'The Bachelorette' Recap: Desiree Hartsock Slut-Shames in First Episode

On Monday, season nine of The Bachelorette premiered on ABC. Some of y’all may already be on top of this information, having watched the entire two-hour parade of traditionally attractive men and Desiree’s unnecessary tears … and enjoyed it. But if you’re anything like me, you’re watching with at least a little irony. You know — we all know— that the Bachelor franchise reinforces basically everything that’s wrong in the world. As I was watching on Monday, though, there was a storyline that simultaneously made me applaud Desiree Hartsock and shake my head at her place in this staple of our sexist culture.

At the beginning of the premiere, all the men got out of a limo and presented themselves to Desiree. One man, Jonathan, gave Desiree a keycard to a hotel suite and invited her to go there with him that night. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she responded, obviously put off. Later, he propositioned her again; she denied him again with the same words. Finally, he tried to take her by the hand and go to a private place. She repeated herself and promptly sent him home.

Good, I thought. The act of propositioning a woman for sex immediately upon meeting her is arrogant and entitled on its own, but to continue to make the same advances after the woman has made her answer clear is sexual harassment. Desiree sending Jonathan home showed women that they don’t have to grin and bear it in the face of a frustrating — and maybe even frightening — suitor. She was strong and straightforward. It was almost a feminist move.

But the way she did it — oh, the way she did it. She could have said almost anything else. “I’m not interested,” or “I don’t want to do that right now,” or “What the hell?” would have been fine. But no. The words she used were, “I’m not that kind of girl.”

“That kind of girl:” a woman who would sleep with a guy the night she met him, and enjoy it. You know. A slut. When Desiree stood up for herself, she was also slut-shaming every woman who has ever had fun on a one-night stand.

The ironic thing, of course, is that Desiree is about to embark on a journey in which she will go on dates with, develop feelings for, and yes, hook up with a wide variety of men in a relatively short period of time. Because of the way the show is structured, you sort of have to be a slut to be the Bachelor or the Bachelorette. But it’s different! The Bachelorette princesses aren’t real sluts…because they’re looking for love. Sex might happen along the way, sure, but certainly not in the first few weeks, and certainly not just because they’re horny. If they do have sex, it’s a choice they make because of a deep emotional connection.

Don’t get me wrong; I do support Desiree’s choice to turn that guy away. I would support her choice to wait until marriage to have sex, like the last Bachelor, if that’s what she wanted to do. I’m also not looking for the Bachelor franchise to come out with a progressive feminist statement promoting all consensual expressions of sexuality. I’m not that much of a dreamer.

What would make me happy, though, is for the show – and our culture more generally – to stop saying that sex isn’t a part of the beginning of fairy-tale love. Sometimes it is. It would be great to see a Bachelorette say, “Yeah, no, sex is a really important part of my connection with my future partner,” or even, “I have all of these superhot men around me and I’d love some sex right now,” and spend a night with a guy if that was what she wanted to do.

But somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. Until then, I’ll keep watching The Bachelorette (ironically, of course) and hope that Desiree makes more of those strong, direct moves — this time without shaming women who might choose differently.

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Sarah Van Name

Sarah Van Name is a recent graduate of Duke University currently working in the RTP area. She spends the rest of her time reading feminist blogs and mystery novels, running very slowly, and trying out new bread recipes.

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