad, Chris Harrison, know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. The Bachelor has aired for 22 seasons, and only one couple from the show are still together. Meanwhile, out of 13 seasons of The Bachelorette, just six couples are still together. Given these outcomes, one could argue that whether playing as a Bachelor or as a male contestant, most of the men aren’t really there "for the right reasons", to quote so many of the contestants in the show's history.
Even the most romantic viewers don’t watch this show for a real life love story. We watch for the dependability of fun drama and the reassurance of knowing that even if producers line up three limos full of people for you to date, it’s still hard out here to truly connect with someone safe.
This season, however, has been a little bit different, nudging me out of my fun, safe reality TV cocoon. The show is usually a great break from navigating one’s own existence, but this season of The Bachelorette has highlighted how not fun and not safe the show can be. Just like real life.
Episode two of this season, which aired June 4, included more than the usual immature hijinks between men on The Bachelorette. In it, we watch Connor (who is white) take a framed picture of Becca and Lincoln (who is black) off a coffee table and then throw it into a pool. He fails to understand why that move was aggressive. Lincoln gets appropriately upset–but then milks it a little bit too much to Becca.
After watching this dynamic, it hit me that there's something very sinister about men sitting around drinking and talking about the same woman. Yes, I know this is what the show is basically about. And, again, I’ve watched several seasons of this filmed, curated romance competition.
But this felt like a turning point.
No one confronts Connor about his action, though a few of the men said they thought Connor was inappropriate in their confessional tape. It’s obvious from this point on that Connor is a privileged jerk who probably has aggression issues. And at the end of last month, it’s reported that Lincoln was accused of sexual assault in 2016 and convicted last month.
Why are these men allowed to stay on a show that, boiled down, is supposedly about fun and finding safety? In 13 seasons of The Bachelorette, with 20 or so men in each season, there’s absolutely no way other men on the show haven’t groped or assaulted a woman or women. There are no statistics on the percentage of men who have raped women, but one in six women have been sexually assaulted and one third of sexual assaults go unreported, so we can safely assume there’s a good chance at least one of the 260-ish past and current contestants has assaulted a woman.
Placing Becca in an enclosed environment with someone who has previously groped a woman and several other men who clearly don’t have a great handle on aggression or sensitivity is disturbing.
Even as he’s guilty of assault, it’s telling that Lincoln, a black immigrant, is the first contestant to be convicted in the large pool of men who’ve competed in this series. Nationally, black men are more likely to be falsely convicted while white men (by far the largest demographic to make up the Bachelorette contestant pool) are the most likely to actually assault women. We can assume plenty of men on past seasons of the show have assaulted women, yet only one, a black man, has been convicted, a lot like it is outside the world of The Bachelorette.
While I was working on this piece, I was also binge-watching Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain's CNN travel show, in the wake of Bourdain's suicide on June 8. I’ve been consuming everything Anthony Bourdain made since his death last month as a form of mourning this man who left an impression on me even though I never knew him. His participation in supporting the #MeToo movement by calling out his own industry, taking ownership of his part in bolstering it, and calling out his male colleagues is the kind of action I rarely see. We certainly don’t see it happening on The Bachelorette. Male contestants aren’t holding men on the show accountable, and they certainly aren’t calling out the franchise that’s launched so many of their post-show careers.
On the first evening of each season, the bachelorette gives one contestant a First Impression rose to signal that they stood out from the rest of the men. So Becca, who seems to lean liberal, picks the wide-smiling Garrett Yrigoyen. What Becca doesn’t know at this point–because the news didn't break until after the show finished filming–is that Garrett had spent lots of time liking bigoted social media posts before appearing on The Bachelorette. Since contestants spend their time playing ridiculous competition games, making out, and chatting about how many times they’ve had their hearts broken, there’s no real time to find out who a man really is on the show. Liking horrible Instagram posts doesn’t make a man unsafe, but it gives you an idea of what his mind glosses over and labels as funny instead of serious. Again, it seems extra sinister this time around.
It’s even worse when you know the backstory to Becca’s place on this show. Becca is Bachelorette because she was a contestant on the previous season of The Bachelor. During that season, Bachelor Arie Luyendyk proposed to her, and then blindsided and dumped her–on camera!–because he actually wanted to be with the runner-up of his season, Lauren Burnham, with whom he reconnected by way of Instagram DM.
And now? Becca is still offered a poor pool of men from which to choose. Placing her in an enclosed environment with someone who has previously groped a woman and several other men who clearly don’t have a great handle on aggression or sensitivity is disturbing, especially since ABC has claimed they hire a third party to run extensive background checks on contestants.
In addition, the producers have still made this season all about Arie, the monster who dumped Becca on national television. In a one-on-one date, Becca and her potential suitor are made to destroy things reminiscent of her recent ex. In the first episode, one contestant brings a cardboard cutout of Arie to the first night at the Bachelorette Mansion so that this fake Arie could "watch" other men drool over Becca. I know this is a franchise the producers want to sell, but basing a woman’s search for partnership on a guy who hurt her is minimizing and sexist. Then again, it's also on par with most of the other “true love” stories women get sold anyway.
I know men aren’t a zero-sum game. I know the binary of men in the world isn’t Arie Luyendyk versus Anthony Bourdain (who, by the way, texted journalists tips on Harvey Weinstein). I'm not trying to paint any contestants as irredeemable nor paint Bourdain as infallible. However, it’s legitimately getting difficult to enjoy watching men put a woman's autonomy second to their desire to possess her. I don’t want to see a man pull another man aside and gallantly tell him he doesn’t deserve a Bachelorette. I want him to tell the man to check his temper and privilege.
I’m reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s 2011 interview on the podcast WTF With Marc Maron, in which he gave some advice: “Unfuck yourself right now and maybe read a book.” Honestly, that’s what I’ll be saying to every Bachelorette contestant who struts across my screen for the remainder of the season. I truly don’t care about men–these men, any men–vying for attention for anything anymore. I’m not here to see the very real fears and disappointments of being the only woman in a room full of men get played out in front of me. I’m just trying to enjoy a show with my friends.
This season, The Bachelorette hasn’t been about Becca finding love; it’s been about men owning an experience and centering themselves. It’s not fun. It’s not safe. It’s the same thing we’ve been watching play out away from the cameras, in the real world, for the entirety of our lives.