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Wait, Do We Have a Genuinely Feminist Season of 'The Bachelor'?

Against the odds, the show has delivered a surprising study in female agency.

by Wendy Syfret
04 October 2018, 2:37am

Screenshots via Ten Play

Safe to say, this season of The Bachelor has been...patchy. Personally I don’t mind Nick “drop your dacks and boil the billabong” Cummins. But my taste in dudes has also seen me affectionately referred to as an “evolutionary weak link,” so what do I know. The fact stands that alongside the bullying drama, the bi-sexual drama, the slut-shaming drama, there was a larger issue — this season, the women just didn’t seem that into the Bachelor.

At a glance, yes, that’s a pretty big issue. And one that could have see the whole season go down in flames. But while some (many) will argue it’s made for the worst season in recent history, I disagree. Because when you take away romance, a swoon-worthy central figure, and the pretence someone might actually fall in love, interesting things fill the void.

Before we get stuck in, let’s address the obvious: at the close of this season, Nick might be the most dumped Bachelor in history. Three women have literally walked out on him, and several more were so disengaged with the idea of falling for him they used the whole experience as more of a networking sleep-away camp.

The Bachelor has always been criticised for being regressive. Which is fair, because it’s a show about women competing for the attention of a guy, offering themselves as a physical prize, and facing public rejection for the slim chance of a connection. Also, the bulk of the episodes are just watching a dude aggressively make out with a different woman after every ad break. But something switched this season. The women, seemingly for the first time, appeared to ask: Wait, do I want this?

Maybe questions that should have been asked before going on national TV, but whatever.

Our earliest marker of this was Vanessa Sunshine, the early favourite for season villain who became a meme-able national hero. Right from day one she was open about the fact Nick isn’t what she expected, and honestly, not really in-line with what she was looking for in a partner. After initially being challenged by the girls, who were still force feeding themselves this romantic dream, people opened up to her. It was refreshing to see someone actually pause to reflect: is this actually something that could make me happy?

When Nick sent her home it didn’t have the usual pall of hurt, but rather played out as two adults making a choice that they’re just not right for each other.

Romy’s walk out, the first rose rejection of the season, was more complex. Her exit has been shadowed by her role as a house bully, and honestly no one was sad to see her go. But it should be noted that as twisted as her intentions were, she left after her best friend in the house, I Live In Bali Cat, was booted for being a shit-stirrer. She might be the only person in the country who didn’t agree with the treatment of Cat, but a level of respect should be awarded to her for standing by her mate. Women banding together (even not very nice women), and choosing each other over a dude isn’t something you expect to see on competitive dating shows.

Tenille’s exit could be the most troubling of the three; she was clearly bruised from weeks of bullying and recognised that reality TV wasn’t a great place to deal with her mounting anxiety. Despite her feelings for Nick, she made the call that a guy wasn’t worth that emotional stress, and the time and connection she needed to see a relationship work could never be met by Nick in that moment. Rather than struggle through, realistically eventually being rejected, she wisely sidestepped the accumulating trauma. It was a classic example of relationship self-care 101. In a show built on the bones of publicly burned women it was nice to see someone realise they had the agency to get out before they were immolated.

Which brings us to Brooke, the most controversial exit of the season, maybe the show to date. An early favourite of fans and Nick, she was most people’s picks to take it home. Leaving literally days before probably getting her man was a shock, but her very visible realisation at the end of their date that she wasn’t happy was Oscar worthy.

Their weird, totally not faked body painting venture, was the best date of the three. While Nick complimented the other girl’s appearances in his cutaway interviews, he seemed to be rehearsing wedding vows when talking about Brooke. But when she pushed him for more clarity on his feelings, he couldn’t deliver.

Personally, I think he was being respectful of the situation. Remember, he'd just faced the emotional chaos that he'd unleashed on Cass by letting her feel secure in their connection before booting her. But for Brooke, it wasn’t enough.

I know I’ve said it’s bananas to go on this show expecting monogamy, but the 23-year-old youth worker’s growing struggle with the show felt different. Earlier in the season she seemed genuinely accepting of the situation as it lay.

As she opened up to Nick and the nation — sharing the loss of her mum, her time in foster care, her experiences with women, and her history of being lied to and cheated on — we saw something genuinely rare in reality TV. A real emotional realisation.

In their final talk, she showed the depth of her personal growth on the show. She reflected on the issues she’d faced in past relationships, and the mistakes she didn’t want to make again. Suddenly aware she was repeating past patterns — hell, that the structure of the show was a blueprint of the things that caused her pain — she called it.

It’s tough for anyone to do that, but making that choice as the frontrunner is massive. She knew though, that even if she won, she didn’t have the indications she needed to commit to a relationship with a man who might not be right for her. So many of us have stayed in partnerships too long because we weren’t brave enough, or self-assured enough, to walk away. Because we weren’t able to admit that we deserved more, or needed more to be happy. Brooke did that. She did it on TV. Fucking hell. Screw everlasting love, that’s a pretty amazing payoff for the season.

For a LOT more thoughts on 'The Bachelor', follow Wendy on Twitter, and catch up the rest of this column here.

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