My Twitter feed blew up in predictable fashion on Monday night. No, our President hadn’t tweeted anything audacious (in the past hour), rather the finale of The Bachelor was airing, and my feed was furious. Outraged. Disgusted and “just … beyond!!!”
“I need to be done with this show!”
“Why am I watching this?”
“This is awful! Shame on the producers! They’re doing this for ratings.”
I agreed with all of these tweets because I felt the same when I finally quit the show five years ago. And as my feed ignited and — at the risk of sounding too Carrie Bradshaw about a show that I’m pretty sure Carrie Bradshaw would find compelling and then totally gross — I couldn’t help but wonder: why are people still watching?
When the series first premiered, I flopped on my couch and watched breathlessly. I ran to my computer to dig up spoilers on Television Without Pity (R.I.P) and some back-channel Bachelor forums. I developed a deep crush on Ian McKee from Meredith’s season (man, did he know how to kiss a gal and was just tormented enough to be right up my dating alley); I worried about booted contestants’ broken hearts; I thought perhaps I could be best friends with Jillian Harris, who was dumped by Jason Mesnick. I even actually befriended some former contestants who are smart, savvy women and for whom I have great and continued affection to this day. These earlier seasons were fun, felt somewhat harmless and were mostly just entertaining. As the seasons went on, my interest waned…sorry Lorenzo, Charlie O’Connell, Jake, Travis, Ben and Brad, I tuned out. (Upon looking at all the contestants on Wikipedia, I have to ask: who on earth is Andrew Baldwin?) I returned for The Bachelorette, likely for a reason I tapped into years later when I finally quit: because the women were more in control, because they were treated with a bit more dignity.
Sometimes, due to the Twitter hype and because I enjoyed live-snarking in my feed, I tuned back in. The group mentality online was fun: there was a frenzy over who could tweet the wittiest, most cutting, most on-point quip, and though it embarrasses me now — to have participated in such a thing — I didn’t think at all about the negativity that I was putting out into the world. Perhaps sensing what the audience wanted or perhaps because ratings were stagnating, the show too seemed to be getting meaner. Crueler. Contestants appeared set up for heartbreak, manipulations seemed built-in for maximum humiliation, emotional weaknesses felt exploited, past dirty laundry was nearly inevitably aired. And maybe I was just getting older or maybe I was getting more in touch with the movement that would crescendo this year into #MeToo and Time’s Up, but I began enjoying these live-tweet sessions less and less. And I began seeing the show for what I thought it really was: a firmly anti-woman embarrassment. (Is it any surprise to read this week that producers track the contestants’ menstrual cycles to maximize drama and manipulation when they are hormonal? Seriously. They track their periods to toy with their emotional state. Is there anything more anti-woman than that?)
So five years ago, I quit. I found that I felt liberated from those two hours on Monday which fueled a certain toxicity in my life. What can I tweet that will be both hilarious and cutting and people will RT the most? I felt better about my place as a woman in the world, not snarking or disparaging other women in public (or at all) and not endorsing a show that got off on humiliating its contestants, especially the female ones. And this is only my sense and I speak only for me, but it’s tough to reconcile being a champion for #MeToo and Time’s Up and then frantically tweeting comments about other women every Monday evening.
It’s a reality show, you can argue. Well… sure. And contestants should know what they’re getting into. (True.) Some even use it as a launching pad for other careers. (Also true.) But let’s not pretend that reality shows don’t carry weight. Let’s not pretend that reality contestants and their branding can’t lead to something bigger. Let’s not pretend that some of this snarky, point-fingers-and-laugh-at-someone-else isn’t part of what paved the way to the White House. And look how well that’s worked out.
Listen, times can be bleak right now, and if disappearing into The Bachelor for a few hours every week is what soothes you, then pour a glass of wine and sink into your couch. And I haven’t watched in years, so perhaps this is nonsense, and the show is now a feminist manifesto. Fair enough. But if you’re grossed out or disgusted or any of the many things I read in my feed, you’ll be ok if you simply turn it off or if you log off Twitter and do something more productive (which is just about anything) on Monday nights. You might even be better off for it.
It’s not enough to point our fingers at the upper echelons of the power hierarchy and hold them accountable. We have to hold ourselves accountable as well. And if we’re truly going to champion women — in work, in life, in film and on TV, in our homes and yes, online — it sometimes means making harder choices, breaking older habits. Maybe it means that Time’s Up for The Bachelor too.