2014 was the year that the public finally started to discuss, define and question what the term ‘rape culture’ means here in Aotearoa. Last year was also the year when women in New Zealand were reminded how the society we live in values us. Somewhere amidst this discussion TV3 announced they were going ahead with the New Zealand production of The Bachelor.
In brothels around the world it is standard practice for the sex workers to do a form of line-up for the clients so that the client can select which woman they wish to spend time with. In some countries it is not unusual for the women to wear an identifying number. This practice is no longer carried out in New Zealand. We used to have version of it. The client would sit in the lounge and if he requested a ‘visual’ the women on the shift would stream out, one by one, say their name and then go back to the staff room. The practice was pretty much discontinued in the late 80’s and replaced with a more informal introduction procedure. Now the women sit around in a lounge or bar setting and the client comes and sits with the sex workers. He can then either approach the woman he prefers directly or notify a receptionist. Back in the day when ‘visuals’ were conducted the women put in little effort. Even in the lounge or bar area of a brothel there is a code of conduct around the practice of ‘hustling’. The practice of hustling is considered tacky. Sex work is a legal commercial transaction in New Zealand and I take no issue with sentient adults interacting in this manner. For the most part, people know why they are there. It is place to purchase sex.
Another place you will see a group of women lined up. Waiting to be judged and selected is a beauty pageant. Women are judged by an arbitrary set of rules which defines what is commonly perceived as ‘beautiful.’ The attraction for the contestant is some sort of financial enticement along with the idea of creating a profile or some amount of celebrity status. Like the line up in the brothel, pageants are in decline. They are after all a commercial venture and I question their relevance in today’s world but I support women to make their own decision. They will have their reasons for being there. It is a place, like a brothel, of financial gain.
The last place you will see the women being lined up like cattle, encouraged to perform tricks and compete is the TV show The Bachelor. 2015 is the year TV3 has finally decided to embrace the reality TV show. Wahoo. I mean how exciting. Thirteen years after it first screened in the USA we are finally going to embrace that trend. It’s being produced by Anna Lynch who also brought us New Zealand’s Next Top Model. The extreme reality TV pageant. Who won that again?
Following a year when NZ media was dominated by stories that highlighted the prominence and prevalence of a deeply embedded rape culture the introduction of dating show seems a bizarre choice. A year that ended with the air waves of talk back being assailed with men defending their right to call women pet names, like darling and babe in the work place. The catch cry of talkback “Its PC gone mad!” was the dawn chorus of day time chat. I can hear those same voices now defending The Bachelor as just a dating show. Just some good ole boy searching for love. It is harmless entertainment. Nice continuity TV3.
The Bachelor is not a dating show and it is not about dating or finding love. Looking for love on reality TV makes as much sense as searching for love in a brothel. Take away the financial inducements and would anyone really show up? The advertisers sure as hell won’t. Without advertising do you even have a show? This show is about rating not dating. The premise however is what is really compromising and where the cost comes. It is the cost of any pretence of equality between genders, it is at the cost of the contestant’s self-respect and the cost of the audience selling out to the commercialisation of the same ritual that inspires art, music and literature.
The setup is twenty four women who are competing for the attention of a man. They are lined up primped and primed and then set in competition where some guy can pick and choose what he considers to be the more superior. How is this not offensive? How is perpetuating this culture of patriarchal entitlement to select women like race horses not an outdated and dangerous precedent? While this is the same procedure used in brothels it is not the same principle because this is packaged and sold as a quest for love. This is sex work sold as romance.
A local example of how this precedent has now permeated local culture is the unfortunate example of Liam Lorigan. The story of his self-motivated quest for love based on The Bachelor model, #DateLiam, was brought to my attention by the Twitter Trolls. Liam Lorigan is a 29 years old who has set up a website and social media campaign offering women the opportunity of applying to date him on a public forum, where his friends and family can weigh in and his mother will select the lucky winner for a date with Liam on Valentine’s Day. This is a story that is not a story in many ways. So far there are no applicants in sight. #DateLiam is not going viral. Well not in the way he planned. I messaged Liam and requested an interview. I was amazed he agreed as my tweets surely indicated I was of the opinion that this ‘bloke’ must be an arrogant self-obsessed narcissist or incredibly ill informed.
As it turns out he is all of the above. #DateLiam is an example of men thinking that a framework for meeting women that encourages women to compete and totally disempowers them is okay. With only two weeks to go and no contenders tings might not be working out as he had hoped. In fact if people did apply, Liam hasn’t yet got as far as working out a system for dealing with them. He told me he had received queries from people who wished to nominate friends. He thought that might work. When I asked about people’s safety and right to privacy he just looked puzzled. In fact he looked puzzled throughout the entire meeting.
Liam wanted media attention. I’m giving him some. Liam stated to me and on his site that he was doing this in such a public manner because he was scared of internet dating. Well sure. That makes perfect sense. If you’re sacred of internet dating you set up your own website. It’s a hard line to swallow. I don’t believe it. When pushed and I asked him about using one of the platforms that already exist he stated that his own forum allowed him to “take back the power.” He also states that he wants to see how big this can go on social media.
I don’t think Liam Lorigan is malicious but I also didn’t buy his naive and vulnerable act. You wouldn’t embark on this exercise without a certain level of arrogance and entitlement. Liam admitted to me that he hadn’t considered any of the points I had made about how his forum positioned women, and what kind of women might respond. At this point if he isn’t lying, then it is hard not to consider the endeavour as plain stupid. Liam was keen for media attention. In fairness one of my opening statements was to advise him to google all future interviewers. That’s just good practice. Unlike launching a website encouraging women to vie for your attention and then allowing your mother to arbitrate. I would be really keen to hear from Liam’s mum. I could ask if she really supports the idea of encouraging women to compete and risk public humiliation for a chance at a date. I could ask if this is something she would encourage of a daughter.
This is a long blog. This is a huge topic. I have no doubt I will blog shorter angrier posts as the year progresses and when The Bachelor screens. Already I have heard from an unreliable source that one contestant left because of an issue regarding the swimming pool. The women who choose to put themselves forward for The Bachelor and for #DateLiam have agency. They are making their own informed decision and I am sure they have their reasons. However the quest for love may not be high amongst them, and if it is, well….we ban a lot of things in society in the name of harm minimisation. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be one of them. For years circus trainers tried to tell us that some bears love to dance and some tigers enjoy flaming hoops.
The Bachelor is political. The personal is always political when it comes to feminism and the place that women occupy in society. The Bachelorette is often touted as the balancing point. It is promoted by followers as the proof that this platform isn’t misogynist. Hoorah for equality.
Bullshit. The Bachelorette is the perfect example of what equality under patriarchy looks like.
Anyone who invests in the premise of this forum is buying into what must surely be the penultimate corruption of romance and the neo liberal capitalisation and commercialisation of love.
Bring on The Bachelor. #DoucheDate is ready to go.