The Bachelor is not a feminist show. It’s built on fucked-up gender politics and preys on insecurities taught to girls—namely, the life-consuming importance of finding and marrying a man. You know, the “I gave up everything to be here” and “this may be the most important day of my life” refrains. Like that Onion article, I enjoy The Bachelor by muting the feminist part of my brain in favor of the part that delights in the manufactured drama, analyzes the impressive production, and studies the fine line between reality and performance.
In other words, The Bachelor is a lot of fun if you’re willing to put aside gender politics for a two hours a week. (Which is not something I do only for The Bachelor; if I didn’t let myself enjoy media that is, let’s say, less than feminist, the list of consumable media would be very short.) But the same day that Trump reinstituted the “global gag rule,” making it illegal for U.S. funds to aid NGOs that provide, or even discuss, abortion, the question of setting aside politics becomes a little trickier. Is it possible to get so wrapped up in the artificial world of The Bachelor that I, a living woman who wants rights, can enjoy it? Or does the real world outside of The Bachelor’s mansions and helicopters and beautiful people intrude to the point where it’s no longer enjoyable to watch 120 minutes of a show whose central conceit is pitting woman against each other to win a fiancé?
In week four, we pick up the “cliffhanger” of Vanessa confronting Nick about his hanky-panky with Corinne in the bouncy house. Vanessa makes clear that she’s not judging Corinne’s actions, but Nick’s actions. She’s a contestant a feminist can root for in the mental gymnastics we perform to enjoy this show. Putting the onus on Nick is a refreshing change of pace from the way contestants—and lots of media with this sort of dynamics in general, really—fight amongst each other without adding the second person into the equation.
Taylor (a mental health counselor who graduated college in three years, earned her master’s, and is practicing at age 23) and Sarah appear to have surprisingly mature conversation with Corinne, telling her to be mindful of the other contestants and how she comes off to them. Corinne is defensive and childlike, serving to highlight the drastically different maturity levels between the contestants. (Sarah is a grade school teacher who professionally takes care of kids all day; Corinne has a nanny.) Corinne says she’s not privileged “in any way, shape, or form,” and yet her status as white and wealthy—she’s said several times now how she runs a “multi-million dollar company”—are the definition of white privilege and class privilege. I wrote last week about Corinne’s excellent villainy. I don’t think for a second that Corinne is stupid. I believe that part of enjoying The Bachelor is seeing the deeper people the show works hard to paint with broad strokes. Yes, Corinne is entitled and privileged, but she’s savvy enough to rival Nick for screen time, and every moment spent away from her feels boring. I don’t think she’s getting taken advantage of by being cast as this season’s villain. I think she saw an opportunity and went for it.
Corinne got the last rose in the early-episode rose ceremony, and it does raise the question (not for the first time and certainly not for the last) of to what extent the bachelor is pressured, or forced, to keep the villains in the show longer than they might naturally choose to do so. Nick seems to have gone cold on Corinne this week, but there’s no question that losing her would critically damage the enjoyability of the show.
The moments not centering around Corinne drama felt dreadfully dull, which doesn’t change as the show takes the group to Wisconsin. As someone who grew up in both Waukesha and Milwaukee, it’s pretty funny to see the manufactured joy the show forces on the contestants. Enthusiastically screaming “Hawaii!” is a lot more believable than enthusiastically screaming “Milwaukee!” As for Waukesha—unless you live nearby, there are plenty of people in Wisconsin who have never heard of the place. (Case in point: The women meet up with Nick at some generic park where they’re excited about ducks.)
Nick takes Danielle L. around Waukesha’s small downtown area, which, to be fair, is cute and has some great antique stores. (And to Lowell Park, I think? Best sledding hill in Waukesha.) It’s boring. How could it not be—there’s no Corinne! They also go to the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee, which is fine, and the Pabst Theater, which is a great fucking venue that deserves better than whatever ABC-contracted artist performed there for the synergistic sake of the show.
And while there are whole swaths of Wisconsin where no cows can be found and the air is unbesmirched by the smells of manure and sounds of mooing, this is an episode taking place in America’s dairyland, so naturally they head to a diary farm. (The cheese the farmer shows—LaClare—is really excellent, by the way.) It does elicit Jaime (who seems way too cool to be on this show) to comment on Nick’s less-than-ideal handling of teats. It also milks more great lines out of Corinne, like how she should be in a spa eating chicken tacos, and some choice shit-related puns from the rest of the contestants.
Alas, Nick’s date with Raven is Corinne-less and shit-less, and therefore boring. Nick and Raven play soccer with Nick’s little sister, which is as boring as every child’s soccer practice. She meets the parents. This is also boring. They go roller skating. Is it interesting? No. It is boring. (It is boring to me despite spending a decent amount of my youth also skating circles at Skateland, also to Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me.”) The flashes back to the house, where Corinne talks about herself and the rest of the contestants talk about Corinne, is far more interesting, because it has conflict. I would rather spend the bulk of the show listening in as Taylor talks about the amount of fucks she has left to spend on Corinne and pause to briefly check in on Nick’s date than the other way around. And while a dairy farm is perhaps the most unsurprising place for a show to go when it makes a stop in Wisconsin, if there’s a stop in Milwaukee you know it’ll be at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where literally every Milwaukeean takes literally every friend from out of town. (What doesn’t happen every day is the Brise Soleil flapping its fucking wings at night for two people and some cameras. Damn! And they get to skate around. Save the special treatment for some locals who’ll appreciate it, Milwaukee Art Museum.)
Still, the two-hour runtime packs in plenty to enjoy. Between scenes of Corinne talking about cow poop and Taylor laying down some mental-health counselor knowledge, I found myself all wrapped up in The Bachelor’s vacuous world, cozy as the thick blankets the contestants apparently need to stay warm in the crisp Wisconsin air. I greedily absorbed all the Corinne drama those smart Bachelor producers drummed up for me. I am a sponge growing fat on manufactured discord, and it is satisfying. Can you enjoy something while still finding it problematic? Yes. Is The Bachelor good for women? Of course not! Did it sooth some of the rage I feel about Trump’s patriarchal policies he’s enacting on day three of his presidency? Not even a little! But maybe a show as inconsequential as The Bachelor doesn’t have to do anything but be entertaining for two hours.