‘The Bachelorette’ And Society’s Unrelenting Double Standard

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From the very first day that this season of “The Bachelorette” premiered, viewers have been anxiously awaiting a “scandalous” episode that has been teased relentlessly by the network. It was clear from the early promos that Kaitlyn was going to sleep with a contestant midway through the season – weeks before the Fantasy Suite episode. As the season progressed, it became more and more obvious that the “lucky” suitor was Nick Viall, who stirred up all sorts of drama by joining the season a few weeks late.

After seeing that clip of the hotel door shutting at least a dozen times, and after a flurry of tabloid headlines that promoted the episode in question, we finally can rest assured knowing that, yes, Kaitlyn did sleep with Nick. Aside from the fact that Nick’s presence on the show raises some eyebrows (after what went down between him and Andi last year) this really shouldn’t be a big deal.

But it is.

Ever since the first few teasers were released, it was pretty obvious what was going to happen. Kaitlyn sleeps with a contestant, Kaitlyn feels wracked with guilt, Kaitlyn cries a lot, and the guys are angry. Even though Kaitlyn herself went on TV saying that she has no regrets about what transpired between her and Nick behind closed doors, and even though Nick spoke out via Twitter in support of Kaitlyn, the show itself is taking a very different tone. Kaitlyn’s guilt has become the highlight of the show. The confidence she has about her decisions? Yeah, that didn’t make the editing cut.

As expected, the Internet reacted to this episode in all sorts of extremes. Some people were supportive, while others were quick to name-call. Considering that she’s immersed in a circumstance that the majority of people would never find themselves in, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

The bigger problem, of course, is the way that this information is presented to us. Before we can even form opinions of our own, we’re accosted with the idea that Kaitlyn did something that she should feel guilty about. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised – after all, ABC is seeking ratings and amping up the drama is a good way to get them – but it’s hard not to notice that this topic is dealt with quite differently when it’s The Bachelor, not The Bachelorette.

Both Ben Flajnik and Juan Pablo Galavis allegedly had sex with contestants – on camera – while serving as The Bachelor. In both cases, there was no onslaught of guilt from the men, no tearful camera confessions. In both cases, it was actually the women who got more flack, not the guys.

Courtney Robertson won Ben’s season, and she confesses to having sex with Ben on camera in her book “I Didn’t Come Here To Make Friends.” It’s worth pointing out that Courtney was vilified to no end on Ben’s season, and the fact that she hooked up with Ben in the ocean didn’t make her any more popular among the women in the house or the viewers.

Similarly, when Juan Pablo got frisky in the ocean with contestant Clare Crawley, it was Clare who spent the next few episodes in tears. Juan Pablo evaded all responsibility, and Clare was the one who was consumed with guilt and shame for the majority of the season.

Of course, we don’t know how any of this really went down, thanks to ABC’s editing team. But therein lies the problem – we are seeing snippets of these intimate details through a very specific lens. We are being told which person we should pat on the back, and which one should be the recipient of our “tsk tsk” noises.

One might argue that none of this really matters, that reality TV is a joke in and of itself, and that no one should take any of this too seriously. But the actuality is that “The Bachelorette” is the number one series on Monday nights in viewers 18 – 49. Meaning, there are a LOT of people watching – and weighing in on Twitter – which equates to a lot of people forming opinions while being fed a double standard.

So yes, “The Bachelorette” can be pretty silly and often does things in poor taste (I mean, a group date to an Irish wake? Ugh.) But this particular season brings to light a very real problem – society continues to judge sexual behavior of women much more harshly than men. And the problem is cyclical – the media predicts that the masses will react with judgement, so we are bombarded with images of women (like Kaitlyn and Claire) crying from embarrassment and shame. And so it goes.

The cycle needs to be broken somewhere. Perhaps it starts with us women – a decision to support one another, rather than cut each other down. Perhaps it starts with a simple promise to stop using the word “slut” – let’s cut it out from our vocabularies entirely. Let’s stop shaming each other for our decisions.

Once and for all, let’s stop accepting the double standard as the norm. The media and networks will have no choice but to follow suit. TC mark

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