‘The Bachelor’ – what happened to girl power?

I’m about to leave my dignity at the end of this sentence.

I watched Cannel 5’s The Bachelor last week. I’m sure your thoughts are with me, these things happen to the best of us… I always thought romantic reality shows were essentially mindless, that you could watch them effortlessly as your brain cells devised different methods of ending their misery. It turns out that The Bachelor actually got me thinking. It got me thinking about what on earth happened to 25 women who belonged to the Spice Girls generation.

For those of you not familiar with how the The Bachelor works, just think livestock show. The cattle in this case are females and the enclosure they are kept in is a luxury communal villa in Southern Europe. The females leave the enclosure every so often to be judged by Welsh international rugby player, Gavin Henson. Each week, Henson rejects a girl and sends her home sobbing, wondering why she’s not good enough. This inherently sexist format in which the man is presented as the ultimate prize to be won is problematic in itself for me, but the double standards of Gavin Henson and catty behaviour of the girls was even more troubling.

The episode I watched on that sorry day involved Gavin roping in two of his rugby playing pals to vet the female contestants. They had to ensure they had Henson’s best interests at heart and weren’t partaking in a romantic reality show that’s televised across the UK to thousands, for the wrong reasons… Now call me cynical but if you want to find love for the sake of love, make a match.com profile.

But why weren’t the tables turned? Why did none of the girls have the confidence to ask, why are you here Gavin? Anything to do with the money you’ll make? And talking of best interests, how are your two children from a previous relationship doing? If we’re going to fall in love and get married, which is what you keep breaking out into embarrassing monologues about, you’ll want to know my opinion on step-mothering children.

Of-course none of this happened because the thing about romantic reality shows is that reality doesn’t really figure. Family practices, religion, politics, lifestyle, how you take your tea – none of this appears to enter the parameters of The Bachelor. Instead, a relationship with ‘the one’ is meant to be built on the foundation of a few tacky dates in which the females try to make each other look bad to win the affection of a man. Worse still, we’re talking about a man that struts about like an alpha peacock that’s fallen into a bottomless well of fake tan and hair gel (if only nobody had helped him out).

One breathtaking scene which epitomized the show for me, involved a contestant announcing to Gavin that one of her ‘rivals’ has kissed a member of the production team behind his back. It was an explosive revelation.  The other girls condemned such promiscuous behaviour and elbowed each other out the way to comfort Henson who felt ‘devastated’ apparently. Gavin who has been kissing each of these girls whenever one takes his fancy, laps up the attention, making grand soul searching statements that he doesn’t mean or even understand. The accused is made to feel so bad about herself that she sits out of the communal ‘Rose Ceremony’. I wouldn’t be too upset by that but I think it’s a big deal for them. What frustrates me even more than the double standards of Gavin Henson is that the girls themselves are actively participating in them.

I suspect young girls tune in to The Bachelor for the female contestants, not for Gavin (much to his disappointment no doubt). They’ll eagerly watch to identify the personalities that appear to win a man’s heart. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the traits that women should strive to be today will be found in 25 women who are tripping each other up on reality TV for a man. Intelligence, ambition and independence seem difficult to pinpoint. I suspect older girls who say, accidentally end up watching it because the remote control is out of reach, do it to reassure themselves about the direction their own life is taking. There’s no denying that what I lost in dignity, I gained in feeling that little bit better in myself – safe in the knowledge that I will never be one of those girls. Or Gavin Henson.

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