Last night’s Women Tell All episode of "The Bachelor" went pretty much as expected. It felt like a "Real Housewives" reunion episode with Chris Harrison literally playing referee at times; with the type of women cast for Peter Weber’s ~journey to find love~, it went the only way it could have, really.
The group of young women (fourth runner-up Kelsey Weier, at 27 during filming, was part of the "older" demographic on the stage) reignited their on-screen spats, with only some walking away in a better light than before. Weier and Sydney Hightower, for example, went at each other for a moment, just to end it on a "We’re good" note -- progress! Even ladies who were on the show for only an episode or two got into it -- I don’t think anyone saw Maurissa Gunn and Mykenna Dorn’s shade coming.
One thing we were hoping for, though, and didn’t get? Some Victoria Fuller drama. Harrison confronted her with the scathing rumors floating around regarding her past relationships, but she politely denied them, recognized how chaotic her presence was on the show and even apologized face to face to our beloved Pilot Pete for her inability to give him a break during their time together. Refreshing? Yes. Titillating? Meh.
The truly unexpected part of the episode, though, came when Harrison brought former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay up on stage to discuss the cyberbullying that Bachelor Nation past and present has and continues to endure. Lindsay became the first African American Bachelorette when she picked through her group of eligible men before getting engaged to Bryan Abasolo; the two were married last August. It’s no secret that Lindsay bore the brunt of hateful comments from Bachelor Nation fans and beyond simply for who she is and what she looks like, and she and Harrison addressed the increasing online hate that those who appear on the franchise’s shows subject themselves to.
"I wanted to pave a way for women who look like me who hadn't been represented in this role on this show," Lindsay said. "But sometimes I feel like my efforts are in vain because it seems to just be getting so much worse. And I feel like you guys hear us talk about the hate that we receive, but you have no idea what it is."
To that end, real messages that the women from this season have received since opening up their lives to the camera were shown on screen and read aloud. It was difficult to watch and listen to, but eye-opening and important to showcase the way in which this harassment embodies itself.
"I think people feel empowered that they can continue to say certain things to us," Lindsay said. "And if we're ever going to fix this problem, we have to acknowledge the problem."
And just a couple of weeks before the next season of "The Bachelorette" airs, that they did, in introducing a new, no-nonsense initiative to curb social media harassment. Via the official Bachelor Nation Instagram account, the franchise revealed a zero-tolerance policy toward online racism, bullying and hate that will remove comments and users altogether from its platforms who choose to partake in the exact behavior Lindsay was talking about.
The post was received positively by past Bachelor Nation participants and fans alike in the comments; Alayah Benavidez, a Peter Weber cast-off, for example, wrote, "Hell yeah, finally. This will help a lot of contestants' mental health I'm sure," while newly-engaged Vanessa Grimaldi (who was previously engaged to Bachelor Nick Viall) wrote, "B-R-A-V-O." Others, while equally thankful for the show's action, still made sure to draw attention to the fact that, though better late than never, this was something they could have used long ago. Dorn wrote, "About damn time. Thank you for this. Wish this was done sooner though."
It's progress, at the very least. Let's hope the strides continue; to address the problem is the first step in staunching it.
The initiative shown on this season’s Women Tell All marks another notch in "The Bachelor" franchise’s belt of maturing into something that’s in line with where society is heading in the year 2020, another being the inclusion and support of an on-screen LGBTQ relationship. On the last season of "Bachelor in Paradise," the spin-off that drops previous contestants off on a beach in Mexico for another chance at love, 25-year-old Demi Burnett started the show dating previous "Bachelorette" participant Derek Peth, only to come out as bisexual to her castmates and continue a relationship, eventually getting engaged to and subsequently breaking up with, Kristian Flaggerty, new to the franchise altogether.
Though the format was unconventional, and the franchise in itself would have to be restructured a bit to showcase more LGBTQ relationships, seeing Burnett and Flaggerty wave their Pride flags high in a place where it hadn’t been done before was a refreshing take for "The Bachelor" and something that, one hopes, will continue to be explored in the future.
Another example of perhaps a maturity of the franchise? The newest pick for Bachelorette. Weber’s "Bachelor" experience faced criticism for his botched handling of the process, yes, but it was also about the type of women who appeared to win his heart. There are always accusations that the men and women who come on the show aren’t "there for the right reasons," but in the era of Instagram influencing and brand partnerships as a legitimate career path, those issues were more present than ever. The women on this season were mostly young and inexperienced, making viewers feel like any love story they were watching couldn’t possibly be that serious. Which brings us to 38-year-old Clare Crawley, aka our new Bachelorette -- talk about a breath of fresh air.
Crawley’s casting was immediately met with praise, with Bachelor Nation alums and fans alike excited to see what will likely be a cast of men older than 25, at least, looking for love with a matured, accomplished, self-respecting woman (who also happens to be quite the spitfire). Sure, the choice in casting Crawley could be a direct result of the backlash against this season’s women, but nevertheless, it looks like the producers are listening and willing to make a change. We’ll take it.
Despite all the wins, where the franchise has failed thus far, though, unfortunately lies in the general make-up of the shows. At their core, "The Bachelor" and "Bachelorette" are competition reality shows. People systematically get sent home, and at the end of it, the same line resurfaces time and time again: "Who will win?" We refer to the men and women on the respective shows as "contestants," "frontrunners" and "runner-ups," and I'm just as guilty of it! But the moment we use winning/losing language, we turn a story (a journey, if you will) about a person's search for their husband or wife into a game. So, when left unchecked, the participants treat it like a game.
Take Luke Parker, who made it to fantasy suite night on Hannah Brown’s season of “The Bachelorette.” I won’t try to put it lightly: He was a manifestation of a dangerous competitiveness that's been endorsed by viewers, the media and the nature of the show itself for as long as it's been on television. Time and time again, Parker was recorded in his confessional interviews discussing how he knew he was a frontrunner, say, or that he had it in the bag. I'm paraphrasing, but he routinely spoke about Brown as if she were a prize rather than admiring her virtues or appreciating her character.
The use of this win language places the leading man or lady in a position to be won, suggesting that they're nothing but a trophy and perpetuates an unhealthy competition culture that churns out men like Luke Parker. Are they in love with the lead, or are they in love with winning?
"The Bachelor," as it’s been aired, is a fairly cut-and-dry program: a single man or woman looks for love. But as the definitions around all of these constructs fluctuate and change every day, what was once so conventional may need to be flipped on its head.
Gender fluidity, sexuality, social media and a growing toxicity in dating culture sets this coming decade apart from the last and will need to be more closely considered and accounted for; while ABC may not be fully prepared to take them all on at once, steps are being taken! And while it’d be a disservice not to appreciate that, it also just means that the discourse should continue in earnest.
Welcome to 2020, Bachelor Nation.
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