This week’s episode of The Bachelor was very hard to watch. I’m not talking “guilty pleasure, why am I watching this don’t you DARE touch the remote, mom” hard to watch. I’m talking painful, uncomfortable, over-edited and genuinely difficult to watch. I found myself getting up to make a snack, refill my Diet Coke, and often just stare into the empty fridge rather than watch as the producers made the women on group date #1 race tractors down a Los Angeles street wearing nothing but bikinis. It was that bad.
But I committed to writing these recaps, and there was plenty to discuss about gender and sexuality this week, so here I am. And I want to talk—no, I need to talk—about virginity.
Contestant Ashley I. is a New Jersey Trash Princess. She is 26, wears hella makeup, and is a freelance journalist. Her self-description: “I’m more Kardashian than country.” She also seems smart, and the girl absolutely crushed the ridiculous tractor race, winning her some time to cozy up to Chris and try to make a lasting impression. She has the confident self-control of a girl who is pretty and has a plan. I respect Ashley I., but I really don’t like her. And that’s because her gimmick, and yes, it is a gimmick, is that she is a virgin.
Let’s not talk about whether or not she actually is a virgin, as the Twitterverse did. That conversation smacks of slut-shaming and misogyny, and frankly I don’t really care. If she is waiting until marriage, good on her. It’s ultimately none of my business, except now it is my business because it is now her Definitive Thing on this show, the trait that is supposed to set her apart from the other women. The producers love it, Ashley’s eyes glint with the awareness that she is playing a powerful card as she pretends to be self-conscious about it, and dim-witted Mackenzie plays right into her hands. (You can watch the clip here if you want to experience that pain for yourself).
Ashley admits to being nervous about telling Chris she hasn’t ever had a boyfriend (and as a result has never had sex, because sex only happens in committed relationships). Youngin’ Kenzie immediately gushes, “No he will like it, every guy likes it, because guys like taking your virginity.”
Um, excuse me? Hold the fucking phone. Eighteen-year-old Ella would beg to differ. Our culture sends us the most disturbing, insane messages about virginity, particularly women’s virginity, and if you show me a teenage boy, I’ll show you someone who thinks girls become clingy weirdos if you’re their first. Not to mention being someone’s first is usually a shitty, awkward experience. First times are rarely if ever good—it’s about as erotic as smacking someone with a wet, floppy pool noodle.
An unscientific poll of every guy I’ve ever dated has grimaced when recalling taking a chick’s virginity, and usually the conversation about their own first time is short, uncomfortable, and full of coughing. Then again, I’m almost exclusively friends with sluts, so we never really bought into the magical fairy tale of waiting for someone you love anyway. And this is The Bachelor, where true love rules all and producers continue to be creepily obsessed with previous Bachelor Sean Lowe’s born-again first time with Catherine after their televised wedding. So… moving right along.
Ashley’s eyes light up as the other women feed into her brilliant tactic of playing the virginity card. “No, I know most guys do except for if they’re really bad.” I laughed, I’ll admit it.
“And Chris is going to be that kind,” Kenzie continues. Her insistence that Ashley’s virginity is going to win her the man is borderline terrifying. “No seriously, I’m jealous. It’s going to make you stay here so much longer… You’re super pretty, you have a good personality, and you’re a virgin, oh my god. You have to tell him, I wish I was in your shoes…. ‘Cause he’s gonna be like, I want to take her virginity.”
Wow. Lots to unpack here. Just to provide context, Mackenzie is a 21-year-old dental assistant from Maple Valley, Washington. She has a son named Kale and made an impression earlier in this episode by asking Chris if he believed in aliens and admiring his large nose. Not exactly the brains of the season. She isn’t going to last very long. But Kenzie has just represented our country’s fucked up attitude toward female sexuality in a nutshell: a woman’s value is based on her purity, a woman’s sexuality exists in relation to her man (it’s something to be taken), and a woman who has had sex (as Mackenzie has, considering she has a child) is inherently worth less than a woman who has not. “I can’t even use that ‘cause I have a kid,” she says in her confessional, laughing with mild panic in her eyes. Ah yes, because virginity should be used to woo men. I just… yeah.
Mackenzie is one of two women who have children this season, as far as I know. Juelia, the other, is a widow whose husband, we learned this week, committed suicide shortly after the birth of their daughter. The other widow, Kelsey, seems lovely and quietly strong (I’m rooting for her). But these three women are also sexless thus far in the season. They are edited to be tragedy cases, Juelia in particular, who are just looking to find love again and restart their family life. They are framed as Madonnas rather than Whores in an effort to justify their presence on the show.
And Ashley, well… virgin she may be, but she makes a concerted effort to manipulate the virgin/whore dichotomy to her advantage. During the rose ceremony she gets Chris alone, shows him her belly button ring, urges him to rub it to get a wish, and then open-mouth kisses him while a bunch of the other women watch through the mansion windows. It is, frankly, pretty gross to witness. And also sad. As she says in her confessional, “Let’s just make sure that he knows that I’m going to be a good time for the rest of his life.” She’s a virgin, but not a virgin-y virgin. She’s the least virgin-y virgin ever. She hasn’t told him yet, I’m sure that will be a saga dragged out for the next few episodes, but Chris definitely knows she’s down to have some good old wiggle in your lap on-camera fun.
The other women did not miss an opportunity to WTF it up in their confessional shots. Mackenzie realizes she has been out-matched, commenting, “Knowing that she is a virgin, I just don’t understand. This just blows my mind. I’m mind boggled.” Yes, because virgins can’t kiss. Virgins can’t be sexy. In Mackenzie’s mind, and in America’s mind, there are virgins on one side of a line and slutty sluts on the other. In reality, shit is way more complicated than that, and Ashley is going to work that line into sticking around another few weeks.
But here’s the irony of all ironies. Chris makes out with SO MANY WOMEN this episode. I actually lost count. There’s a montage of him kissing women during the cocktail party. He is continuing his streak of ignoring the nice farmer persona the producers have marketed him as. Chris is a great example of someone who doesn’t fit the nice guy/player dichotomy we see in pop culture alongside the virgin/whore dichotomy (although it’s notably less powerful and damaging because, again, patriarchy).
The fact is this is Chris’s TV show and he can do whatever he wants, but when other women are slut-shaming Ashley for not fitting in her virgin box while Chris mashes his face against so many other faces, that’s worth noting. If a Bachelorette made out with so many dudes this early in the season, you know the Internet would be calling her a whore. She’d have to go on a fucking apology tour. Chris Harrison in all his smarmy glory would ask her fiancé during the finale if it bothered him to see her swap spit with so many men.
In conclusion, gendered slut-shaming sucks, virginity is a scam, and I need a drink. I’ll see you next week. And again, gentle reminder that I live-tweet each episode, producing such gems as: