The Bachelor SA: Politics, patriarchy and priorities
Here’s what the reality TV show The Bachelor is about in a nutshell: There’s one guy, surrounded by a host of attractive women who conform to the norms of beauty and what femininity should entail. They all live in a mansion. The guy is not excused from conforming to the norms of male attractiveness as well (read: white and rich).
The women do their best to impress the man in the hope that by the end of the season he will propose. In the end, the woman who is his soon-to-be-wife often has to relocate to where he lives, as international broadcasts have proven. But before that last episode, there’s the mulling over the ever-enduring question: “Will he like me enough to give me rose so I can stay? Please God, let him give me a rose. Because if he doesn’t, I will have to be driven home. Rejected and discarded. No rose for me. Only tears.”
In the olden days, we called this: stringing someone along. On Twitter, we call it breadcrumbing. On TV, however, it’s an organised crime and more acceptable because it comes with an audience who allows women to be at the beck and call of men until they aren’t needed anymore. More than that, this ‘aiming to please’ notion is justified because well, the man is so dreamy and he deserves better.
In South Africa, this problem is stretched further because you know, that’s how we like a problem – big and jarring. For some reason (and we know the reason – I will address this later), the bachelor selected is white. Who knows what the female contestants will be. But the drug of rainbow nationism will surely ensure that there are at least ‘some’ women of colour. So now, not only do we have white-women-on-white-women crime, we have interracial-women-on-women crime and more than that, the worst kind of crime in my opinion, black-women-against-black-women.
In her TED Talk, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie rightly says: “We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men” – I take my previous nutshell back and wish to replace it with this. This, in a nutshell, is what the show is about - women making enemies of other women for the attention of one man.
The far-fetched symbolism of the show is to make audiences believe in the idea of traditional romance. True love. One man, one woman, forever. But we would be ignorant as feminists (and as men who believe in equality for all) if we ignore the fact that the producers aren’t stupid and animosity is the driving backbone of the reality show. The scrambling over the roses, the accusations of women being there for the wrong reasons, the declarations of not being there to make friends and of course, the slut-shaming. Misogyny is not just a territory reserved for men and we often overlook that a female version of this exists. A poisonous seed planted by the very patriarchy we are trying to dismantle.
Heterosexual love becomes an eyesore. A blood sport, and the show embraces this tied neatly in a bow wrapped in what is the real-life patriarchy that women face every day.
Having said that though, there is an opportunity here for South African contestants to challenge these norms.
The common oppression of women is power that should not be overlooked because women can also be each other’s greatest support system. This goes without saying. There is a choice we all make and the contestants should make on the show and that is: will we throw each other under the bus or lean on each other?
The Bachelor is an environment of hostile circumstances, which funnily enough can be the perfect breeding ground for powerful and redemptive relationships between women. And that should be the priority.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.