Yes, You Can Be a Feminist & Still Love ‘The Bachelorette’

“You call yourself a feminist?” is a familiar phrase heard in my household when a new season of “The Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” rolls around. My poor husband walks into the room and catches one of any number of sound bites that make him question my commitment to the feminist agenda.

I get it. “The Bachelor,” in particular, is a parade of skinny women in fancy dresses or bikinis competing for the heart of one handsome single guy. When the situation is reversed, with a season of “The Bachelorette,” I have a slight feminist advantage. Here the woman is in charge, handing out roses, making out with multiple guys in a single evening: She’s in control of her love life. But the show, which is decidedly heterosexist in so many ways, clearly requires a temporary suspension of not only disbelief, but perhaps everything you stand for. Just lay back and enjoy the scantily clad drama.

And enjoy it I do. All by myself. In the sad darkness of my living room with a bag of potato chips balancing precariously on my belly.

I refuse to be shamed. Especially not this season. Not now that the show has reached new heights by choosing the BEST BACHELORETTE IN THE HISTORY OF THE SHOW, who also happens to be the first black Bachelorette: Rachel Lindsay.

Swoon. Honestly, I love my husband, we have a wonderful relationship, we just celebrated our five-year anniversary, and I’m very much heterosexual, but seriously… I want to marry Rachel Lindsay. One can dream.

But before I doth swoon too much, I should acknowledge the basic problems that would (and should) give a feminist pause:

1. There are no fat people. Or even average-sized people, though some of the men get away with being burly (not so the women contestants on “The Bachelor”).

2. The premise of the show is that heterosexual marriage is a laudable goal, and the assumption is that the marrying couple will also, of course, choose to have children and fulfill a cookie-cutter stereotype of the perfect American family.

Maybe one day we’ll get some normal body types represented on the show or even a queer or gender-variant Bachelor/ette (also, I keep waiting for one of the Bachelors to fall in love with Chris Harrison in a dramatic twist, but I won’t hold my breath). For now, I will revel in the fact that for the first time, we get to see a black woman in charge of her romantic destiny. She is in power, judging the men’s suitability as intellectual, emotional, and sexual partners. As Roxane Gay points out in her brilliant commentary, this is a milestone for the portrayal of black womanhood.

Now let me count the ways I love this season of the Bachelorette:

1. Rachel really is the total package. 

She is by far the smartest and most articulate Bachelorette there has ever been. She is beautiful. She is sensitive, yet straightforward and clear about her feelings, and she has a low threshold for bullshit. When a recent ex-girlfriend of one of Rachel’s suitors crashed an early episode, Rachel successfully interrogated the suitor about whether he had actually broken up with said ex-girlfriend and then kicked him off the show. She is badass. She knows what she wants and won’t settle for less.

2. The guys are actually pretty awesome. 

There is always a mix of quirky personality types on the Bachelor and Bachelorette: The clown who gets eliminated within the first few episodes (WA-BOOM!!!); the instigator who has to cause trouble by picking fights in the house (the notorious Lee—more on him later); the one who’s slightly creepy (this season it was the Tickler, and also Adam who brought that freaky man-doll—ew).

But other than the required parade of weirdos, this season has a lot of great guys who aren’t all totally idiots. Many are smart and have complex emotions that they share in conversation! What strikes me the most is that when the guys talk about Rachel, they are clearly in awe of her. It’s adorable when they swoon over how she “has it all”: brains, beauty, a successful career, a good heart. No one has said anything lewd about her. They clearly respect this woman and genuinely want to have a relationship with her. This feminist is more than satisfied.

3. Finally, it’s not all white people. 

Though the show has been criticized for using racial tension to increase ratings, as a viewer, I’ve appreciated that the show has provided a context for some real conversations about race and dating. Racial dynamics were brought to the forefront when Lee, the white singer-songwriter from Nashville, purposefully lured Kenny (a sweet and sensitive black wrestler) into a series of arguments. The question of Lee’s racist intentions led to some heated conversations about race. Most of the men in the house came to agree that Lee’s characterization of Kenny as “aggressive” was racist.

Again, critics have accused the show of manipulating the issue of race by citing the fact that producers must have known of Lee’s racist internet ramblings in advance of casting him. That’s very much possible, but taking the show at face value, I appreciate how racial dynamics aren’t sugar coated. In the end, while Rachel herself never accuses Lee of racism, she listens to both sides of the argument, and with a combination of lawyerly wisdom and gut instinct, she lets Lee go. No white savior here.

4. For whatever reason, the dialogue on this season is just better. Clearly, Lee wasn’t there for the “right reasons,” and speaking of the “right reasons,” have you ever noticed that the Bachelor/Bachelorette carries its own horrible phrasebook of clichés? It’s enough

to turn you off to the show, unless you’re already past the level of addiction, after which phrases like “being there for the right reasons” become soothingly nostalgic. But this season, the dialogue is somehow elevated. Conversations are really deep and insightful! People are showing actual emotional intelligence (a quality that the much-maligned Corinne was accused of lacking in the previous season)!

There is just one grammar problem that has sadly not gone away, which drives me INSANE every time I hear it: When someone says “Rachel and I’s relationship.” That’s “I” with an apostrophe “s” after it. I shudder. My heart sinks. It happens ALL THE TIME ON THIS FREAKING SHOW AND IT’S NOT OK. Anyway, I digress.

Clearly, Rachel is raising the bar on “The Bachelorette.” On a trip to Denmark, during an intense rose ceremony, Rachel quoted Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” And that couldn’t be a more appropriate line to describe her journey so far. She’s showing America how a strong, smart, beautiful black woman can rewrite the rules of love. She has my heart, and I can’t wait to see who will be worthy of winning hers.

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