Of all the reality TV show franchises in all the world, The Bachelor seems the most obviously anti-women. Yes, there are Real Housewives and Dance Moms, and ladies who are married at first sight to brainless bricks, but nobody pits women against each other in the pursuit of that most patriarchal of institutions – marriage – quite like The Bachie.
It’s not simply that almost every contestant is portrayed as an old-fashioned architype. (There’s nice girl Elly, versus bad girl Abbie), ensuring that jealousy between each woman is inevitable. It’s not even that each woman is forced to hate the other so that they might find love, (or a six month promotional contract with a supermarket hair care product).
No, the most anti-feminist aspect of the show is that one man decides the death of each woman’s dream via the passive-aggressive withholding of a rose.
Matt makes his rose-gifting decisions via a series of semi-humiliating, task-oriented set-ups. And, let’s be real, as Abbie would say, they all finish the same way, with Matt “the astrophysicist” Agnew, evaluating a woman’s worth by how enthusiastically she embraced being made to look awkward.
“There’s something so unnatural about walking down a building” Matt quipped last week, in his game show voice, before he and Chelsie took the plunge down the side of a hotel. Unnatural, Matt? You mean, like a televised harem?
So why then, do so many self-identifying feminists – of which I am one – find ourselves addicted to the circus? And it is a circus – remember all those ties and karma sutra-type poses with Abbie?
You’d think, with the veritable buffet of women on display, that the young men of Australia would be glued to the screen, but a survey of my friends tells me it is us, the second sex, who yell “Shh! Keep it down! Bachie’s on!” on a weekly basis.
Why? We might tell ourselves that feminism is about choice, and that these young women all made the choice to be on there. We might say it’s all fake anyway – the concoction of producers, who mould each contestant into the character they need to a move a narrative along. But that doesn’t explain our visceral reactions to it.
Or why we might tweet “Abz is 100 per cent that bitch” as if she had just slept with our own man! Never mind that she is doing exactly what the show calls for – which is to compete with other women. What’s clear is that Abz is not there to make friends, and isn’t it thrilling to watch?
“From an early age, girls in particular are socialised into the dream of romance” says psychologist and NSW CEO of Relationships Australia, Elisabeth Shaw. “Even if, in your head, and in your life, you’re not following the fairy tale, there’s something about The Bachelor that contains the fairy tale or the romance – with a tinge of eroticism.”
It’s this “knight on a horse” aspect that makes The Bachie so addicting to us otherwise mature, independent women. Though, according to Shaw, nobody can be a perfect feminist all the time.
“You don’t walk around every minute of every day being a feminist, there are moments where you have the choice to be politically incorrect” she says. “That’s kind of the fun of being an adult and enjoying a guilty pleasure.”
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“It’s like any other reality show” adds Shaw. “Sometimes watching people behave badly is a bit of an outlet in itself. Sometimes watching what you really don’t want to be doing is clarifying. A way of checking in – and asking yourself ‘Would I put up with that?’ or ‘Would I go along with that?”.
Because, says Shaw, no matter how much time passes, or how evolved we are, there is still plenty of cultural messaging centred on the idea of finding true love with a bloke.
“Whether it’s The Bachelor, or Love at First Sight, or Wife Swap, there seems to be a perennial theme – ‘How do I find a great love match?’ We might be busy trying to be a feminist, but we’re also busy trying to find love. These things can run parallel.’”
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So the next time someone asks you why you’re watching – tell them, as I do, that you’re a very complex woman.
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