Those of us who managed to stay awake through Monday’s entire uncomfortable season finale of The Bachelor’s Farmville season were in for a special treat: a “shocking” twist unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on the upcoming season of The Bachelorette.
Considering how many farming puns about seeds being planted and love growing ABC subjected us to this round, they owed us something interesting. And they delivered.
The Bachelorette’s eleventh season will feature two bachelorettes. Both Kaitlyn Bristowe, the Vancouver dance instructor booted sans explanation before the finale, and Britt Nilsson, the California “waitress” and #1 crier who sleeps in her signature Wet & Wild lipstick, will star in the show’s upcoming season. The 25 men herded into the mansion will actually have a choice in the woman for whom they will compete.
“So the 25 men on night one are going to have the ultimate say about who they think would make the best wife,” host Chris Harrison explained.
The studio audience gasped. Housewives round the nation gulped their Rosé. The pearl clutching was palpable, and nowhere more so that the online echo chamber of Twitter, where Bachelor alum and fans came out in defense of the poor would-be female suitors.
Squeaky-clean, Sean Lowe and his wife Catherine Giudici--members of a very exclusive club of The Bachelor franchise’s still-coupled contestants--railed against the twist. Giudici said “it’s disgusting.” Lowe continued on his blog: “It’s downright degrading for the women – for the two chosen and the women watching at home. This move transfers the power back to the men on the show specifically designed for the women.”
And, he mused, this Hunger Games edition of The Bachelorette was announced just one day after the UN’s National Women’s Day, when we should be focused on empowering women. For shame, reality television producers and anyone twisted enough to be excited about what they had wrought.
Notwithstanding that ABC has done this before with men Byron Velvick and Jay Overbye in 2004, Marie Claire also went for it. “Pitting two women against each other? Having men determine who will make the better wife? It's just…gross,” one writer complained in a piece subtitled, “A feminist’s rant.”
Because The Bachelorette is so feminist.
In conceiving my own rant, the sheer number of actual degrading and disgusting events we’ve seen on the ABC property inspired a headache. Last season alone, producers sensationalized the real-life tragedies of not one, but two recent widows, and encouraged bikini-clad women to compete in tractor races and relays where even the lactose intolerant guzzled warm unpasteurized goat’s milk (semen innuendo abounded) for a mini-date.
In prior years, women like Claire from Juan Pablo’s season were encouraged, then shamed for on-air shagging, and producers gleefully recorded female heartbreak like when they trotted out Melissa Rycroft on a special episode just so she could be dumped and replaced by runner-up, Molly Malaney. And let’s not forget every single season ever where producers identify and promote a villainess for the other women to collectively hate, because, rawwwr, cat fight.
But this is about The Bachelorette, the television experiment that no one was sure would work. Would Bachelor Nation accept a woman trading in her dignity to test driving a bevy of bros on this ridiculous show? A dozen years later and it seems, indeed we are ready, hungry even, for a female lead to casually date and even bed several men at once on national primetime television. While one could argue the show itself is a win for feminism, is it really a bastion of the movement’s ideals?
Of course it isn’t. The Bachelorette is a (really good) reality TV show, where a woman, albeit one in a more powerful role, seeks out a man in the hopes that he will propose marriage. Both shows are part voyeurism, part guilty pleasure in the misfortune of others, all covered in a thin veneer of a romantic fantasy. Starting with two bachelorettes won’t change that recipe. In fact, it might only make it tastier.
Consider, if you would, that asking the men to hop on #TeamBritt or #TeamKaitlyn at the get-go provides a kind of buy-in for the contestants. It always strikes me as questionable how they manage to assemble such a large group of people that are all oh-so interested in the prospect of marrying one non-celebrity normal. Now using which bachelorette each man chooses as a gauge, viewers will get to see from episode one just what kind of men we’re dealing with and exactly what kind of woman they’re looking for.
Yes, it will be embarrassing for the rejected. Either Kaitlyn will be passed over for the luminous, hair flipping, non showering, dream girl Britt or we’ll be privy to one final epic meltdown when the men choose the wittier, sharper, but ultimately forgettable dancing Canuck.
But women are constantly humiliated on The Bachelorette. Remember now-happily married dentist Ashley Hebert’s 2011 season in which she anguished over whether the men would rather compete for a more beautiful contestant, and one suitor actively leading her on while gushing to cameras that he “didn’t really care about her.”
Enjoying that kind of television isn’t sexism, it’s schadenfreude, and that’s the real pull of the genre anyway. Luckily for us, this season of The Bachelorette is poised to offer more of it than ever before.