So… we need to talk about The Bachelorette.
Let me first, unequivocally state that I am a fan of The Bachelorette. I am here for the fashion. I am here for the drama. You could say I’m here for “the right reasons.” But, as an intersectional feminist, I cringe watching the show. I found myself cringing less during this last season than in most others largely because Michelle Young was the picture of grace and poise as she navigated a particularly charged journey.
For those who don’t know, Michelle was a finalist on Matt James’s historic season—a season helmed by the first Black Bachelor that ended in a controversy. Matt’s winner was outed for attending a racist party, previous Black leads were pulled into the drama, and Chris Harrison stepped aside after insulting basically everyone. Against this—not at all messy, totally lowkey—backdrop, Michelle was left to pick up the pieces of a multibillion-dollar franchise. No pressure.
I can hear you now, “okay… who cares? Who even watches this show?” Nearly six million people watched the last finale. The Bachelor franchise has been in and out of the spotlight for years for its poor handling of race issues. How they handle gender dynamics is concerning and insidious, laying out narratives for heterosexual relationships that, at best, limit the relationships on the show and, at worst, reinforce the patriarchy to its vast young—albeit mostly white women—viewership. Black women are subjected to both dynamics, but unfortunately, Michelle’s season wasn’t much different. Let me break it down.
This season, on The Bachelorette… Michelle navigates casual sexual harassment and gaslighting!
Intro week: the blur of faces and names, the producers actively setting some men up for failure, the out-of-control gimmicks, and absolute chaos. We love to see it. But every season, some men choose violence, and this season was no different, with Michelle dodging nonsense all evening long.
- Clayton, the current Bachelor, showed up with a ruler and asked Michelle, a fifth-grade teacher when she’s not on television, to spank him for bad behavior. Michelle gently obliged but commented on how strange the interaction was.
- Chris S. began his intro with, “You might have to take an exam of mine. You might get an A… I might give you a D.” As Michelle quickly dismissed him, he insisted, “Diamond! Diamond! What were you thinking? Dessert?” Michelle responded without missing a beat: “Detention, actually.”
- Garrett, gesturing in front of his chest, insinuated Michelle had to “earn” the necklace he was giving her by showing him her breasts. Michelle immediately returned the necklace, and he amended, “By showing me your heart.” Even the hosts commented, “It’s really awkward,” and “I’m uncomfortable.”
- One man, LT, literally showed up with no pants.
It’s like no one ever taught these men how to catch a woman’s attention without sexually harassing her. And it’s particularly disturbing considering how our culture already hypersexualizes Black women.
Later in the season, Michelle addressed gaslighting and racial stereotypes without missing a beat—and with much better results considering the show’s reputation. One contestant, Jamie, told Michelle other men were speculating that she had had a prior relationship with Joe, another contestant. When Michelle, visibly upset, addressed the rumors to the whole group, the men were confused and later another contestant told Michelle no one had ever questioned her character. Michelle shared that Jamie had brought the issue to her, and when asked about it, Jamie openly gaslit Michelle in front of the entire group, saying she had misinterpreted his words. Predictably (and thankfully), Michelle sent Jamie home.
Despite the gaslighting and Bachelor version of a public character assassination, during their final conversation, Michelle calmly explained her emotions to Jamie; that trust had been broken and she felt hurt. In contrast, a former white-passing Bachelorette, Clare Crawley, had an open shouting match with one of her contestants before he left. Possibly to stay clear of an “angry Black woman” trope, Michelle responded time and again to antics with witty retorts and emotional vulnerability—with little to no back from producers. But she shouldn’t have to.
Like you’ve never seen them before…
Unfortunately, the franchise has not stepped up its production to match the increasing diversity of its stars. It continues to leave leads like Michelle to manage the constant onslaught of harmful behavior. If The Bachelor franchise is going to evolve with the rest of us, it’s time to look inward and go on its own life-changing journey.