Do good feminists watch The Bachelor?

by Diana Wichtel / 24 March, 2016
The bachelorettes show themselves willing to plumb the depths reached by Cowell, Clarkson and co.
The Bachelor.
Jordan Mauger, The Bachelor.

The Bachelor is back, intent on draining all meaning from an uncaring universe. Still, when romance means swiping right and collecting another dating horror story, The Bachelor can seem like a safe space.

The bachelorettes are locked up in a sort of ­nunnery with rules and rituals: single date, group date, the desperate masochism of the rose ­ceremony. Forget the age of gender fluidity. This show is as binary as Barbie and Ken, with as rigid a dress code: ball gowns of the sort that hinder mobility as effectively as bound feet, and beachwear because, well, you get your kit off. There are endless tense cocktail parties in which the Darwinian savagery of the interactions calls to mind the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones.

Life isn’t fair. While the women scheme, primp and pose, all the bachelor has to do is rock a too-tight tux, rise damp and brooding like Mr Darcy from a lap pool, and ritually cleanse himself before sacrifice to the gods of reality television.

Last year the bachelor was Art, a man who knew how to activate his almonds. This year’s model – he’s an actor, actually – is a nice, stubbled chap whose name eludes even the contestants.

“It’s something beginning with ‘J’,” mused Harmony, the dangerously unselfconscious jockey. She looked as if she was fighting the urge to take a nap. I know I was. She was soon talking the Suzuki Swift to oblivion.

The ladies tried to impress Jared … I mean Jordan, with their stethoscopes, novelty handshakes and gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free bliss balls. “I’m ready for kids, I’m ready for love,” piped the ill-fated Catherine. Jordan looked ready to do a runner.

Awful, obviously. But there’s a whiff of double standard in the condemnation of shows such as this and The Real Housewives franchise, in which females behave badly, or at least sadly. After all, the more gladiatorial end of the reality spectrum – Survivor, Big Brother, even Grand Designs – is based on a certain amount of ritual humiliation. New Zealand’s Got Talent made small children cry.

Men behaving like dicks on television – think Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsay, Jeremy Clarkson – get a much easier ride. As Paul Holmes, Paul Henry and Mike Hosking have demonstrated, blurt obnoxiously at regular intervals and in no time you’ll be vacuuming yourself a Ferrari.

Men capitalise on their physical attributes all the time. All Blacks don’t get underwear endorsements just for their passing and handling skills. Yet women who deploy their so-called erotic capital are, well, bimbos.

As for toxic levels of self-esteem, it’s done Donald Trump no harm; in a woman, not so much. I’m struggling not to judge The Bachelor’s pushy, ludicrously competitive Naz – “First Rebecca gets a rose, then Sarah gets a rose! I just don’t agree!” – as I write.

This time around, even by reality standards, it seems very contrived. Jordan has been an actor. So has Rebecca. There are sometime beauty queens and models. So far it’s the ordinary folk – Harmony, Emily, Catherine – who are heading home.

There is, sadly, no equivalent of farting English yoga instructor Poppy. This series it’s all about the mean girls. Like a member of the dating-show secret police, Naz narks compulsively to Jordan on the deficiencies of the other bachelorettes. “It’s my duty to @#$! her right off,” she raged to Claudia, of introverted Anna. “She’s not here for Jordan!” It’s scary. Naz is out to win at any cost. “He was staring at your tits,” Claudia tells her encouragingly. When Anna went roseless, Naz crowed, “One down on my hit list!”

Is it being a bad feminist to watch? In the end it’s just television, reflecting the Darwinian dynamics of our dog-eat-dog times. Take your best shot, ladies. As Naz says, if you snooze, you lose.

THE BACHELOR, TV3, Monday and Tuesday, 7.30pm.

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