“The Bachelor” is nowhere near the most feminist show on television; it’s a far cry from shows like “Girls” and “Broad City” that explicitly call out and critique patriarchy. “The Bachelor,” after all, showcases 25 conventionally beautiful women who are putting their careers on hold to compete for a husband. The program has major problems with racial underrepresentation, and there certainly are contestants who advocate traditional gender roles. Plus, the women are routinely objectified with date activities, such as modeling beachwear for Sports Illustrated and skiing in bikinis.
Though “The Bachelor” and “Bachelor in Paradise” might portray their contestants as insecure, romance-obsessed women without agency, the assumption that the franchise is always sexist itself contains sexism.
Whether they’re there for adventure, fame or a genuine interest in the bachelor or bachelorette, each season manages to attract strong women both on screen and among those who tune in. The reality shows — and now all the blogs and social media accounts associated with the shows — provide a platform for women to stand up for themselves and one another.
I’d like to see more diversity and fewer gender stereotypes on television in general. But in the meantime, I’d rather root for Bachelor Nation’s most feminist contestants than abstain altogether. I’ve watched every season since 2010, and here are the moments that stand out to me as the most empowering.
1. Ali Fedotowsky puts her career above love.
Though final-four contestant Ali Fedotowsky was taken with 2010 bachelor Jake Pavelka, she left the show to keep her job at Facebook, teaching women across America not to sacrifice their ambitions for love. “I am the biggest advocate of women going out there and having careers,” she said during that season’s “Women Tell All” episode. Fedotowsky went on to become the next Bachelorette — deciding it was time to prioritize love (or the money ABC offered her) over work, but she’s still best known for leaving the show for her career. And Pavelka turned out to be a total jerk.
2. JP Rosenbaum follows his wife Ashley Hebert around the country.
Despite complaints about Bachelor Nation’s women always relocating, “Bachelorette” sweethearts Ashley Hebert and JP Rosenbaum moved to New Jersey to be closer to Hebert’s dental residency. In 2014, the couple relocated again to Miami because Hebert craved warmer weather. JP told Wetpaint of the move, “Happy wife, happy life.” The couple has bucked gender roles on other occasions, too. In a TV interview last year, soon after the birth of their son, Hebert calls JP “the master diaper changer.” In another video, she asks him, “Are you gonna cook for me for the rest of our lives?” “Forever,” he responds.
JP isn’t the only man who has relocated for a “Bachelor” lady. “Bachelorette” season 8 winner Jef Holm moved from Utah to North Carolina to be with his then-fiancée Emily Maynard and her daughter, and Cody Sattler moved from Chicago to Utah for Michelle Money after they met on “Bachelor in Paradise.”
3. Sean Lowe condemns racist beauty standards.
When season 17 contender Robyn Howard asked bachelor Sean Lowe how he felt about his season being more racially diverse than past ones (watch here), he welcomed her curiosity with the response, “I love this question,” then continued, “People look at me, blonde hair, blue eyes, and they think, ‘He probably goes for white girls who are blonde.’ Honestly, physically, I don’t have a type. … I’ve dated everybody, and when I say everybody, I mean Hispanic, Persian, my last girlfriend, black. … It’s the mind, and it’s the woman behind the physical appearance.” Props to Lowe for taking down racist, patriarchal standards of beauty. He married winner Catherine Giudici, who is half Filipino, in 2014, and they’re expecting their first child.
4. Kelly Travis calls out Juan Pablo Galavis’s homophobia.
Former competitor Kelly Travis told off bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis for calling gay people “more pervert” on season 18’s “Women Tell All” episode. When he backtracked and claimed the statement was “taken out of context,” she wasn’t having it: “Taken out of context? Per-vert?” Victoria Lima chimed in: “Please stop using English as a second language as a cop out.” Outspoken women shutting down an ignorant man to support LGBT rights is something any feminist can get behind.
5. Andi Dorfman isn’t afraid to be single.
Andi Dorfman chose to exit “The Bachelor” after it became clear that Galavis “didn’t care about who I was or what I want in life.” The prosecutor knew a narcissist like Galavis wouldn’t treat her as an equal, so she stood up and left.
6. Josh Murray believes quitting his career was worth it — because it lead him to Andi Dorfman.
Like Fedotowsky, Dorfman was rewarded for valuing her independence with the title of “The Bachelorette.” As finalist Josh Murray picked out her engagement ring, he said, “Andi’s a very strong woman. … I like that. That’s a sexy quality to me.” Murray also said on the show that he quit playing professional baseball so he’d have time to start a family, a welcome role reversal and reminder that Bachelor Nation’s men are often sacrificing their careers as much as the women to find love. Though they broke off their engagement after eight months, Murray and the other men vying for Dorfman’s heart valued her strong-mindedness.
7. Lacey Faddoul, Michelle Money and Christie Crawford tell off “misogynistic a—hole” Jesse Kovacs.
When “Bachelor in Paradise” playboy Jesse Kovacs cheated on Christy Crawford and bragged about it to the season’s other men, Lacy Faddoul and Michelle Money weren’t amused. They followed him off the show, yelling, “Us women are not stupid!” and “Girl power!” For extra measure, Crawford called him “a misogynistic a—hole.” I was so inspired by Money’s speech on how women must stand up to exploitive men like Kovacs so they don’t repeat their behavior that I told off a sexual harasser on a dating app the next day.
8. Chris Soules supports Jade Roper’s right to make her own choices about her body.
When contestant Jade Roper admitted that she posed for Playboy, Chris Soules said he wouldn’t judge her for it: “Don’t feel bad about that. I mean, you are a beautiful woman and that’s not something I feel is something that would affect our relationship in any way.” When he sent her home, he made it clear that it wasn’t for that reason.
9. Kaitlyn Bristowe and Nick Viall take a stand against slut-shaming.
Last year, bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe defended her choice to have sex with competitor Nick Viall before the “fantasy suite” dates (the episode when the show permits “off-camera time,” Bachelor Nation’s euphemism for sex). Viall tweeted that “both men and women have an equal right to have sex without judgement [sic].” Host Chris Harrison wrote in a blog post that critics of Bristowe’s move were “unfair” and told her he’d choose her as a role model for his kids over anyone who harassed her about it. Together, Bristowe, Viall and Harrison reminded viewers that it’s not okay to judge a woman’s character based on her sexual decisions.
10. Jubilee Sharpe shows off her strengths in her intro video for Ben Higgins’s season.
Military veteran and current “Bachelor” contestant Jubilee Sharpe shoots a gun and throws a man to the ground in her introductory video, where she explains, “People have this perception of females in the military. It’s so hard to get away from.” Hopefully, she’ll get enough screen time to change that perception.
These scenes might help feminists feel a little better about relishing “The Bachelor’s” drama — not that we need to justify our TV habits anyway.