Women Against Women: There Are No Real Winners

“It’s OK. Whatever it is, it’s OK”, Laura exclaims, “if you’re going to do it, just do it.”

“The only way I can describe … how I feel towards you is … Laura, I love you.”

Tearful, yet victorious, Laura embraces and kisses Matty J.

But the show wasn’t always the perfect picture of romance and happiness.

For the first time, The Bachelor attracted national media attention for its appalling treatment and slut-shaming of contestants. A tip-off from another contestant culminated in Matty J confronting Leah, and then Simone, about their “scandalous” pasts in topless waitressing. In their conversation, Leah explained she had engaged in topless waitressing years ago – she didn’t have the time to balance university and a hospitality job, and needed quick money. She also clarified her business on occasion sources independent strippers for parties. Leah explained she was not trying to hide it from him, she just hadn’t had the opportunity to tell him. On return to the cocktail party, another contestant remarked: “Did he tip you?” This produced many giggles from the other girls. A similar conversation with Simone ensued, where she also explained she had not yet an opportunity to tell him, and it was years ago when she had no other options. Unlike Leah, who was subsequently eliminated – repentant, tearful and apologetic, Simone was forgiven.

Matty J insisted it was not Leah’s topless waitressing past, or her business, that was the deal breaker – it was the fact she kept a secret hidden from him. But Leah was not hiding anything because Matty J had never asked. “Hidden” implies she had something to tell, something insidious. It’s not an obligation to tell someone your past – it’s a privilege you share when and if you decide you want to tell another person. Leah shouldn’t have had to explain her past, nor defend or apologise for it. Also – if she did want to tell Matty J, how would Leah have approached that conversation? She hadn’t had the privilege of a ‘single date’, so what was she supposed to do? Imagine if in the few minutes they did share together, she told him about this job she did years ago? Even if she was upfront about her past and business, I expect it would have resulted in the same shaming and elimination.

Despite the fact he was dating 22 girls at the same time, Matty J somehow appeared to have the moral high ground in this situation. I can only imagine the shame Leah – and Simone – was made to feel, not only from Matty J, but from the other contestants, and then for it to be broadcasted so publicly. Matty J also said nothing and took no action against the vile comments made by the other contestants towards Leah. The gender-based double standards of this show is misogyny at its finest. The first two Bachelors also had been topless waiters, but of course, they received no criticism or shame for this job.

The Bachelor paints a wider picture of how misogynist culture permeates not only our daily lives, but all of our institutions, woven throughout our media industry.

Just because the slut-shaming controversy was the only instance which attracted national media attention, doesn’t mean it was the only time misogyny reared its head during this show. What about when Matty J questioned Liz about whether she wants to have a family, and when she responded she wasn’t sure yet, he immediately sent her home? I recognise Matty J would not want to pursue a relationship with someone who did not share family interests, but Liz’s answer was not incompatible with this – she just didn’t bend over backwards to reassure him she wanted to pop out a few littlies as soon as filming wrapped. Or what about the competitions which involved the women herding and catching pigs, or literally eating donuts off the ground? Or the exercise which rated the women based on how well they bonded with children? Or how Elise was interrogated by Matty J’s brother on how many past lovers she had? (Because, you know, how many people you’ve slept with is an indicator of whether you’re good enough.) Or the fact that not one single contestant on the show was a woman of colour.

Some may argue that because there is The Bachelorette, where a woman is put in the position of choosing out of 22 men, The Bachelor doesn’t seem so unfair in comparison. I acknowledge this and I’m sure the male contestants on that show are also made to do ridiculous tasks, but I can assure you, they would not be subjected to the gendered double standards and gender-based shaming contestants experienced in this season of The Bachelor. Unfortunately, I would argue The Bachelor by its very nature, is inherently misogynistic. It is a show which conforms to rigid and restricting gender stereotypes – cementing chosen contestants as femme fatales, and uplifting chosen women upon a pedestal – heightening their character arc as “good girls”. This show pits women to compete against each other, often under exploitative conditions, in order to produce animosity between the girls, all for Australia’s entertainment. And at the end of the day, it is to prove themselves superior for the affections of one man.

The Bachelor paints a wider picture of how misogynist culture permeates not only our daily lives, but all of our institutions, woven throughout our media industry. It is clear many Australians respond to seeing women compete against one another – especially when it is for a man – because shows like The Bachelor and Farmer Wants a Wife are some of the most popular shows on Australian TV. This is problematic because shows like these strengthen the narrative that women should be viewed as immature or less than men – because they are bitchy, catty, dramatic – and men should be viewed as more mature, responsible, and above the hysterics of women.

However, I’m not free of guilt nor morally better than anyone else. As much as I’d like to say I watched the show as an experiment, I found it entertaining and ended up watching the entire season. I was, however, acutely aware that by watching this show, I was participating and benefiting off the capitalist exploitation of these women. This, I realised, was in direct contrast with my feminist values. This disjuncture bothered me, however, to answer the question that sparked this piece: I do absolutely think you can be a feminist and watch The Bachelor. It would be impossible to go throughout our lives never participating in misogynistic institutions or products, because that is the nature of living in a patriarchal society. But I think if you do watch it, you must do it with a critical eye and sense of awareness. This participation should only hold true to a certain extent though; if the next season treats women as it did this time, I won’t be watching it.