This season of The Bachelor has always felt a little bit different from the rest. After all, the ABC reality show returned when it still seemed like a different high-profile man was outed every single day as a sex monster who used his position to manipulate and abuse women. It’s not exactly fun to switch from reading about all of that real-life trauma to watching a real-life man force nearly 30 women to compete for his love by performing endless ridiculous tasks. Yet, thanks to lead Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s unrelenting blandness — his only real interests are red wine, going to sleep early, and the phrase “I love that” — The Bachelor never felt as creepy or mired in sexism as it very easily could have.
Then, Monday night’s “Week 8” came along. While the episode certainly didn’t feel creepy — again, Arie is such a square he literally laughs out loud over those playboy allegations — it did feel more regressive than any other instalment this season. And, we have hometown dates to blame for that. Fellow Bachelor Nation obsessives, how are we still watching 1950s-style “May I have your daughter’s hand in marriage” requests in 2018?
I can already hear the cries of “tradition!” echoing through the internet, so let’s take care of the biggest issue here first. It’s definitely respectful to get woman’s parents' “blessing” before asking said woman to marry you. It's extremely old-timey because marriage is that woman’s choice, and that woman’s choice alone, but, at least it’s respectful. Yet, there’s a problem with how The Bachelor is handling this time-honoured tradition: I said “parents' 'blessing'” and this show is only worried about a father’s blessing.
For the first two hometown dates, which went to Kendall Long and Tia Booth, it’s unclear if either contestant’s mother actually said more than one sentence to Arie. While both women have some speedy “girl talk” with the person who brought them into this world, the Bachelor doesn’t share a single second of alone time with his prospective future mother-in-law. Or, at least, the Bachelor producers don’t find those conversations important enough to share them with viewers, if they did indeed happen.
The same certainly can’t be said for the fathers of these women. With Kendall’s dad Bob Long, the moment a possible Arie-Kendall engagement comes up, he straight up says, “I know at some point, you know, we may talk about whether or not you would have my permission to have her hand and such. I have to be honest, my first thought would be no.” Kendall is a 26-year-old adult woman — her father hasn’t been in charge of her hand for decades. Yet, here we are.
Similarly, Arie goes to great lengths to assure Tia’s dad Kenny Booth he will take good care of his “little girl,” which is a phrase that’s actually used about yet another 26-year-old woman. “I just want to let you know that I would take care of her, and I would put her first,” the “race car driver” tells Kenny. This is exactly the kind of information we can assume Tia’s mom Denise Booth would like to hear as a way to assuage any of her own Bachelor dating anxieties. Remember, Tia is Denise’s only “little girl” too. But, Tia's mother is trapped in the house, far from the Big Man Conversation outside, where, of course, Arie asks for Kenny’s “blessing” to propose to Tia.
The following hometown dates — with obvious frontrunners Becca Kufrin and Lauren Burnham — show what “blessing” conversations look like when mothers are involved and, unsurprisingly, they still inexplicably centred around male comfort. Even when the mother is the only living parent. Just look at Arie’s visit with Becca’s family in Minnesota. The Bachelor is specifically told to worry about impressing Becca’s uncle Gary over any other family member present, including the woman who carried the 27-year-old inside of her body for nine months, Jill Kufrin. This obsession with paternal acceptance leads to Arie having a one-on-one grill session with Uncle Gary essentially before he says a word to Jill.
Arie only sits down with his possible mother-in-law after getting Uncle Gary’s hard-won seal of approval. If the pastor didn’t give the Arizona real estate broker his okay, would Arie have ever felt the need to get Jill’s blessing? Or would the buck have stopped at Gary? It’s difficult to see the answer being anything other than yes, especially since Arie explains he’s only asking for Jill’s blessing because Becca’s father died years ago.
Interestingly, Lauren’s B.’s mom Pamela Burnham is the only non-widow allowed to have a televised sit-down with Arie. But, again, that’s only after Arie goes through the ringer of a conversation with Lauren’s father. When you take into account how the other hometown dates went, it feels unlikely Arie or the show’s producers thought the Bachelor absolutely needed to chat with a contestant’s mom. Rather, considering just how skeptical the conservative Burnhams are about the entire Bachelor process, it stands to reason Pamela simply wouldn’t let Arie leave her house until she completed a thorough interrogation.
Do I wish everyone on The Bachelor would stop acting like adult women need their father’s blessing before a proposal can even be spoken about? Yes, of course. A simple and necessary anxiety-easing chat would put the franchise squarely in the 21st century. But, if we have to retain such an outdated tradition like “blessings” conversations for the good of the Bachelor narrative, can we at least get moms in on the action? As Jill Kufrin and Pamela Burnham proved, they’re here, and they have some damn questions.
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