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(Un)feminist Guilty Pleasures: Can The Bachelor’s fairy tale be fixed?

Until last week, I hadn’t watched The Bachelor since Trista and Ryan. I avoided the show partly because it’s rife with sexism, heterosexism, and racism. It’s also just a bad TV show. Unfortunately for me, however, the current bachelor, Ben Higgins, is from Warsaw, IN. Warsaw is about 45 minutes away from the tiny town where I grew up, and given that Indiana is never of pop culture relevance, I had to watch. It was my Hoosier duty.

Five episodes and far too many hours later, I am caught up on The Bachelor. It’s still the worst, but I find myself drawn to it and kind of love it a little bit. I think enough ink has been spilled on the problematic portions of The Bachelor, and rest assured none of that has changed. What fascinates me is that I’m not attracted to “other stuff” about the show. I’m not playing any underground “Bachelor games” (I’m assuming those exist because how can they not?). I am drawn in by the central tenet of the show, the love story.

The Bachelor exists in a long line of fairy tale romance stories. Whether it’s a princess searching for prince charming, Twilight, or The Bachelor, women and girls are inundated with imagery of the “perfect” romance that should sweep us off our feet and leaving us gasping for air. These stories are rooted in chivalry, heteronormativity, sexism, etc. But that doesn’t stop me from loving them.

I’m a total romantic and am a sucker for love stories. Apparently context to those love stories doesn’t matter. Despite the fact that I know The Bachelor is ludicrous and terrible…I want to watch. I enjoy getting wrapped up in the romance of it all, even if it’s manufactured. And if I’m honest, the sport of it is amazing. Picking my team, and rooting for the women who are my favorites makes it easy to forget all the other bullshit.

But there’s bullshit, and I’m a fixer. I want this show (and most shows and movies and general pop culture) to be better.

I’ve been thinking about what would make The Bachelor better. I’ve come up with a queer version, having people of color both as the bachelor/bachelorette and within the group of suitors, and less slut shaming. What makes the show so popular is that we can imagine ourselves in the story (or we just like the train wreck), so theoretically a more inclusive fairy tale should give more joy to more people.

I’m not exactly sure that’s the case though. Part of the draw of escapism is not having to think about our present worlds. That’s why binge watching TV shows and playing video games are so enticing. Of course, not everyone is invited into a land far far away, but I wonder if the fairy tale is just too warped to be saved. Is The Bachelor too far gone to envision a better version, even as more diverse television is successful? I honestly have no answer for that.

There’s also the possibility that it might just be better to take it for what it is and not overthink this piece of garbage. But I just can’t help myself. The optimist in me wants to find some redeeming quality, or at least think about how we could there.

Because it really is just that bad.

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Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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