Wong: The new bachelorette isn’t enough to make the show feminist

Emily Wong, Op-Ed Contributor

This Monday marks the season premiere of my favorite guilty pleasure show, “The Bachelorette.” This season’s Bachelorette is Hannah Brown, also known as Miss Alabama USA 2018.

Her first block of screen time during season 23 of “The Bachelor” consisted of a mysterious feud with Caelynn Miller-Keyes, another contestant she knew from competing in Miss USA. Now, Brown is being touted as the most “relatable” Bachelorette the show has ever featured, with an extended trailer showing the star dancing goofily in one scene and telling off the group of men for not trying to get to know her in the next.

In fact, most of the current promotions seem to capitalize on Brown’s “realness.” One of the trailers, released a little over a month ago, features the bachelorette strutting through a forest in a scene reminiscent of Cinderella, complete with a baby blue gown. The song “You Don’t Own Me” plays in the background, an anthem often associated with the second-wave feminist movement. Brown throws her tiara to the ground, removes her “Beauty Queen” sash, and rips off the train of her dress to reveal a jumpsuit underneath. The whole production seems like an attempt to portray the idea that Brown is not your typical bachelorette. This is strange considering how well Brown fits into the show’s conventional mold.

Refinery29 contributor Martha Sorren criticized the trailer for trying to repaint the program as feminist simply by throwing a few empowering elements into their music and wardrobe choices. She pointed out that this feminism didn’t seem evident in the drawn-out drama between Brown and Miller-Keyes in “The Bachelor.” While I appreciate Brown’s confidence and apparent resolve to stand up for herself, I agree with Sorren. The producers’ job is to play up any angle they can get for the sake of ratings, and I doubt a large portion of the show’s viewers take the marketing ploys seriously. However, it still feels off-putting to see this blatantly obvious appeal to feminism, pressuring the viewer to support Brown’s efforts to find love because she fits conventional standards of an empowered woman.

Promos aside,“The Bachelorette” promotes values that oppose feminism in almost all other aspects of the show. Even though the Bachelorette is seemingly in a position of power, the show still serves as a platform for competition and toxic masculinity. Although theoretically, she should be in control of the situation, a mentality often develops among the contestants that she’s a prize they’re all after. This attitude is perpetuated by the program’s features — the main way to win more time with the Bachelorette is to win the group date activity, where past competitions have included mud wrestling and a boxing tournament in which one contestant was sent to the emergency room after being punched in the face.

Aside from the more direct perpetuations of gender norms, the show’s design is inherently unconducive to a feminist mission. Even outside of the goal of competing for one person’s affections, filming takes place over roughly nine weeks, which is too short for anyone to build a meaningful relationship. Even worse, the structure of the show barely allows contestants to spend any of that time with the wife-to-be. Because of the condensed timeline, whatever connection the couple may form is inevitably based on surface-level qualities — such as charm and appearance — along with sharing one or two deep conversations or stories from their lives.

Despite my skepticism, I do understand the appeal of Brown’s relatability and boldness, and I hope that viewers are inspired by a woman who knows her worth. However, “The Bachelorette” wasn’t designed to be a feminist triumph, and dressing their star in a pantsuit in an attempt to adopt this label doesn’t change the show’s core message.

Emily Wong is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.