I realized something this past week: The Bachelorette is my favorite show. I can’t say why, and I don’t know that I’ll always feel this way, but like drunkenly pulling smarmy, ugly leather jacket-clad Nick into your Ireland hotel room in a feverish passion, the heart wants what the heart wants. And this week, I’ve just wanted The Bachelorette.
As a show, The Bachelor is a really straightforward narrative of patriarchy: there’s a single boring white dude, and 30 women with blonde highlights and unthreatening careers fighting over him. The Bachelorette, however, is more of a mind-fuck. It more or less always brings us the same tired cliches about hetero romance and gender, the same negative stereotypes and narrow views of womanhood as its brother program, but it’s all wrapped up in a kind of faux female empowerment—a crowd of HOT TOPLESS GUYS with SIX-PACKS, OMG, fawning over one lucky single gal in a glorious triumph for feminism and equal opportunity. This is our turn, ladiesssss!
For a brief moment on this past week’s episode though, it felt like it kind of was. There was indeed a tiny glimmer of feminism, in which the show decided to cater to Kaitlyn’s sluttiness. To be perfectly clear, by saying sluttiness I of course am joking about the double standards that the show and our horrid patriarchal culture perpetuate around female sexuality; by Kaitlyn’s sluttiness I do of course mean her Totally Healthy Female Sexuality. The show saw that Kaitlyn was being unapologetically sexual, and they did some helpful rearranging to cater to it.
So like, in case you somehow missed it: Kaitlyn totally had sex with Nick. S-E-X. Pre-Fantasy Suite. Post-first date. She drank a bunch of whiskey and sucked on his creepy face in an ancient church in Ireland like the godless feminist that she is, and then she was like, “come back to my hotel room,” made a bunch of sex noises behind a closed door and emerged in the morning unabashedly admitting that she had engaged in heterosexual sex with Creepy Nick. And she said that she had no regrets about her decision to have sex, but only felt bad about how it might affect her relationships with her six other boyfriends. OMFG. Instead of collapsing into a pile of post-coital shame, Kaitlyn really makes a point to distinguish feeling a lil bad that she went to home base with just one of her suitors on a show that’s all about keeping a level playing field (omg you guys that sports metaphor just served me so well), from slut-shaming herself for having sex in the first place. She says repeatedly that she regrets the timing, but not the act itself.
It is really kind of incredible for a woman on this horrific franchise–and the Bachelorette herself, no less—to be acting so fucking NORMAL about sex. She’s not playing into the show’s ridiculous and deeply problematic messages around women’s sexuality: that it’s okay to have sex only once you’re “in love” with someone, that women’s sexuality is totally at odds with their “respectability,” or that if you ever do want to have sex with someone you speak about it only in code, saying that you “can’t wait to get to know them on another level” or that you “want to spend as much time is possible with them.” The Bach franchise maintains this kind of gross balance of never-quite admitting to your sexuality, especially when you’re a woman. And seeing Kaitlyn just blatantly disregard that and treat sex with a person who you talked to some on the Internet and think is cute (barrrrrf) and obvs have very excellent chemistry with on the first date after a bunch of whiskey drinks like the very-standard NBD of being a human that it is. YES!
So when Chris Harrison waltzed into the room last week and told Kaitlyn NOT to pack her slutty bags ‘cause she was getting banished from the Bach franchise family tree forevs-more for being such a ho and NOT that she should go to her room without supper and think about what she had done young lady, but that THEY WERE CHANGING THE RULES OF THE SHOW TO ACCOMMODATE HER CUTE, RESPECTABLE, NORMAL FEMALE SEXUALITY, I kinda rejoiced a little bit.
The show’s usual rules go like this: first come hometowns, then comes the Fantasy Suite. Which is actually pretty weird, because who introduces their family to a suitor with whom they have not yet knocked boots? But because Kaitlyn has already Made Her Own Fantasy Suite with Creepy Nick (“why did you make love to me if you’re not in love with me” Part Two coming soon, no doubt), and also had some “off-camera time” with Ryan Gosling Semi-Lookalike/Insecure Hottie Shawn, the new rules will move up the Fantasy Suite dates to before the hometown dates—so Kaitlyn gets to make-love-to-even-though-she’s-not-in-love-with all of her suitors, to put them all back on equal ground ASAP.
YOU GUYS! Somewhere, a team of producers met to talk about how best to approach the Bachelorette being kinda unapologetically slutty, and a sort of respectful consideration of unapologetic female sexuality was heard round the world. We can’t know what tonight’s episode and the remainder of the season will bring, though the “Next Week On” previews keep promising that Kaitlyn’s gonna tell the Pool O’ Dudes about her and Nick’s sexscapade, and one need only look at every episode heretofore to imagine some pretty enormous slut-shaming is afoot… But today, let us celebrate this little victory. This small shimmer of hope. This tiny chip away at the gargantuan phallus of patriarchy. We’ve got approximately T minus eight hours, Eastern Standard Time, till the next episode airs to revel in it.