Reality TV’s Slut-Shaming Problem is Bigger Than You Think

Features. Posted 3 weeks ago

Lucy Jones


The 2017 cast of The Bachelor Australia. Image Source.

“Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn,” Mark Renton tells us in the Trainspotting 2 Choose Life monologue. If these are our “choices”, what the hell does that say about the world we’re living in? Actually, it says a lot. It is accurate to group these statements together because reality TV, slut-shaming and revenge porn are all born out of (and hold up) the same outdated system. A system that simultaneously treats women as sexual objects and shames women for being sexual — the fine line that an ideal mate must expertly tread if they want to win the Bachelor’s heart. Reality TV’s slut-shaming problem goes way deeper than ‘one man judging one woman’ because this judgement is built on a set of values, the values of “true love”. Like many concepts invented by the patriarchy, love inherently favours male interests. Women fall for men. Men sweep women off their feet. Women can be sluts. Men can be players. Women get emotionally attached. Men don’t. Women get fucked. Men do the fucking. These are clichés but they are deeply embedded clichés that code the way we think and talk about love and sex. Because, let’s be real, every conversation about love is also a conservation about sex. Connection = chemistry = sex = love.

The Bachelor (like most reality dating shows) is governed by the laws of love. These laws are heteronormative and sexist in the assumptions they make about women and men. Here are just a few of those assumptions: 1) love is between a man and a woman, 2) love is something all humans want (and need), meaning individual happiness is not obtainable or possible without it, 3) if you put enough women in a room with a man, or enough men in a room with a woman, two of those people will fall head over heals in love. You only have to look at the fact that The Bachelor recycles contestants to see how arbitrary these ideas about love are. Take current Bach Matty J, a guy who “fell in love” with Georgia last season, only to be rejected, making him ready to fall in love again. Love, as The Bachelor understands it, is both a rare and beautiful thing and a state of being that is easily induced under the right conditions. Translation: love is a mfing lie!

“I’m here for the right reasons,” is a phrase that you hear at least ten times per Bachelor episode. It’s usually said by a woman as a way to defend herself against another woman who might be there for the wrong reasons. The right reasons include: finding love. The wrong reasons include: celebrity, money, friendship, or, my personal favourite, just for lols. This sets up another Bachelor narrative — that the open-hearted man is susceptible to the manipulation of ill-intentioned women. This is why you’ll often see producers pitting female contestants against each other while male contestants are allowed to be good mates, save the occasional “I’m actually a professional model” douchebag.

Further evidence of the show’s inherent sexism can be found in a recent episode of The Bachelor Australia that saw Matty J interrogate two girls for their “dishonest” behaviour. Their crime? Not telling him every single thing about their past. Both of the girls had not yet been on an elusive ~single date~ with the Bach, so you can’t really blame them for not having divulged personal information about their private lives. Or can you? These women were Leah Costa, an events planner who used to do topless waitressing, and Simone Ormesher, who was also a topless waitress for a few months of her life. When Matty J found out these women were “hiding something from him”, he confronted each of them separately. Leah said she hadn’t told him because it hadn’t come up and laughed the whole thing off. While Simone got understandably emotional as she explained that it was something she had to do at one point and, while she isn’t ashamed of it, she doesn’t want anyone to judge her because of it. Matty J told both girls he was totally chill with their old jobs but had a problem with their “dishonesty”. By not running up to him at the first cocktail party and shouting, “Hey, I used to be a topless waitress!!!” the girls had broken the laws of love. Simone was forgiven but Leah, who was also kind of bitchy, got sent home by a not-very-sorry Matty who insisted her job had nothing to do with it. Oh so it’s just a coincidence that your entire opinion of a person changes when you find out they used to make money from waitressing with no shirt on! Side-note: former Bachelors Blake and Tim had both worked as topless waiters and strangely, this was never an issue on the show.

 

While expecting so much from his harem of women the Bachelor himself gets to be bland AF. A set of shiny abs. An empty (and often shirtless) vessel. A collection of meaningless phrases like “family is really important to me”, “I’m ready to find love”, and in the case of last year’s Bach Richie “cool bananas”. *Shudder.* Another really annoying thing that the Bachelor always asks female contestants is “Why are you single?” I have nothing to say about this question other than it is rude, unnecessary, and assumes there’s something wrong with single women. On The Bachelor Australia the leading man usually likes sport, his family, and kids. He’s about as interesting as a tea towel but that doesn’t stop every single woman in the mansion from thinking that they could totally fall for him. The assumption seems to be that if a man is “good” — i.e. has a working body and the ability to make words — a woman, any woman, has the ability to love him. If she’s just not that into him then there’s probably something wrong with her. You might remember this mentality from ‘nice guys’ and fake myths like ‘the friend zone’. It’s one that not only treats women as objects that belong to men, but also expects women to treat themselves this way. If you’re not impressed by a guy in proud possession of a penis, then you must be tripping girl!

This brings us all the way back to Trainspotting’s Choose Life speech. We can’t choose what society expects of us, or how reality TV reflects and re-authorises those expectations, but we can choose how we react to these representations. By calling out reality TV’s slut-shaming problem, we are refusing to be complicit in a system that can fall in love with topless male waiters but can’t fall in love with topless female waitresses.

While we’re pouring out the reality tea:

The Kardashian Contradiction: Can Reality TV Really Ever Be Feminist?