There are few things “The Bachelor” franchise enjoys more than milking some good, old-fashioned sh*t-talking and some good, old-fashioned female insecurity.
On Monday night, viewers watched a depressingly familiar scene play out between Bachelor Ben and Leah: Girl feels insecure about her relationship with Boy (who happens to be dating 10 other girls on reality TV). Girl goes to Boy in a bid to get his attention, and instead of talking about herself and productively furthering her relationship with said boy, talks badly about another girl. Boy is unimpressed by such behavior and unceremoniously dumps Girl to great acclaim from those watching back home.
It’s painful to watch girl-on-girl hatred on-screen, and it’s particularly frustrating to watch a woman speak poorly about another woman (twice!) and then lie about it, as Leah did to Lauren B., Becca and Amanda. But it’s also exactly the type of interaction “The Bachelor” is structured to create. The show takes the most base, retrograde gender dynamics of the real world and magnifies them a thousand times. Viewers are left to simultaneously be repulsed by and enjoy the spectacle.
“Bachelor” story arcs like Leah’s make for satisfying television -- a villain is born and defeated all within the span of two hours. Scrolling through Twitter, the general sentiment seemed to be that Leah had gotten what she deserved. She stabbed another woman, frontrunner Lauren B., in the back! How could she?
Leah's “mean girl” behavior -- in all of its carefully-edited, presumably producer-prodded glory -- was pretty shitty. But there were also moments during Monday night’s episode where her actions felt uncomfortably human -- a reflection of our most unattractive, immature romantic failures. She gets passed over for a one-on-one date for Caila, and then watches as Ben spends the entire group date with Lauren B. She passive-aggressively says that she’s “fine,” while internally (and to the cameras) having a low-key emotional breakdown. Her reactions weren’t pretty or productive, but they also didn’t seem so out of the realm of reality.
In “The Bachelor” world, male attention is perceived as a zero-sum game -- the more another girl is getting, the less you can have. And a woman’s ultimate value within the franchise is defined by the amount of male attention she receives. This plays out nearly every season, as the women who are “not here to make friends” throw other women under the metaphorical bus on their “journeys” to true love. Sometimes these women are portrayed as cunning villains who have seduced the Bachelor into falling for them despite their evil inclinations, like Courtney Robertson on Ben Flajnik’s season. When they are less well-liked by the lead, they get the Carly Waddell edit, portrayed as desperate mean girls who cut down other women in a futile play for the Bachelor’s affection.
It’s not just “The Bachelor” world, though. On “The Bachelorette,” plenty of men still seem smugly aware that they’ll do just fine with the ladies when they leave the show, while the girls on “The Bachelor” moan that not getting a rose would be the worst thing in the world, a true indictment of their desirability. In the real world, women have been socialized to compete for male approval, while men have been taught to pursue as many women as possible with the plan of at least one working out.
In the context of the show, where a single romantic target rules all, this leaves the women to desperately cut each other down to get love from the one man present. The men, in contrast, seem to cut their losses and speculate that they’d be great Bachelors next season.
In "The Bachelor" world, male attention is perceived as a zero-sum game -- the more another girl is getting, the less you can have.
Leah thought she was gaming the system by sneaking out of the house to “do something extreme” and make an impression on Ben. But in reality, she just played into the idea that the ultimate prize is a man’s affection, and that the “fight” for that “love” trumps all -- including basic human decency to the people she’d been sharing a home with for the last month and a half.
Ultimately, "The Bachelor" gamed her. The show got a dramatic plotline and an emotional exit. Leah got called a b*tch on Twitter, and earned herself a spot in the hot seat during the "Women Tell All" episode. She will likely apologize for her bad behavior, and be ushered into "Paradise" with a relatively clean slate. The show will move on, and producers will ready themselves for a new crop of young, beautiful women who are hungry for true love and socialized to go after it at all costs. When your worth as a female human being is inextricably tied to how desired you are by men, why would you prioritize anything else?
Want more on "The Bachelor"? Listen to this week's "Here To Make Friends" podcast.
Do people love "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette" and "Bachelor in Paradise," or do they love to hate these shows? It's unclear. But here at "Here To Make Friends," we both love and love to hate them -- and we love to snarkily dissect each episode in vivid detail. Podcast edited by Nick Offenberg.
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