“Feminists” Attack Bachelor

The Bachelor hit small screens across New Zealand this week, and already it has people confused over whether or not it is harmful to women. Whether it’s bad tv or not is not the question (sorry mum). With trite, repetitive dialogue, no hint of genuine conversation and appalling fashion sense all round, there’s much reason to switch the channel.

But now that Raybon Kan’s light takedown (“a New Zealand dating show should be called Drink, Root and Vomit”) has been joined by singer/writer/“feminist”/millennial, Lizzie Marvelly’s front-page-billed, half-page rant, I feel like maybe people are confused by the concept of feminism.

Because feminism — to me, at least — is about freedom for women. Rights, if you will. Freedom to vote. Freedom to wear trousers. Freedom to work in jobs that make as much as men. Maybe even freedom to walk the streets without harassment (“oh come on!” cries the man who really did think a wolf-whistle was “just a compliment.”) But freedom to participate in an “international phenomenon that’s captured hearts all over the globe”?

Raybon is a comedian, and so we have to accept that many of his columns will be satirical, even ironic (“The Bachelor is propaganda for Saudi Arabian attitudes to women”), but Lizzie’s complaint reads as a scornful takedown of a “television event” that many women in New Zealand are happy to watch — presumably without undermining their own feminism.

The crux of the problem seems to be that there are just so many women, and only one man. What, did any of these women know that they would be subject to competition for an object of pure sexual desire? Was Mr Jordan Mauger aware that he would be offered up on a pedestal as some sort of prize, a hunk of meat to make sausage jokes about? Of course he did. There are two million men in this country, at least one of them was going to say yes. And the women? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, as Ms Marvelly says, “motivated by a strategic decision to launch a brand on the back of The Bachelor’s publicity circus.” Or maybe they really did think it would be a true opportunity to find love. Or did they just think it would be fun? What’s wrong with hoping to find a man to complete you? As a straight man myself, am I allowed to look for a woman who completes me? (Cue cries of “that’s so gay, bro!”)

Mr Kan: “A human rights organisation should be collecting up episodes of this show, like evidence of animal cruelty, to raise awareness so we can rescue the contests from this cage.” Really, Raybon? Are we to treat these women as having the same sense of agency as animals?

To hold that The Bachelor is anti-feminist implies that these women really aren’t that bright. They aren’t able to see how ‘wrong’ it is to participate; how being on the show is unbecoming of a modern women… unladylike? Because the fights of decades past (or even decades now) for women to participate freely in society without scorn mean nothing if they aren’t a choice at all. A woman’s choice to wear trousers to work means nothing if she wasn’t free to still wear a skirt. Likewise, to say that these twenty-something twenty-somethings are being manipulated, foolish or un-feminist — sending “Kate Sheppard spinning in her grave” — by going on TV, is to devalue their sense of self-determination.

“Where is The Bachelorette NZ? Or The Gay Bachelor NZ?”

I agree, Ms Marvelly. But like the debate over diversity in the Oscars let’s not confuse the argument by suggesting that films with white people in them are racist. There are a lot of white producers, white actors, white directors and white audiences who want to make and see films. The problem isn’t that they exist (the films or the people), it’s that not nearly enough other films exist that feature minorities in great numbers or leading roles. So please, bring on The Gay Bachelor! The Bachelorette! Or even The Bachelor for Only One Woman and One Man! But don’t complain that women are choosing to participate in a game show that certainly couldn’t have existed in your grandmother’s day.