The Bachelorette and Feminism

First a confession: I watch the Bachelor. Religiously. It is trashy and goes against so many of my values but I just can’t help it. It’s delicious trashy fun. I would like to think that I will be able to resist this next season, but the truth is that I will probably watch the new Bachelorette despite the huge major issues I have with it. I fully acknowledge my hypocrisy here.

In case you are not also an avid watcher of trash TV, let me fill you in. Jake, the most recent bachelor, was down to four women. One of his top four, Ali, found out that if she did not go back to work the next week she would lose her job. (I’m assuming that she was taking all of her vacation time + unpaid leave time and was hoping that if she got this far in the competition, she would be able to work something out with her employer.) She was really upset, because she was “falling in love” with Jake, and didn’t know whether to quit her job and take a chance on it working out, or go back to her job and wonder what could have happened with them. So far, I totally get this. For women in our mid-twenties, work and relationships have major roles in our live and when they conflict, there is going to be dissonance and some emotional decisions to make. She and Jake have long, tortured, tearful talks in which he tells her that he is definitely planning to give her a rose this week, but cannot guarantee if she will make it to the final one. To me, that’s kind of a major red flag, Ali. If someone REALLY loves you, even if you’re on a game show, he would be willing to break the rules, and tell you he wants to be with you, no matter the consequences. He begs her to stay (which he knows means she will be let go), although the most he can offer her is a spot in his “final three” (AKA the sex dates). Eventually, she said “I have to go” and my inner feminist cheered. Here was a woman who had found a career that she enjoyed and a job that she loved, and was not willing to sacrifice it on an off chance! A woman who showed that modern women need men who are willing to build a life that includes their career goals, rather than men who want you to deny your own needs for his! Could it be? A woman on the bachelorette faced a realistic relationship issue and decided to put herself first!

Nope. I should have known better. The next episode showed Ali phoning Jake and begging to come back (although the massively staged nature of this scene leads me to conclude it was actually added in later), and him telling her that he’s moved on. (Those overnight dates must have been pretty great if he is now willing to cut off the woman who he couldn’t live without last week!) She wails that she “made a mistake” by choosing work over love! Now, she is back as the next Bachelorette (and considering the time demands of filming, and the fact that she has apparently used all of her allotted vacation time for the year anyway, I’m guessing the job is history) and the spin is: this time, I won’t let love slip away! I’ve learned my lesson, and I will never sacrifice love for a job ever again!


1. This is inherently a false dichotomy. Women, if you are in a position where you are forced to choose between career and relationship, look more closely. In a good relationship, both people make sacrifices. BOTH people. Sometimes, you may have to give up your needs for your spouse, but sometimes it should be the other way around. A good husband (Hi Randy!) wants you to be successful, and wants you to explore your career options. When problems like this come up, you solve them together. You find a solution that works for best for you as a couple, whatever that may be.

2. The man wants you to give up a good job (according to the internet, a marketing position at Facebook) in a terrible economy but is not willing to make any concessions on his part. That is an ultimatum. Get out.

3. Finally, the feminist issue: this whole “whoops, silly me, thinking I needed a job to be happy when what I really need is a man!” seems a little too fifty years ago. She is sending a message that a job is a way you while away your time until you meet the man of your dreams. I thought we were past that. (*note: this does not mean that choosing to be a stay at home parent after marriage is anti-feminist. if that is a choice made by both spouses that best meets the needs of the family, than that’s the best thing for that family. see #1.) Women need to develop their own independent identities in order to be able to fully enter into a loving adult partnership. Doing so does not mean that you’re giving up love in favor of you. It means that you are sure enough in your own identity to wait for a relationship that embraces and strengthens that identity.

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3 Responses to The Bachelorette and Feminism

  1. Lisa says:

    Fabulous post Kathryn!!! I am giving a presentation on this exact topic later this week, and I have to agree with everything you said. There's a lot of talk in postfeminism that feminism is about making choices, whether that choice is to stay at home or to seek out a career (or wear makeup or whatever the choice seems to be). In the past 20 years or so there has been significant media attention given to the "opt-out revolution" in which women, having reaped the benefits of their feminist foremothers, have decided to opt out of the whole career thing in favor of staying home with children or just to be at home. There's a huge backlash against feminism where the feminist is positioned as the angry bitter man hater and "love" must be reclaimed by women not wanting to give up pleasure. FALSE!!!! we as feminists can get pleasure out of critiquing such awful tv shows (like the bachelor!) and even chick lit novels!! There's so much more here at work than simple advertising!

  2. Kate says:

    i KNOW! i don't know what i know, but i agree. that's extremely irritating.

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