I really want people to stop acting like The Bachelor franchise is diametrically opposed to feminism and female empowerment. You don’t have to “turn off” your feminism to enjoy The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or even – the newest and greatest spinoff – Bachelor In Paradise. The Bachelor franchise is actually this lovely hidden well of lady power and strong female friendships, and you can totally appreciate those kickass aspects while still acknowledging that this whole setup is completely bonkers.
The original iteration, The Bachelor, is the variation people seem to have the most major problems with. After all, the premise is 25-30 women competing for a man’s attention, and, in the end, a proposal. It doesn’t exactly sound empowering if you’re one of the 25. Watching 25 women fall all over themselves to win the lead’s attention at any cost doesn’t exactly give the viewer a great feeling. In fact, it feels pretty icky. (Anyone remember when Jamie Otis tried to seduce Ben Flajnik?*) But that’s not what’s happening anymore.
In recent seasons, many of the women have taken the power into their own hands and approached their relationship with the bachelor with assertiveness, strength, and a refreshing you-seem-great-but-I-don’t-really-need-you attitude. Vanessa, the eventual winner of Nick Viall’s season, is a prime example.
After a successful date, Vanessa, a 29-year-old special needs teacher from Montreal, sees Nick getting really physical with another woman in full view of the rest of the group. Rather than get mad at the other woman, Corinne (more on her later), Vanessa confronts Nick about his own choices. She says to him, “I’m not judging Corinne. I’m judging your actions.” It was at that moment I decided I wanted Vanessa to end up with Nick (but I also knew she’d be perfectly awesome on her own).
Seeing women confront (and sometimes dump) the male lead is something that we’ve seen more and more in later Bachelor seasons. I hate to bring Bachelor fans back to the days of Juan Pablo, a.k.a. one of the top three worst bachelors ever, but I must. Ladies dumped this guy left and right. Sharleen, the whip-smart, gorgeous opera singer struggled throughout to make an intellectual connection with a not-super-intellectual dude. Eventually, she left for this reason.
Andi Dorfman, the second runner-up and eventual lead on The Bachelorette, gave Juan Pablo a thorough lesson in what a terrible listener he is (though I doubt he retained any of it). After spending a night with him, she tells him she wants to leave because he didn’t seem at all interested in her. His irritating response, “It’s okay,” became the one thing people remember him for, and Andi went on to write a best-selling book** titled It’s Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak Into Happily Never After. How’s that for lady power?
Andi is my second-favorite bachelorette of all time, right behind Kaitlyn Bristowe. I love Kaitlyn Bristowe. Kaitlyn’s season was odd. First, it was when ABC did their unforgivable “let’s have two bachelorettes and let the men vote on them” stunt, but thankfully, Kaitlyn was the one. Kaitlyn admitted to having sex with one of the men – the aforementioned Nick Viall – just a few weeks into the season.
Kaitlyn, who was 30 at the time, an adult woman in a budding relationship, had consensual sex with someone and was honest about it. And the Internet trolls lost it. Suddenly she was a “bad role model” and a “slut.” I found Kaitlyn and Nick’s storyline refreshing because of how open Kaitlyn was about it. This was one of the most “real” things viewers had ever seen happen on the show. And Kaitlyn wasn’t apologizing for it. She said publicly that she regretted the timing of when it happened, but she was adamant that she did not regret the choice to have sex and was not at all ashamed of it. You go, Kaitlyn. You go.
Every season, there is a lot of talk about who’s there for “the right reasons.” It’s become a catchphrase of the show. When a contestant refers to “the right reasons,” it usually means: to fall in love with and ultimately get engaged to the lead. But let’s take a serious look at these “right reasons.” Anyone who’s watched the show for as long as I have knows that the “right reasons” are actually:
1) to make friends, and 2) to travel the world with those friends. Love’s a bonus, and it’s highly unlikely.
The Bachelor comes with a lot of downtime for the contestants, and that means time for real bonds to form. Way more time, in fact, than any one of them will ever spend with the male lead during the course of filming. Watching the women become friends and seeing how they stay friends long after the show wraps is my favorite part of The Bachelor. For reference on Bachelor-made-BFFs, see: Jade and Carly (Chris Soules’s season) and JoJo and Becca (Ben’s season), to name only a couple.
The women on Nick’s season seemed to get particularly close, and for the most part, they were and are really supportive of one another on social media, especially if the show gives someone a bad edit. This is where Corinne comes back. She was framed as the villain of Nick’s season, but in reality, she appears to be one of the most well liked people in the house. She’s funny, she’s assertive, and she built up to a pretty cool lady-power moment in her exit, culminating with her proclamation that “I am done trying to impress these men” and “I will never kiss up to a man ever again in my life.” The other women spoke up on Twitter and other outlets to show their support for Corinne in this moment.
Which bring us to Rachel. Rachel finished third on Nick’s season (and is a big supporter of Corinne), and she’s our new bachelorette. She’s awesome for a lot of reasons. She’s an attorney. She’s brilliant. She’s hilarious. She’s beautiful. She’s spunky. Basically, I’m saying I would totally date her and you probably will want to too once you “meet” her on TV.
When Rachel was named the bachelorette, women from her season were overjoyed and said wonderful things about her. Raven, the runner up, said in an Instagram post, “She IS laughter. She IS friendship. And she IS LOVE. I am ALWAYS in your corner Rach!” Keep in mind these two women finished second and third. They both spent the night with Nick. They both said they loved him. And yet, this is the love they both walked away with. It’s admirable and just plain makes me happy.
Rachel is also the first woman of color to be the lead in the franchise. For a television franchise as whitewashed as The Bachelor, this is a big deal. And it’s pretty ridiculous that it took this long for this to happen.
When Nick met her family, Rachel didn’t shy away from openly discussing race with him and her other family members. Again, I think viewers appreciated how real these moments were. We’re not just watching two people sit around and talk about how great their connection is and how connected they feel and how their connection is extra connected. Rachel addressed real life stuff, both during this conversation and others throughout the season. We’re seeing a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get real. I’m super effing excited for her season (which we will be talking about on the podcast, much to Kelli’s disappointment).
Just because I think there’s a special land of lady power in The Bachelor doesn’t mean I don’t know the show has problems. I get it. In addition to the aforementioned whitewashing, I know that the format itself seems pretty anti-lady and anti-intellectual to begin with. But to claim to be disgusted with the show because it’s degrading to women is to ignore what many if not most of the women seem to gain from the show: lifelong friendships and empowerment. Contestants might not find love with the lead (and if it’s someone like Juan Pablo or Ben Flajnik, they probably don’t care anyway), but they do find bonds that last beyond the show – and usually beyond the engagement that comes from it.
* Side note: No shade to Jamie Otis here. I think she’s a super cool chick who was in a weird situation and probably (read: definitely) encouraged by producers. If you want to see her really shine – and really find the love of her life – watch her in season one of Married at First Sight. You won’t regret it.
** The answer is yes, duh. I totally read it. Same goes for Courtney Robertson’s book. Judge me.
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The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.