Watching 'The Bachelor' As A Feminist Is Hard

The Bachelor is a part of the American television landscape — no matter what you think of the show, you can’t deny that it will be looked upon as a pioneer of romantic reality television for years to come. For me, watching is a double-edged sword. I love the gowns, I love the romantic dates and destinations, and I love Chris Harrison. I won’t even say that I hate-watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (though it seems like that’s the cool thing to do), because I genuinely enjoy turning on the television and escaping from my daily life for two hours (or three when Chris Harrison does his live shows). The problem is this — as a feminist, it’s hard to watch Ben Higgins' season of The Bachelor , a show filled with so many young women who are so dead-set on marriage as the only indicator of a successful relationship.

The show is built on the notion that, as a woman, you can build a whole life and career — many of the contestants on The Bachelor have been lawyers, nurses, real estate agents, etc. — but you’re not complete until you find a man who will marry you.

Remember when Juan Pablo Galavis didn't propose at the end of his season, and everyone treated him like he failed as a Bachelor? He did a lot of things wrong his season, true, but not handing an engagement ring to a woman he just wanted to get to know a little better first wasn't one of those terrible things.

Also worth noting is what seems to be the overall declining age of the female contestants on The Bachelor. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m just older now (and would be on the top end, age-wise, of participants if I were on the show), or if the contestant pool actually skews younger, but I feel as if the average of the women on The Bachelor is “barely legal to buy alcohol.” They’re also commonly referred to as “girls,” which further infantilizes them. I’m fine with women doing what they want to do. If they want to sleep with everyone or no one or get married or never marry, so be it. As Olmec says in Legends Of The Hidden Temple, “The choices are yours and yours alone.” I worry, though, that the show only presents the false idea of marriage as the key to infinite happiness and criticizes those who "aren't there for the right reasons," aka those who may not be ready to jump right into matrimony at the end of eight weeks of filming.

Last season, when 25-year-old Becca told Chris Soules she wanted to get the chance to know him better but wasn't sure she wanted a ring right then, he ended up choosing Whitney Bischoff over her. Hopefully that wasn't the only reason why, but it certainly seemed to factor into his decision.

The Bachelor makes it seem like the definition of a successful relationship is marriage, but the truth is, marriage doesn’t work for many people. Maybe you want to have an open relationship. Maybe you just want to live together and that’s enough. Maybe you don’t want any of the above. The only way you learn this is through life experience — dating, not dating, getting to know yourself — and if the women on The Bachelor are seemingly thinking about only marriage as a marker of success at let’s say, 22 or 23, barely out of college, that could spawn other women of the same age at home to say, “Hey, that girl is just like me, and that’s what my relationship should look like.” Or, viewers could look at Becca and fear if they voice concerns about marriage, they'll get dumped.

Obviously, there’s a cognitive dissonance here in my brain. I know that The Bachelor is manufactured television, and yet I watch it anyway because I enjoy it. I know what I’m getting myself into. But, I’m also nearly 30, and I’ve dated enough to know that the relationship model that The Bachelor champions isn’t for me. Someone younger, with less patina, may lean on the show (and other patriarchal notions of romance) to guide her relationships, and that’s a problem that Ben's season is only making worse.

For everything Bachelor Nation, check out Bustle's podcast, Will You Accept This Podcast? and follow our Bachelor fan page on Facebook.

Images: Craig Sjodin/ABC; Giphy (3)