There's No Room For Feminism in Paradise: The Big Problem with Bachelor Nation
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
America has got a big guilty pleasure - reality television. Arguably one of the most popular franchises in the category is that of The Bachelor. The TV franchise that everyone loves to hate has been integrated into our screens for almost two decades. The original Bachelor series has produced spin-offs including The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise. Known for its highly edited levels of production creating nonstop drama, the series has thrived on the idea that anyone can find love through a television screen.
It’s 2019 though, and Bachelor Nation is trying to grow up. The series that was once your 'super senior frat bro' is transforming to be a sophisticated, progressive feminist. Yes, the show that markets itself as 30 women competing for the attention of one guy is trying to turn it all around. It isn’t working though.
The show has long been criticized for its antiquated views and questions over the authenticity of its editing. Recent critics of the show include celebrities Wendy Williams and Kelly Ripa, who called the franchise “degrading” and “gross". Couple that with a significant decrease in ratings over the past seventeen years and show creator Mike Fleiss' accusation of attacking his wife, and it’s hard to believe that the show is anything other than fabricated love made for Instagram. So, Bachelor Nation set out to flip the script. To gain back the coveted viewership it once held so dearly, they needed to get on board with society’s views or die trying.
After this last season of The Bachelorette, the conversation swirling around bachelorette Hannah Brown championed her as the new feminist icon we needed. Hannah was taking no prisoners, cutting a man night one for leaving a girlfriend back home days before flying out to film the series. She ended cocktail parties early, was seemingly ruthless in who she sent home - and when. While the series wanted to make Hannah out to be a strong, independent woman who was controlling the rules of the show, taking no prisoners or any sh*t from a man, the entire process felt disingenuous. She kept the contestant, Luke P., a gaslighting firecracker who thrived on confrontation under the belief that he was the only man for Hannah, until the last minute. Then she sent him away with perfectly crafted soundbites on how no man controls what she does or says as the audience cheered from home. When she told contestant Tyler C. that they wouldn’t be sleeping together in the fantasy suite, he responds so respectfully and gently that every woman watching was ready to marry him if Hannah didn’t pick him to be the one.
That’s exactly what the franchise wanted though. They want their audience to be tweeting and memeing with vicious fervor while screaming at their TV on why can’t all men be like Tyler C. Except, Tyler C. isn’t real. It’s a character made for TV. Every story needs a villain and a hero. In today’s era of #MeToo, that hero needs to be a champion of women and that villain needs to be an erratic misogynist. How else does the series work?
Flash forward to this season of Bachelor in Paradise (and it’s a doozy). The series starts with several women confronting contestant Blake Horstmann for his bed-hopping ways before the start of the series. They are ruthless, calling him out on his shady ways and Twitter has been eating it up. The problem is, Blake didn’t do anything out of the norm with society. We all know a Blake, have dated a Blake or have been a Blake. The problem isn’t that what Blake did was horrendously out of the norm. It’s that in a culture that is shaped itself on calling people out for the mistakes they make behind closed doors, he was perfect TV fodder.
While Bachelor Nation contestants have argued what an empowering, life-changing experience the show is for them, it would be hard to say otherwise about the franchise that is giving you your meal-ticket to Instagram fame. The show is capitalizing on breaking the very system it created and that’s even more problematic. If Bachelor Nation is trying to be the new wave of progression for reality TV, they still have a long way to go.