“What Did I Do Wrong?”
First published at The Federalist
I’ve walked into my apartment on multiple occasions anticipating the moment I will plop down on my couch and turn on Hawaii Five-0 or a Dick Van Dyke Show rerun, only to find my roommate on the aforementioned couch, her eyes glazed over with the reflection of a weepy female who can’t bear the pressure of wondering if he loves her. My heart sinks, I quickly take cover in my room and finally emerge only when I see through the crack under my door that the light has been turned off, or when I stop hearing the muffled mumbling of a male voice.
I swore to myself I would never, under any circumstances, ever watch The Bachelor. I’m here to confess that I went back on my word. I don’t usually do that. But in my defense, the reason I watched was not to be entertained. I watched for the purpose of understanding, like when an athlete studies each muscle movement and technique of the opponent she’ll face in the championship match tomorrow.
The reality is I make a quick escape any time conversation turns to the latest gossip from The Bachelor, which, in general, portrays women as polished porcelain dolls that have no better use than to be perfect and to be admired, to be displayed on your shelf or to be driven around in your Lamborghini.
Women apply for this mockery of reality TV hoping to find love, but they end up selling themselves to the likes of Chris Harrison, national television’s definition of the “ideal woman,” and a man-child who thinks he deserves to have dozens of models hanging on every syllable that exits his delectable mouth and on each of his painstakingly-sculpted biceps, all for what will probably end in a humiliating and devastating rejection, which reminds these women for the rest of their lives that they weren’t and never will be good enough.
But I decide to watch it anyway. The day is March 5, 2018 — a day that apparently will forever be remembered as “one of the most emotional nights in Bachelor history.” Lucky me. My roommate, who consistently watches the show agrees to watch it with me on the 40 inch TV in our living room if I promise to keep my snarky comments to myself. It’s a lot to ask, but I tell her I’ll try my best.
Tonight is the season finale. Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, will be choosing between the two women who haven’t yet been eliminated — Becca K., the strong-willed publicist from Minnesota, and Lauren B., the needy tech salesperson from Virginia. I sadly missed all the “group dates” and the controversial moments in past episodes when he told each of these two women he was in love with her — at the same time — which is supposedly but not believably frowned upon on this show.
Right now, Lauren has come to meet Arie’s family for the first time. Smile. Hug. Kiss. Repeat a few times. Now they sit around a table in Peru filled with his family and lots of wine. This is a time for them to analyze and criticize Lauren about how good she will be for their son and brother. Mom says Lauren’s sweet but constantly needs reassurance.
Next up is Becca. Smile. Hug. Kiss. Repeat a few times. Now they sit around a table in Peru filled with Arie’s family and lots of wine. This is a time for them to analyze and criticize Becca about how good she will be for their son and brother. Dad says he likes Becca because she’s the type that will give Arie a “kick in the a**” when he needs it. Dad says he needs it often. I believe him.
The rest of the time — the dates, the interviews, etc. — consists of a ton of uninteresting, predictable quotes and conversations, until the last five minutes when Arie finally makes his decision. In the end, he dumps Lauren and proposes to Becca. Lauren cries on camera as she rides away in the shiny black SUV, drowning in the despair of having “her future ripped away.” Oh well. At least one girl’s happy.
But apparently that’s short-lived too, because when Arie has a chance to sleep on his decision for a while, he comes to the conclusion that she’s the wrong one. Actually, he’s more in love with Lauren than Becca. So, he shows up at Becca’s pad, with the whole camera crew in tow to record the breakup in real-time. After all, it would be a travesty for the audience to miss the shiny tears smearing mascara across her cheeks as she realizes she’s been played by a guy who just “doesn’t know what he wants.”
‘That Ugly Redhead?’
I grew up with a non-traditional perception of what it means to be a woman. My mom didn’t let me watch Disney princess movies as a kid because she didn’t want me to grow up thinking I had to have a man to be happy. My childhood heroes weren’t the damsels in distress or the men who came to their rescue. Instead, I’d read stories of brave women traveling West during the nineteenth century — women who would hike up their long calico dresses and shoot their muzzleloaders at animals they would later skin, cook, and eat (and who weren’t preoccupied with counting calories).
The women I read about weren’t weak, and they also weren’t out to prove anything. They were the picture of what I wanted to be: poised and powerful, not afraid to walk through the metaphorical mud to get where they wanted to be. So, in order to be that kind of woman at the age of ten, I dressed up in a long skirt, much like some of my Disney princess-loving friends did, only I wore a bonnet on my head instead of a tiara, with dirt on my face instead of makeup.
But there did come a time when I wanted to wear makeup. In my preteen years, I suffered from an identity crisis, which is similar to a stomach bug. Everybody’s experienced it at some point, so they take it upon themselves to say, “You’ll be fine; it won’t last forever,” which makes you feel zero percent better.
During this time, I naturally questioned everything I’d previously believed about growing up — everything my mom, like all good moms, have told their daughters: You’re beautiful just the way you are; You’re going to do amazing things; You could very well be the first female president of the United States, etc. But at the age of 12, all I saw of womanhood was having long hair, a full chest, and a hot boyfriend. The only problem was I didn’t seem to qualify.
My red, curly hair didn’t grow past my shoulders until I was 13, at which point I finally learned how to fix it in a way that looked less like a bird’s nest. Around that same time, I developed a semi-full chest, but I’ve still never had a hot boyfriend — any boyfriend for that matter.
In seventh grade, I had a crush on this guy in my neighborhood. While hanging out at the playground one day, I told my best friend about it as we sat on the hot rubber turf beneath the slide. Because that’s what you do when you’re in seventh grade with a crush. The rumor got out and the other seventh graders spread the word until it got to him. I felt the color rush into my face as a girl walked over and whispered in his ear. I hated myself for saying anything, and then my darkest nightmare materialized in the midday sun as he looked my direction in disgust and said, “That ugly redhead?”
I left the playground that day feeling less like a woman but more like a human. Looking back, I realize that becoming more human made me more of a woman than anything else. I had to deal with something hard and decide whether I would let it define me. After crying for a minute, I came to the conclusion that hanging out at the neighborhood playground with immature seventh graders wasn’t really my thing anymore.
Don’t Like The Rules? Quit Playing The Game
I hear a lot of people lament the problems with society’s expectations of and constraints on women. I’ll admit, I’ve been one of those voices. But there comes a time when we have to decide if our expectations of society will ever be met, and if not, what we’ll do about it. We have a couple options for taking action. One is lashing out in a variety of ways against a corrupt system and ideology, including the people who agree with it, promote it and benefit from it. Drew Christenson, Becca’s state representative, authored a bill that banned this season’s bachelor from ever entering Minnesota, claiming that “every person in the state has a right to live free from the presence of Arie Luyendyk Jr.”
Unfortunately, banning the bad guys doesn’t always solve the problem. Beating them isn’t much of an option either (except in law enforcement or sports, maybe). But there’s another option. We can prove them wrong, compel them to change their narrative. As women, we have to stop blaming the bad guys, the Aries of the world, even if they’re at fault, because blaming them doesn’t make us any stronger. If we don’t like the rules, we just need to stop playing the game.
The often-surreptitious messages of The Bachelor and of many other cultural forces damage and discredit the reality of womanhood, telling all women that if they don’t shrink their thighs and highlight their cheekbones to fit into the diminutive margins set for them, then they don’t count. And it’s not just hurting women. It’s hurting everyone — because when you dehumanize half the population, the whole population suffers for it.
As easy as it would be to blame the entertainment industry or the male stars who become subjects of worldwide admiration and envy, it’s not all their fault. What they’ve done is make their own unwritten rules, add the bait and issue some threats. But the rules are inconsequential, the bait repulsive and the threats empty. None of those things are more powerful than our freedom to choose who we really are over what we’re told we need to be.
The only thing Becca failed to do was refrain from being part of a system where no one really wins. What every woman needs more than an Arie is a muzzleloader, some dirt streaked across her face, a realization that her purpose encompasses more than just a romantic relationship, and faith in the fact that kind, sacrificial gentlemen still exist — just not on reality TV or motor speedways.
The Question Every Woman Has Asked
With one hand hiding her red, tear-soaked eyes from the camera’s intrusive glare, Becca sits speechless on the couch in her elaborate LA home as she processes the reality that the man she’s fallen in love with isn’t and never was satisfied with her. He still wants someone else. No, he wants them both, only he wants her a little less. And that makes everything even worse. She sits quietly for a long, painful moment, while the rest of the world watches in gleeful horror.
She asks Arie to leave. Six times. And when he still doesn’t move, she moans a question that nearly every woman has asked at one point, “What did I do wrong?”