Love, Feminism, and Sisterhood

Picture this: your boyfriend is a conventionally good-looking hunk with a strong jaw-line and killer abs. You’re a stunning bombshell with bleached blonde hair and a forever bikini body. The two of you spend your free time talking about feelings and jumping off of waterfalls. Sounds like another Nicholas Sparks love story, but here’s the twist: your perfect boyfriend also has twenty-four other perfect girlfriends, and there’s only one engagement ring. Now our tear-jerking, romance novel has turned into a dramatic combination of Sister Wives and The Hunger Games. The Bachelor’s twentieth season came to a close in the middle of March with Denver-native heartthrob, Ben Higgins, putting a ring on his beautiful blonde babe, Lauren Bushnell. For thirteen years, viewers from across the nation have been tuning in to watch this problematic, (un)reality television series and its spin-offs (The Bachelorette, Bachelor Pad, and Bachelor in Paradise). We know the women, such as Michelle Money, whose last name says everything you need to know about her intentions; the men, such as JJ and Clint, last year’s bromance that edged a little closer to romance; and, of course, Chris Harrison, The Bachelor nation’s surrogate father and mentor.

But why do we care? Us women, the viewers that are funding this show, have allowed something so old fashioned and problematic to run for twenty seasons, despite living in a time when feminism is more present than ever. Why are we still spending our Monday nights consumed with the unreality of conventional beauty, heteronormativity, and the journey of love?

The Bachelor is a prevalent reflection of gender in our society, and not a good one. Women have been taught for hundreds of years that they must compete for the affection of a man. This has fed into the patriarchy that is our modern society by giving men the power to choose the most attractive or desirable “contestant,” while teaching women to see each other as competition instead of sisters in an oppressing world. On The Bachelor, women are made to literally compete for the attention of the man with various activities on group dates and alone time during rose ceremonies. One of the most memorable group dates during this season involved not only physical activity, but also public humiliation. The women were made to vigorously exercise so that Ben, blindfolded, could smell their musk and report whether he found it sweet or sour (this was apparently meant to determine compatibility based on scientific research). Imagine your crush not only smelling your sweaty body on one of the first dates, but also commenting on its odor in front of his other suitors (on national television). And group dates are the least of these contestants’ worries. As each week brings them closer to the finale of the show, these women have to face either going home single as a “loser” or “winning” a proposal. This teaches women to strive for marriage and co-dependence, claiming that a successful career and independent lifestyle means nothing without a man.  

I have been a self-proclaimed feminist since I first learned the word five years ago. Of course I want equal rights, equal representation, and respect for more than my physical appearanceyet I still religiously watch The Bachelor every Monday night.

Normally I could brush this off as a character flaw or a bit of the patriarchy sneaking in without my awareness, but I’m not the only strong feminist watching. During a Girls Tell All episode this year, female comedian Amy Schumer was live tweeting her thoughts. She wrote, “Team Jubilee for life #Bachelor” and “There is nothing wrong with ‘complicated’ women, Chris Harrison. You treated it like something she should fight. A woman shouldn’t try to.” This got me thinking about what The Bachelor offered, other than misogynistic entertainment.

It had become a weekly ritual for my suitemates and I, curling up in front of our common room television to see what this season’s villain, Olivia, would do next, who Ben would send home in tears, and what uncomfortable dating situations the contestants would be put through this time around. We enjoyed sharing our opinions on the various women—not only who we thought Ben should be with, but who we liked. This Bachelor viewing party was definitely not limited to my common room. Around the nation, women—and men—of all ages come together every week to share their thoughts on the latest episode. Bachelor Live, the talk show that aired after each episode, revealed viewing parties that included young women grouped together in sororities and families bunched together on couches in suburban living rooms. Bachelor Fantasy Leagues have even been created, growing in popularity with each year.

Somehow, a show that breeds competition among women has actually brought women together. This terribly anti-modern feminist show has created a sisterhood in modern feminists by starting a conversation about shared experiences with the unrealistic expectations of society, the journey for love, and the internal and external conflicts that arise from emotional situations. Around the nation, women are utilizing this platform to connect and relate.

Jessica Goldstein, writer for various magazines including New York Magazine, gives her approach in an analysis of the show. She writes, “You’ll never hear about national divorce rates, same-sex partnerships, or casual hookups during an episode. Contestants don’t use cell phones…What The Bachelor does is take present-day romance—a liberating, confusing, overwhelming, free-for-all—and lace it back up into a corset.” Maybe we continue to watch this sort of 1950s courtship ritual because we’re nostalgic for the order and organization that love used to have. While we don’t miss anything else about the ‘50s, the simplicity of letter jackets and sock hops can seem desirable compared to the confusion of our social media hook-up culture.

Emerson students, Gina Marsh and Evie Ali, focused on a different aspect of the show: the actual contestants. Marsh says, “Even though I know the drama is enhanced, I still like to root for certain girls.” It’s important for women to support their fellow women, and The Bachelor provides this opportunity. Ali comments, “Although it could be more diverse, it shows a lot of various strong personality types that don’t put women in a bubble.” Not only are we finding women to connect with, we are exposing ourselves to many different personalities, all strong and capable.

Personally, I get satisfaction from watching the messy dating situations on the screen, comparing these to my awkward first dates, uncomfortable goodbyes, and unsuccessful Tinder swiping. Maybe I don’t get actual fireworks during make-out sessions, but romance is never perfect, and it’s nice to see that the falling-in-love-in-Europe, rainbow-love on The Bachelor doesn’t always work out either (only three couples have stayed married after twenty seasons. And it should be noted that all three came out of The Bachelorette, not The Bachelor).

Talking about our own struggles with love can be difficult, but watching those of others gives us the opportunity to reflect and discuss with the only people who truly understand: other women.

So why are we still watching? It’s not because we really believe that marriage is the answer to all of our problems, or that love can be found through a competition on reality TV. It’s because we’ve finally found our sisterhood, our platform to connect and relate to each other. I look forward to my Monday nights lounging in front of the TV with my fellow girls, discussing our experiences and sharing our thoughts and opinions. Bring on season twenty-one.

Photo by Anja Schwarzer