Lizzie Marvelly: Bachelor makes a feminist's heart ache

Reality TV show puts prize man on a pedestal as young women swoon for his attention.
Lara Christie (left) with another The Bachelor New Zealand contestant Naz Khanjani, who has quickly become known as the trouble-maker.
Lara Christie (left) with another The Bachelor New Zealand contestant Naz Khanjani, who has quickly become known as the trouble-maker.

As a feminist, I find few things more torturous than watching The Bachelor. Or more problematic. Feminism is meant to give women choices, and one of those choices may well [bafflingly] be to take part in a reality television show that makes women compete for the ultimate prize of a man.

So while I sit in front of the screen, wanting to variously vomit, cringe and claw my eyeballs out with my bare hands, I find myself stuck firmly between a rock and a hard place.

Before this week, I had never watched a full episode of any Bachelor franchise.

The very premise makes my heart hurt: a group of women vying for the attention of a man for some sort of validation that can only be found on national TV. It's the kind of idea that would have Kate Sheppard spinning in her grave.

With the second season taking over my every social media feed, I apprehensively tuned in. Days later, I'm still recovering.

Throughout the first episode, the bachelorettes told us that they were looking for love and hoping to find their "prince".

The quest for true love is fairly universal, reinforced by decades of Disney princesses and Hollywood rom-coms. From a young age, little girls are told that they should want nothing more than a Prince Charming figure to sweep them off their feet so they can live happily ever after.

No mention of a kickass career, deep friendships, passions, adventures, dreams and ambitions. No mention either of the possibility that a princess may want to find another princess to ride off into the proverbial sunset with. Funny that.

While I despair that 23 Kiwi women felt the need to participate in a contrived public popularity contest, I'm not surprised.

Some cynical part of me hopes that some of the bachelorettes are motivated by a strategic decision to launch a brand on the back of The Bachelor's publicity circus, but invariably there will be some who are enticed by the prospect of a fantastical love story, no matter how flawed or unlikely.

Fairytales, almost always ending in a damsel in distress needing rescuing by a gallant (white, straight, moneyed, cisgender) knight, have a lot to answer for.

Every time a grown woman told the camera some variation of "I need a man to be complete" a part of me ached. I need a man about as much as a pig needs tap shoes, and until pigs take up tap-dancing I'll fight tooth and nail against the idea that single women are unfinished,incomplete beings.

As I write this, I can already hear the cries of "man-hater" filling my Twitter feed, but that's not it. What really upsets me is the idea that women can't be happy or whole human beings without a partner.

Even with that aside, being dependent on another to complete you puts a hell of a lot of pressure on a relationship.

The biggest wave of irony to crash over me during my two hours of viewing hell was the repeated assertion that certain bachelorettes weren't being "real".

It's a television show. Nothing is real. There are more twinkling chimes effects than in a 90s R&B song. The mansion is rented. The clothes are supplied. The life Jordan sells is one he almost certainly cannot afford.

The supposedly intimate conversations he's having during his paternalistically bestowed one-on-one time? There are at least two camera people gate-crashing those supposedly special moments.

There's a director behind the camera, make-up artists, sound and lighting people all within metres. There's nothing real about it.

Searching for "real" love in such a setting is like digging for treasure in the local primary school sandpit. You might find a few shiny muesli bar wrappers, but that's about it.

Those women, and indeed all women, deserve better. From Metz, who reached a certain age and realised she "needed" a man, to Danielle, whose finger is ready for a ring, to Kate whose dad would kill her if she was "slutty" - because God knows a woman having many sexual partners is a fate worse than death.

Ceri worried that Jordan might think of her as "damaged goods" after she disclosed that she'd survived an abusive relationship, Catherine went on to find her "prince" and Shari wanted "a beautiful love story".

They deserve a society that tells them they're enough, that their sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, that their survival story is not "baggage" and that true love should be a meeting of hearts, bodies and minds, rather than a quest to find a missing part of an unfinished puzzle.

While it's tempting to view the whole thing as an enormous joke - and Twitter is certainly bringing the comedy gold - there's something about a cohort of Kiwi teens watching this show that kills the snarky laugh in my throat. For the young men who are shown that they need to spend ridiculous amounts of money wooing a woman who will then acquiesce to their every directive, and the young women who are told that no matter what they achieve, they'll never be complete until they find a man, I'm struggling to join in the admittedly hilarious hate-watching party.

And because equality is my religion, I have to ask: Where is The Bachelorette NZ? Or The Gay Bachelor NZ? If we have to have terrible, problematic reality TV, at least make it fair.

- Lizzie Marvelly is a singer, writer, feminist and millennial.

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- NZ Herald

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