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Why this season of The Bachelorette is the feminist story we all need

Let’s get one thing straight here: “The Bachelorette” is not the right way to find love. It is an imperfect show and inherently flawed. At its core, “The Bachelorette” is a sociological study: to ask one women to figure out from a pool of 30 contestants the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with in the course of two months is a recipe for disaster. 

When your only chance to evaluate somebody’s character and compatibility is through a few one-on-one dates, conversations and moments that are all filmed, (meaning you are both only portraying your best selves), how can you determine the real relationship questions? Do they clean up after themselves in the kitchen? Do they have a strong work ethic? What if they voted for Trump?! You have to simply make these decisions in a quick gut reaction, and that gut feeling can change in a day’s time. But suddenly the show needs to wrap up, and it’s “proposal day.” So twenty-nine guys go home and one stays, there you are. And damn. That’s just fascinating to watch. 

I’ve been a fan of “The Bachelorette” for a while now, for all the reasons I mentioned above. It’s also just a really great way to make friends and have a bit of an escapism moment during the work/school week. But there was something different about this season. And it’s all because of this year’s Bachelorette: Hannah Brown. Up until this past year, Hannah was a pageant queen. She was Ms. Alabama, and even competed in the Ms. America pageants. And it showed. When she was a contestant on “The Bachelor” last season, she was unable to form sentences, to let her guard down and be genuine. It was as if she only knew how to “look and talk pretty.” There is a super-cringe moment when she was on her first one-on-one date, and the Bachelor (Colton) asked her to make a toast. “How do I do that?” she whispers. “Just say something from the heart,” Colton says, looking at her nervously. But Hannah was at a loss for words. 

Later that night, she admitted to Colton that she has always felt the need to be “perfect,” which filters into her romantic relationships. The poor girl doesn’t know how to say anything else besides “God Bless America.” Colton urges her to let her guard down and try to be more real. She stayed on the season for a few more weeks before being sent home. Sitting in the car after her elimination, the car seat where most eliminated girls start sobbing, Hannah calmly said in a tone totally different from when she started the season, that “The desire of my heart is to be loved fearlessly by somebody. I will not allow myself to settle until I feel chosen every single day. And I’ll wait ’til whenever that is.” 

On this season, the unconfident Hannah began to fade, and a new Hannah emerged. While clearly nervous on the first night, giggling awkwardly as she meets her suitors, an hour later she unapologetically kicked a guy out when she found out he had a girlfriend back home. And she held onto the notion of “I deserve better” the whole season. She immediately hit it off with a contestant called Luke P., a boy from Georgia with a similar southern Christian faith background, who she later said was the first “love at first sight” moment she’d ever had. 

However, as the season progressed, Luke P. began to show a lot of red flags. He demanded additional time with her, said judgmental things about her to the other men (and then denied it), and got mad when she went on other dates, especially if he found out she had kissed another man. As Hannah started to gauge this possessive side of Luke she expressed her doubts to him, and he would then apologize and say he would change. Finally, with only three other contestants left, Luke ended up telling her that he had become a “born again virgin” and wanted her to be one as well. If she had been intimate with any of the other guys, he would forgive “a slip up,” but he didn’t want it to happen again. Shocked, Hannah started to form her words together: “I’m kind of mad because the way you just said that is… Why do you have the right to do that? Because you’re not my husband…” At that moment, it all seemed to click for her. 

Throughout the season, Hannah struggled with whether she should keep Luke P. around. She admitted that she was so nervous when first doing the show that nobody would like the real her, and that when Luke showed up night one she was so relieved, clinging onto that feeling. But, as she later started to doubt her decision, she prayed for clarity on this relationship. And it was clear she finally got it. Hannah stood up for herself in the most brave and honest moment this often superficial show has ever seen, right before sending Luke home, using her faith as her defense. 

“To ignore all the red flags for how I feel, to have this, and to have you say this about me and make me feel like you would look at me any differently and judge me. Or make me feel like you would not think of me as a woman of faith—like I am—and that we weren’t on the same page. You’re holding people to a standard that you don’t even live by.”

Hannah cited the passage from the Bible in which Jesus questions those who would stone a woman for adultery and claimed Luke was doing the very same to her. As he left that night, Hannah reinforced to herself and to America that she can be both a woman who engages in intimacy and a women who loves God, saying “I have had sex. And Jesus still loves me.” 

And then Jed happened. The man Hannah chose in the end wound up having gone on the show not only to “further his music career” but with a secret girlfriend as well (who he assumed he would be coming back home to). When Hannah confronted him about it, he told her he was sorry and still wanted to be with her. She looked him in the eye and calmly told him how she felt lied to and that she expected more from a husband. And even though Jed said he still wanted to stay, Hannah made the choice to end her journey as the Bachelorette alone. 

There was something really moving about watching Hannah on her journey this season. I felt like a lot of young girls could relate to her. We all know guys like Luke, like Jed, and people in our own communities who make us feel badly and pass judgements on our romantic and sexual decisions. But we don’t have to accept that. Hannah showed me that certain behavior I have seen in my life from men is not acceptable, and I do not have to stay in a situation with the hope that the person I am seeing will change or because I am too scared to be alone. In fact, it’s more than okay to go on a dating show with the sole purpose of finding love and then decide you are actually better off on your own. 

That’s how you give a toast. Cheers.

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