Of All Things, It's 'The Bachelorette' That's Fighting Toxic Masculinity in 2017

Rachel Lindsay is not afraid to say she wants an adult, not a man-child.

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

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Like it or loathe it, The Bachelorette offers a unique way for women to find love. Instead of being forced to use dating apps and deal with all the dreariness that comes with meeting strangers online, some lucky women—13 thus far—get wooed by several blandly handsome men in front of us all on national TV.

It's a place where the search for love is a ridiculous, alcohol-fueled spectacle. Season after season, we watch and we suspend our disbelief. We give into the romance, however manufactured. We give into the idea that love is as real as we hope it is, and that it's within not just the Bachelorette's reach, but also ours.

Those of us who routinely watch this show know that not even a process as formulaic as The Bachelorette's guarantees that a woman can find true love. In last week's episode, this was made painfully clear when Rachel Lindsay was blindsided by contestant DeMario Jackson's girlfriend Lexi—who barely contained her anger as she informed Rachel that DeMario was a liar and cheat.

You know that song, "It Wasn't Me?" What transpired was basically the lyrics come to life, with DeMario having the audacity to look genuinely perplexed as his girlfriend launched into an angry recitation of his misdeeds—with receipts. He ended up saying she was "psycho"—the default stance men take when they're confronted with their own bullshit. But in one of the most authentic moments this show has ever seen, Rachel told DeMario, "I really need you to get the f*ck out." That realness continued into this week's episode, when DeMario came crawling back to the mansion, begging for another chance. Once again, Rachel handled her business and told him that she was looking for a man, not a boy.

DeMario's downfall was not only satisfying; it was refreshing. We saw a moment that wasn't scripted or overly produced. We saw a woman experiencing what many of us have encountered in our own search for love: disappointment, frustration, and humiliation—baggage that comes with dating people who act like children when all we're really looking for is an adult.

"DeMario's downfall was not only satisfying; it was refreshing."

And what is an adult? The Bachelorette is admittedly not a great measure of adulthood given that the show openly encourages suitors to remain locked in a perpetual, drama-prone adolescence. When they aren't on dates with Rachel, the contestants spend most of their time working out, tanning by the pool, getting drunk, and gossiping with one another about one another. But thus far, Rachel's confessional commentary suggests that an adult is a good listener, honest and hard-working, open with his feelings, able to have fun, romantic, and willing to make the first move. An adult can sweep Rachel off her feet. An adult is the proverbial total package—the person who can be everything a lovelorn woman wants and needs.

In dismissing DeMario, Rachel stated that she was looking for a man—and her yearning for adult company was palpable throughout this week's episode. She sent man-boys Lucas and Blake home because they were clearly only interested in each other and incapable of human romantic interaction. Her decision was prescient, considering that after their dismissal they began to argue like children—going so far as to imitate each other and trade limp, ineffective insults that made them both look sad.

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A scene from this week's episode in which suitors mud-wrestle for Rachel's affection.

(Image credit: ABC)

It was strange that Rachel then took her remaining boyfriends on a series of rather infantilizing dates—clearly she's a woman of contradictions (or she just has aggressive producers). On one date, a group of men danced topless on The Ellen Show before playing "Never Have I Ever"—a game Rachel claimed to enjoy because it's an efficient way of getting to know people. Girl, I guess.

But as television viewers, we are afforded a wide view of male unsuitability throughout this week's episode, and of seeing how close—or, perhaps, how far—Rachel is from finding love with someone who actually deserves it.

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Roxane Gay