Bachelorella: The Literal Battle of the Bros

Ben Z. gives me feelings.
Ben Z. gives me feelings.

I love bros. This isn’t exactly a secret; my twitter handle is @brosandprose, after all. Why do I love bros? I love their confidence, and their nerve, and their arms. I really love their arms. I also love their near constant negotiation with gender, because if being a bro is about anything, it’s about masculinity. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a “men must be REAL MEN” type of girl. But I’m fascinated by how bros articulate, understand, and struggle with the expectations they’ve grown up with and continue to be judged by.

Self-aware social justice bros are Ella kryptonite. Yes, they’re real, I promise.

Anyway. Tonight’s episode of The Bachelorette was all about bros. During the first hour of the show, the men competed in a boxing tournament against each other to win Kaitlyn’s heart, and a big, fancy belt. Yes, you read that correctly. The men physically fought each other. Be still my heart. Was it insane? Yes. Was it hard to watch? A little bit, yes. One guy, Jared, was basically given a concussion, but still felt well enough to get Kaitlyn’s lip gloss smeared all across his face. I was aroused by it and also uncomfortable.

If you need evidence that men need feminism too, look no further than Jared wheezing, “It was worth every punch that I took… my head may hurt but my heart has never felt better.”

“Jared manned up, though,” one of the bros says approvingly. Someone else muttered about not wanting to “pussy out and act weak” in front of Kaitlyn as he admitted being nervous to fight. Basically, GENDER GENDER GENDER GENDER. Real men are strong. Real men can throw a punch! Real men will sacrifice their perfect noses to impress some chick on a reality TV show! REAL MEN FEEL NO PAIN.

Longtime friend and social activist bro Matt Leibowitz of Consent Is So Frat watched his first ever episode of the franchise tonight, and he had this to say via text: “It’s like every type of unhealthy masculinity is battling it out in a house.”

There was plenty of bro to go around, but much less self-awareness than I would have liked. Smug bro bitch JJ, who is not so secretly my favorite because he reminds me of my ex (in a good way!) and I find him hilarious, received a group date rose after showing his emotional side by talking about his daughter. Problem is, that emotional side did not extend far, and he spent the cocktail party baiting the other dudes. At the beginning of the night, he stole Kaitlyn away for some private time despite being safe from elimination. The other men resentfully called it a “power move,” and JJ chuckled to himself about all the enemies he had made. “This isn’t for the boys,” he told Kaitlyn, referring to the show. “Your husband wouldn’t be sitting back.”

When he returned to the house, he basically sorry not sorry-ed the other guys and informed them he needed to remind Kaitlyn what real husband material looked like.

You know what ideal masculinity is? Supposedly? Competition. Fighting for your woman, and not just physically. Knowing you are the right man for her and proving it. I’m guilty of whining, “I wish he would just fight for me,” as any of my friends would attest. And that’s the gross beauty of The Bachelorette: turning the tables and making hordes of men fight for one woman because it’s somehow empowering. Until it’s really not. Because you know what nightmare masculinity is? Vicious competition. Fighting for your woman until a man is concussed and drooling on the floor. Knowing you are the best and shoving that fact down everyone else’s throats. Fighting for your woman to prove you are the MANLIEST MAN EVER, as opposed to fighting for her because you genuinely like her.

Why do we even call it “fighting” when we pursue someone we have a romantic connection with? It’s one thing to fight against circumstances, against challenges, against our own fear of getting hurt. It’s another thing to fight just to fight.

The episode closed on some difficult, toxic masculinity. Kupah approached Kaitlyn to ask why he was on the show when they hadn’t had much time together. He was concerned he was on the show to fill a quota—a fair accusation for him to make as one of only three men of color still on the program. The Bachelor franchise has a long history of racially imbalanced casting, and I respected the hell out of Kupah for addressing it head on. But Kaitlyn correctly pointed out he hadn’t been making the same effort that the other men had, barely even approaching her to talk during the earlier group date, and she felt flustered by his questioning and asked for some time to think. Kupah then went to vent to some of the other guys and filled them in on the conversation… all within earshot of Kaitlyn, who snapped when she heard him say she was avoiding eye contact.

Kaitlyn pulled Kupah aside and asked him to go home. And Kupah was not happy. “That’s bullshit,” he said. “I don’t want to go home. I think you’re hot.” Way to redeem yourself, dude. “There’s more to me than that,” she fired back. Finally Kupah accepted her call and wished her luck, leaving the mansion. But the episode closed with a “to be continued” as Kupah stood outside railing at a producer instead of doing the usual exit interview about his feelings.

Toxic masculinity is not taking no for an answer. Toxic masculinity is screaming uselessly in a driveway at some random dude… who, admittedly, is shoving a microphone in your face and asking about your feelings which is stupid because REAL MEN DON’T HAVE FEELINGS.

This episode was brought to you by ~gender norms~. Bitch-ass bros, step back. It’s no surprise Ben Z. came out looking great this week: he won the boxing tournament and wowed Kaitlyn by talking about his mother who died of cancer. Emotional openness and honesty are worth far more than six-pack abs. That being said, both is great too.

You can find me on Twitter live-tweeting The Bachelorette each week, unless I am busy Snapchatting bros silly pictures of my face.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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