“Your apology doesn’t make the way you treated people disappear. You acted like that. It was disgusting.” – Rhylee of Below Deck Thailand
I LOVE BRAVO!
Hello, my name is Lissa Regnier and I am a Bravoholic. After turning 30, I decided it was time for me to attempt my first Dry January. I started on the 4th, had a dirty gin martini and a glass of red wine on the 15th, and a few too many on the 31st. That was the best I could do, and I am proud of myself. I would wager that I have been drinking alcohol and watching Bravo for roughly the same number of years. I have never, and probably will never, give up watching Bravo. Why would I give up something that’s good for me?
Earlier this week, the coronavirus got super real, and we’ve all been told to self-quarantine and drink wine (er, wait). Since then, I’ve noticed a lot of my social media friends asking for TV recommendations. If you want to escape to a warm island and watch how true professionals handle cabin fever (spoiler alert: lots of booze and cringe-worthy late-night make-outs), allow me to suggest Below Deck Thailand streaming (obviously) on Bravo.
A lot of people give me crap about my Bravo addiction, and I do call it my guilty pleasure. But let me be clear, I do not feel guilty about watching Bravo at all. It’s a ritual, and for me, watching Bravo is a feminist act.
Watching Bravo is a feminist act because the network exists primarily for female viewers. It’s a safe, fun space for women to talk about women’s issues. As a 30-year-old woman, it has been difficult for me to meet new friends. Talking about all things Bravo with other women has become an integral part of my adult female bonding experiences. Plus, since society considers female-dominated spaces inferior, watching Bravo is a subversive act.
The majority of Bravolebrities are women, and I relate to their experiences and points of view. Each episode usually addresses an issue that we don’t speak about publicly often enough, such as female sexuality, eating disorders, and pregnancy complications. Abortion was even mentioned a couple of times on the latest season of the Shahs of Sunset.
As different as they all are, each of the Bravo women is a businesswoman at heart. Among the reality TV actresses are authors, musicians, doctors, and lawyers. Although some are called “Housewives”, most of the women have important roles outside of motherhood and the domestic space.
Watching the Below Deck Thailand Reunion is a feminist act. The co-ed cast was confronted with questions about serious contemporary issues, like sexual harassment, violence against women, and gaslighting.
A few Tuesdays ago, I began my morning like I’ve begun every other morning for the past year. I woke up, and I used my older sister’s cable account to log into BravoTV.com. What can I say? I’m unemployed and loving life!
But, unlike every other morning, that morning, I was clutching-my-pearls excited because in addition to the new episode of Below Deck Sailing Yacht I had to watch, I also had to watch the first half of a two-part Below Deck Thailand reunion!!!!! If you, like me, have binge-watched every season of Below Deck and Below Deck Med in the past year, then you know that there hasn’t been a two-part reunion in ages. Shit was about to go down.
Out of all the Bravo series, the ones with co-ed casts shine the brightest light on existing gender norms. With the Below Deck series, it’s a little more obvious because the work departments are divided by gender. The females are in charge of service duties on the yacht’s interior, and the males do the heavy-lifting on the boat’s exterior.
This season, the men on board the yacht created a hostile environment for their female coworkers. Put simply, they encouraged each other in all the wrong ways and created a toxic male culture. To be clear, I don’t think the behavior of the men in Thailand was remarkable compared to men’s behavior in previous Below Deck seasons. I can easily think of times in years past when the men’s behavior was worse. The major difference is that Bravo chose this reunion to break its silence on certain acts of sexism that have played out repeatedly on its shows.
As Courtney, the second stew, so eloquently put it, “[these acts of sexism are] things that are sort of fundamental issues and reflections of what’s happening in the world and in society right now.” Through its platform, Bravo is taking steps to mainstream feminism.
WORKPLACE SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Cut to the bold opening scene of the Below Deck Thailand reunion.
Andy Cohen, the producer and host of the reunion, asked his first question to the man in charge, Captain Lee, about the proper protocol for handling workplace sexual harassment. While filming, one of the charter guests made multiple unwanted advances towards the other second stew, Simone. On the reunion, Captain Lee and Simone agreed that under normal circumstances, the best way to handle sexual harassment is to confront the perpetrator quickly and directly.
However, I think we all know it’s more complicated than that in the service industry. Simone and the entire crew’s tips were on the line. So the solution was to physically separate Simone from the charter guest. The guest was clueless to Simone’s sudden disappearance, and he was never reprimanded for his threatening behavior.
So often, women have to sacrifice their physical security for their financial security. Creating a conversation around workplace sexual harassment was feminist, even if the way the situation was handled at the time wasn’t perfect.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Ashton was Kate’s less-experienced counterpart on the boat’s exterior. At the beginning of the season, Kate gave her colleague some friendly management advice, as one should be able to do without fear of repercussion. Ashton took her kindness as a signal that she was into him. Twice he made unwanted sexual advances towards her. Each time, Ashton grabbed the sides of Kate’s head and jammed his tongue in her mouth. Each time, she physically pushed him, a man four times her size, off.
Ashton took Kate’s first rejection in stride. The second time, he was blackout drunk and physically threatened Kate. In other words, he acted exactly how women fear men will act when we deny them. For some women, the consequences of denial have been lethal. After Ashton threatened Kate, she took all of two minutes to pack her bags and leave the boat. She was more comfortable wandering around a foreign country alone at 3:00 in the morning than sleeping close to Ashton, thank you very much!
The next day, Ashton lied to Captain Lee about why Kate was missing. When she decided to come back, she didn’t tell Captain everything that had happened the night before. She protected Ashton. I’m sure a part of her thought she was tough enough to handle him on her own, and she probably didn’t want to burden Captain Lee.
Kate had no reason to believe that Captain Lee, a father figure to her, would not have remedied the situation had she told him. However, that’s not always the case. Most of the time, the problem persists even after the boss finds out. Obviously, it’s worse when the boss is the perpetrator.
On the reunion, Captain Lee said that had he known the truth at the time, he would have fired Ashton on the spot – which is why I stan Captain Lee. Male allies who hold their peers accountable and are so essential to advancing women’s rights.
The fact that Captain Lee was unaware of the situation until the episode aired is unsurprising. Historically, women have been silent about the abuses we’ve suffered. We don’t want to relive those painful experiences. When women have been vulnerable, society’s reaction has been to cast doubt, guilt, and shame on them.
When Ashton’s violent outburst came up on the reunion, he started crying. “I love watching Ashton cry.” “I LOVE watching Ashton cry!” I wrote that down twice in my notes. LOL. Side note: My favorite feminist AF professor in graduate school (shoutout Professor Janet Johnson!) told me I needed to watch men cry. It’s an assignment I continue to take serious pleasure in. For me, on the night of the reunion, Ashton embodied all of the boys and men who have put me down or made me feel unsafe in my life. I felt as if I were watching those boys and men of my past cry and suffer.
Through those juicy tears, Ashton apologized to Kate for the very first time. She accepted, but added, “Wow, you realized now, on the stage, that you’re sorry?” And there I was, once again, thankful to Kate for exacting revenge on some idiot man to whom I wished to do the same. Plus, you know I was rooting for more male tears. #MoreMaleTears
Misogyny is not a deep-seated hatred for women. It’s “hostility towards women who act in a way that we’re not expected to, that society doesn’t expect us to.” – Courtney, the reunion’s MVP.
Early on in the season, Courtney also denied Ashton’s drunken flirtations. She literally rolled her eyes in his face when he smiled and asked her what her two biggest flaws were. From that moment on, I’ve trusted Courtney’s judgement of character. What did she like about Brian, Ashton’s right hand man? She said they had an easy connection. At the beginning of the season, I, too, had a little crush on Brian. I was even convinced he was a feminist!
I’m sure almost everyone reading this can relate to the immediate “false sense of intimacy” (Courtney’s words) she and Brian felt for each other. The more Brian and Courtney got to know each other, though, the more obvious it became to Courtney that Brian wasn’t who she thought he was. Brian told Courtney she should smile more. He did not respect her boundaries. He often told her she supported the wrong person in arguments. Whenever Courtney disagreed with him, he withheld his love and was mean to her.
Towards the end of the season, Courtney and Brian had to decide where their relationship would go after filming. Rather than waiting to talk to Courtney in person, Brian texted her in the middle of her shift: “We’re just having fun, right?” The EXACT words Tanner, a deckhand, texted to Simone to break up with her a few weeks prior.
After she read the text, Courtney teared up. Kate asked her what was wrong, and Courtney told her. That seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to me. But noooooo! When Brian found out from an eavesdropping “brü” the exact scenario just described, Brian was angry with Courtney!!!! When his reaction came up on the reunion, Rhylee, the only woman on the boat’s exterior, said to Brian:
“You give your opinion on how she feels… like, she shouldn’t feel that way. You can’t tell her how to feel. Or that it’s wrong for her to talk to her friends, or her counterparts, especially when our environment is each other.”
Brian’s message was that locker room talk is okay but girl talk isn’t. The patriarchy has perpetuated itself through women’s silence and silencing. Isolation and casting doubt on the validity of emotions and thoughts are gaslighting techniques the patriarchy has used to maintain power.
Until recently, society has denied women public space to state their objections to men’s unchecked power. Thankfully, Bravo has stepped in to fill that void. The network has provided a safe space for women to discuss important issues, such as how to spot red flags in potentially abusive relationships.
EXPOSING MALE IGNORANCE
These conversations are exhausting but important!
The main reason sexist behavior persists unnoticed is because men rarely get reprimanded for it. That’s how I viewed this reunion – as a punishment for the boys. And a chance for me to beat off watching boys cry. #MoreMaleTears.
During filming, the men had zero self-awareness. A viewer asked Brian if he realized that he was trying to “control and manipulate Courtney by getting angry with her when she talked to her friends about [their] issues and when she had an opinion [he] disagreed with?” Brian was totally clueless and simply replied, “Was I?” Neither was Ashton self-aware. Between the time the season was filmed and the time it aired, he had doubled-down his criticism of Kate.
During the reunion, the men’s ignorance for how insufferably they had treated the women was palpable. The Below Deck men were quick to anger, jumpy, and defensive, reminiscent of Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing. The white-cis-hetero patriarchy has been working in their favor for their entire lives. It was clear that this time, for the first time, they were being held accountable for their piss-poor treatment of women.
The men had a difficult time taking responsibility for their actions. All throughout the reunion, they were pointing fingers looking for someone else to blame. Rhylee suggested they might feel better if the women went around the room and said sorry. LOL. She went first. “I’m sorry I don’t like being mistreated.” MIND BLOWN.
If men take responsibility for the way they treat women, the way they exist in the world will be thrown into question. The unearned superiority they exercise on a daily basis, whether they’re conscious of it or not, is essential to their identity. They’re afraid to lose that security blanket.
I think what men aren’t totally grasping is that their actions are symptomatic of society. It’s not that they, as individuals, are the root of all evil. It’s that sexism is such a deeply ingrained bias against women that people have failed to question male privilege until recently.
This reunion was one link in the chain towards breaking cycles in societal male-female relationships. Every person is ignorant until they learn something new. Now, we can judge a man based on what he does with this new information.
Have I done things I would in no way, shape, or form want aired on national television? Many times! Have I learned from those experiences and changed my behavior? Absolutely. Society can do the same if men learn to see women as their equals.
“I’m not going to cosign your behavior by being silent about it… It’s not acceptable and I won’t tolerate it.” – Courtney
Bravo can be a feminist tool for learning how to be more empathetic toward people who differ from us (like white-cis-hetero “brüs”). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Bravo is perfect or representational. I think Bravo dances delicately between reinforcing gender stereotypes and breaking them down. There’s no doubt, though, that the majority of Bravolebrities have used their platforms for benevolent causes and activism.
When the Below Deck Thailand women stood up for themselves during the reunion, they were doing more than getting closure. They were standing up for all of us at home. They were giving a voice to the voiceless. They were literally saying everything I’d been screaming at the TV for so long. So thank you, Kate, Rhylee, Courtney, Simone, and Bravo, for airing this episode and having the tough, exhausting conversations that needed to happen.
Women’s voices have been growing louder and stronger as feminism has become more mainstream. Lately, I’ve felt closer to other women, even strangers, than I ever have in my entire life. By hearing other women’s stories, we’ve realized we are not alone. Our shared experiences have brought us closer together. Animosity and competition between women is subsiding, and that is a very dangerous thing for the status quo.