Pop-Culture | Posted by Lexi V on 08/18/2015

How ‘The Bachelorette’ Proves Slut-Shaming Is Alive and Well

Credit: YouTube

Kaitlyn Bristowe

Ok, I’ll admit to watching an episode or two (or six) of The Bachelorette this season. For those who haven’t watched, the show focuses on one woman’s quest to find a perfect match among a group of male suitors. Like The Bachelor — the show on which this one is based — she eliminates men every week until she finds the right partner. As a feminist, I certainly have many issues with the show, but one of the biggest (and perhaps most prominent this past season in particular) is the intense slut-shaming the Bachelorette faced.

Slut shaming has been evident in past seasons, but when Kaitlyn Bristowe, the star of this past season, decided that she wanted to have sex with one of the contestants, she faced a particularly horrendous onslaught of scrutiny for that choice. In fact, one blogger dug through all of the tweets hashtagged with Kaitlyn’s name and found that six thousand of them contained sexist slurs.

Take a minute to really consider what this would feel like. Travel back to your high school days: Do you remember the biggest sex scandal that occurred in your school?  Remember all the whispering and gossiping in the bathroom?  How everyone in the entire school seemed to know (and talked about) what had happened? Now take that amount of gossip and hate and multiply it by a few thousand. People are no longer just talking by the water fountain, but conversing via every single form of social media known to man: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you name it.

Perhaps it was this shame that made Kaitlyn Bristowe feel the need to pivot from claiming she’s not ashamed about what she did to saying that she regrets it. Maybe she did so because now she has a big, shiny diamond ring on her finger and needs to act the part of the monogamous, devoted fiancé. Maybe it was because she has realized from her experiences that in order to be accepted by society she needs to pretend that she only ever and will like having sex with the one person she is choosing to marry.

Bristowe’s choice to do so is disappointing given that this could have been a great opportunity to take a public stand against this treatment. In fact, the Bachelorette is superior to the way other reality shows treat and depict women in other ways: For example, the show revolves around the desire of one woman, who sets the pace for her relationships and is in control. She gets to decide at her whim everything from the dates they go on, to who gets to stay on the show, to how much intimacy with which she is comfortable. Additionally, because she is the only woman, there are no sexist “cat fights” in which women are pitted against one another to create drama. Forcefully pushing back on slut shaming could have been an additional way this show is changing reality TV culture.

That being said, Bristowe’s experience — likely in addition to other, past contestants on this show — ultimately proves that it’s high time we understand and accept that women are sexual beings, too. Slut-shaming is hurtful and sexist, not to mention illogical, as 71% of Americans have had sex by age 19, according to one study. We no longer live in a Medieval society, so why do some of us still feel the need to crucify women for engaging in sexual activities? Maybe if we all accepted the fact that most people in this country have had or regularly have sex, we could eliminate the unnecessary and damaging shame that still surrounds it. Maybe we could have medically accurate sex-ed in all fifty states. Maybe we could lead healthier, happier sex lives.

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