Bachelorella: The Bachelorette Gets Real About Online Harassment

Source: @BacheloretteABC
Source: @BacheloretteABC

The producers of The Bachelorette made an interesting choice during tonight’s “Men Tell All” episode. Between the awkward reunions and desperate attempts to rebuild reputations, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Chris Harrison had an honest conversation about the tidal waves of harassment this season’s Bachelorette has received online. In a controversial move, Harrison read out several real tweets and emails sent to Kaitlyn over the last few months in all of their violent, slut-shaming, expletive-laden glory. The studio audiences’ jaws dropped, Kaitlyn struggled not to cry, and her men winced and grimaced in sympathy and horror. Twitter lit up like a switchboard. Was The Bachelorette actually addressing the harassment women receive online?

Yes. Yes it was.

With every season of The Bachelor and its spinoff shows, social media blurs the dynamic between audience, cast member, and television show even more. During this episode alone I tweeted with Nick Viall, a current finalist on the season, and read the live-tweets of reject JJ. Prior Bachelorette Andi called out some of the men on their shitty behavior, and Ashley I. laughed about the awkwardness of having to watch someone she hooks up with on Bachelor In Paradise discuss his love for Kaitlyn. There is no clear line between cast members and viewers—the men and women of the franchise tune in and join the conversation on Twitter every week.

Kaitlyn’s Snapchat account is also hilarious and weird. Early in the season Kaitlyn tweeted a selfie of her and one of the men from the series in bed together by accident, spoiling the winner of the season. On the morning after each episode, she snaps a recap, usually hiding a hangover behind massive sunglasses. We see her hanging out with the women she competed against during Chris’s season of The Bachelor, driving around Vancouver with her mom, doing photo shoots with her friends and going clubbing on her 30th birthday. I watch her snap stories, and then I watch the stories of my friends with little real difference in content or feeling. I don’t know Kaitlyn, but it’s easy to forget that.

Social media makes these people accessible, human and weirdly relatable. A TV villain becomes a full-dimensional person when he gets to explain his behavior during an episode as it airs. And a Bachelorette receives “thousands of thousands of comments” telling her she is a cunt, a worthless slut, an idiot, a trashy attention whore, a mess, a mistake, a waste. “Like, I get death threats,” Kaitlyn said tonight, her eyes glassy. She said she was a strong person, she could deal with people disagreeing with her decision, it’s just that her family worries about her. This isn’t just about her.

Of course it isn’t enough for a woman to be in pain—she must point out the collateral damage done to the undeserving people in her life as well.

Ben Z. and Ben H. both looked appalled, genuinely hurt and shocked to see the woman they love feeling unsafe and disrespected. But as any woman who expresses opinions online will tell you, there is absolutely nothing shocking about the abuse Kaitlyn has received. And Kaitlyn has been tweeting little cries for civility and help all season. I knew I would have to write this post as soon as it was teased that she would have sex with someone well before the Fantasy Suites. The women of The Bachelor have always gotten sexualized harassment and shaming on the Internet. It’s as regular as the seasons.

I respect The Bachelorette’s decision to talk about harassment. I respect their decision to not include the handles and addresses of the harassers they quoted, to prevent waves of shaming the likes of which Jon Ronson warns against in his TED Talk today. I respect their decision to air this as an issue to the millions of viewers who were previously ignorant of the vitriol that social media allows, and those who tweeted it themselves. Most of all, it’s an odd, scolding, necessary message to all of us who sit behind our screens or in front of our television sets and call Kaitlyn a slut, or an idiot, even to ourselves.

The strangest part of the episode to me was seeing how quiet men like Kupah, Jonathan, and Corey grew once Kaitlyn started speaking up about her experience with harassment. Their accusations that she was disrespectful to the men of the show by bringing on Nick sounded trivial and petty. More than that, if they called Kaitlyn’s behavior “disgraceful,” they were condoning and even encouraging thousands of assholes on Twitter to do the same. I don’t know that they realized that, but the structure of the episode made it very clear. There is something broken about this franchise, that it wants to protect its stars from violence and abuse but creates situations in which they are criticized. It calls slut-shaming unacceptable while recording and airing audio of the Bachelorette having consensual sex with one of her boyfriends. It calls her sexuality “healthy” in the same breath as it is “controversial.”

The Bachelorette needs to make up its mind. Just what kind of franchise does it want to be? Does it want to protect its stars, or does it want to sacrifice them for good TV?

As always, you can find me on Twitter:

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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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