ColumnDoes watching women tear each other’s eyes out on TV make me a bad feminist?
When the last season of The Bachelor ended, I promised myself I was done with any TV shows involving the following: dating, housewives and matchmakers. The thing is, I love these shows. I don’t care that they are scripted, stupid and hardly ever result in true love.
It started innocently enough. Years after The Bachelor franchise became popular, a friend invited me to a viewing party. I had never watched the show. But one night of wine, snarky smack talk and vegetarian entrees (in the form of sea salt brownies from Trader Joe’s), and I was hooked. Years later, much to my own embarrassment and the dismay of my husband Erik, I still am.
And my viewing habits have gotten even worse: Millionaire Matchmaker and The Real Housewives—of New York, the OC and Beverley Hills, I haven’t stooped to Jersey—have crept into my life. Erik classifies these shows as “horrible women screaming at each other.”
Even though I have caught him watching brain-numbing golf tournaments, something about his characterization crept into my head, and now I am pretty sure that watching this crap makes me a lousy feminist.
With all of the ways society pits us against each other (working women vs. stay-at-home moms, single women vs. married women, lesbians vs. straight women, women without kids vs. women with kids, trans women vs. Smith College), I have to ask myself: Does watching women tear each other apart for entertainment support my beliefs? The clear answer is no.
But, god help me, I can’t help but wonder how bridal stylist Desiree Hartstock (That’s her real last name!)—or Des, as Sean called her on the last season—the doe-eyed, likeable runner-up, will do as the Bachelorette when it starts up May 27!
Like an addict, I watch the commercials and bargain with myself: What if I just watch my favorite part of the show, the introductions where the contestants exit the limo and I place bets on which one will do the requisite horrible dance, recite the wretched poem or have the dumbest job? Maybe I can just tune in for the hometown dates and the last hour of the three-hour finale. Would that be SO bad?
According to the ‘70s rallying cry, “the personal is political,” it would be. This seems to be a question that still matters—and regarding issues far more important than reality TV.
Aligning my beliefs with my actions is a constant battle. Do I buy the recycled toilet paper even though it’s scratchy? Pay more for the organic, local produce? Change the channel when women with spray tans and implants rip each other apart over a guy they don’t even know? Historically: occasionally, yes, no.
I’m not suggesting we strive for total consistency at the risk of sucking the fun out of life. I am fully confident that I can get my TV fix from Callie Khouri’s Nashville, Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project and Lena Dunham’s Girls, all of which offer plenty of drama, mind-bogglingly good hair and smart writing sans negative stereotypes about women as catty bitches out to get a man at any price. However, Rebel Wilson’s new show doesn’t start until fall, and my other stories, as I call them, are going on summer vacation.
I can’t stick up for the housewives or the matchmakers, they have to go. But I can argue that The Bachelorette is a feminist-enough show—at least as much as brownies are a vegetarian entree. The woman is in charge and calling the shots—or executing the shots the producers are calling—whatever. The male contestants don’t typically come across as any smarter or nicer than their female counterparts. No one emerges smelling like a rose, as they say.
So, will I go cold turkey and say goodbye to the ladies of reality TV, or will I accept the rose ABC is pushing and tune in? I’m not sure, but I can tell you this: in Bachelorette lingo, it will be the most dramatic, and hardest, decision I have EVER had to make.
Image: ABC TV