Juan-uary's Bachelor

Staged reality TV show offers snapshot into real girl-on-girl aggression

Well folks, it’s that time of year again: “Juan-uary” is upon us. Yes, ABC’s “The Bachelor” is back, and this season promises drama, heartbreak and many more entertaining, excessive dates. Cue the weekly tweets about how sexy Juan Pablo’s accent is — not that I’m going to argue with that — or about the latest mishap among the 27 lucky vixens vying for his attention.

I’ll admit, settling in with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s to watch the latest episode is one of my guilty pleasures. There’s something enthralling about the whole dynamic between one man and 20-plus women. Plus, there are always plenty of catfights, tears and meltdowns to keep me entertained.

The thing is though, reality television is not reality. When was the last time you went on a date that involved flying to your private island in a helicopter to be serenaded by Andy Grammer? It just doesn’t happen. The last date I went on involved pizza and “The Office” reruns. Plus, the men look like they walked straight out of an Abercrombie advertisement and the women are mostly skinny and conventionally beautiful, which isn’t what the real world is like.

I could go into how sexist the show is, how it perpetuates heteronormativity and teaches girls that they need to “find their prince” to be happy. I’ll spare you the rant. But what is most fascinating to me about “The Bachelor” are the interactions between the women. Amid all of the antics, there’s something very real about what they experience.

First of all, in every season there’s that one crazy woman who will do anything to get the Bachelor’s attention, including faking medical emergencies (Tierra, anyone?). She then proceeds to twist everything around to make it look like she’s the victim, while the clueless suitor has no idea he’s being manipulated. Then you have the woman who says she “hates drama,” but somehow manages to stir up more drama than anyone else.

Don’t forget the woman who has deep-seated emotional issues, which she mentions approximately 500 times, and uses to her advantage to get people to feel sorry for her. A few episodes in, someone always has to use something that happened behind closed doors against another woman, which cascades into WWIII, resulting in a dramatic confrontation and lots of tears.

These types of women all exist in real life. Really, “The Bachelor” is a microsphere that represents the essence of “girl world.” I’m talking good old-fashioned, “Mean Girls”-esque primal aggression. We’ve all experienced or seen drama, duplicity and manipulation between girls. The fact of the matter is, women often feel threatened by one another. “Girl world” is basically “The Hunger Games,” where alliances are formed and anyone who is a potential threat is taken down immediately.

I think part of this stems from women constantly having to fight to be respected by society. Particularly in male-dominated fields, a woman has to be competitive to be successful, especially with other women who might take her place. This also applies to dating, where any woman who even comes near another woman’s boyfriend is asking for it.

And then there’s the issue of “slut shaming,” which also occurs all too frequently on “The Bachelor,” and in real life. One minute, someone criticizes another woman’s choice of attire or sexual behavior, and the next minute it’s an all-out catfight. Women tear other women down to make themselves feel better; it’s a fact of life.

This is also, I think, why so many women love watching “The Bachelor.” It’s this sense of schadenfreude — watching these women make fools of themselves makes us feel more self-assured. “At least I’m not her.” It’s almost cathartic. In a sick way, we love watching the women tear each other apart and break down as a result. This is the very foundation of “reality” television.

So next time you’re swooning over Juan Pablo’s abs while laughing at the girl who thought her name was called when it wasn’t, remember that these are real people and, while most of what happens on “The Bachelor” is artificial, girl-on-girl aggression is a very real issue.

Published January 13, 2014 in Life

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