I was fully prepared to sit down and watch this episode and write a recap like I usually do. I was ready to snark about Carly and Evan’s wedding and I was ready to admit that it got me. What can I say? I’m a crier. I weep at everything remotely wedding- or baby-related. But then, halfway through the episode, Chris Harrison sat the cast down for a discussion about the allegations of sexual assault during production.
I’m not joking when I say this: It was one of, if not the most, egregious and irresponsible discussions about sexual assault I have ever seen.
As a black woman who has lived through sexual harassment and an abusive relationship, it was physically uncomfortable to watch. I paused it several times to scream, “THIS IS BAD!” This was bad. This was very, very, very bad. This was tone-deaf and dangerous.
It was naïve to think that I could cover this season of Bachelor in Paradise like I always do with snark and flippant remarks and questions about Robby’s hair. We all have our blind spots when it comes to problematic media. Apparently, this was mine. Bachelor in Paradise has always been my favorite. It usually dispenses with all the trappings of true love and just gives us bonkers drunk people on a beach. Unfortunately for me, the show tends to focus more on reaching that engagement. Unfortunately for society, it’s evidently susceptible to creating a dangerous environment that it simply isn’t equipped to handle. And now, everyone involved is completely ill-equipped to handle this conversation.
The conversation starts out with Chris Harrison asking the cast if they trust the findings of an independent team who were hired by Warner Bros. to investigate the sexual-assault claims. (The investigation found no evidence of misconduct.) The response from the cast is “We all knew that nothing happened and it was blown out of proportion.” YIKES.
The cast also seems pretty hell-bent on insisting that the producers don’t force them to do anything and that any decision they make is 100 percent their own. Derek claims that they order every drink they’re given, but honestly, that’s not the part of the equation that’s a problem. We’ve all seen someone on these shows get too drunk. So drunk that they’d be cut off at a bar in the real world. So drunk that they fell asleep or passed out. So drunk that they started a fight. The producers giving out every drink without question is the problem.
Taylor follows up by saying, “We’re responsible for how much we drink, who we kiss, all of it.” I’m just holding my head in my hands now and it gets so much worse. Taylor also gets self-righteous about not drinking on the show and how the crew never forces her to drink. My response to that: So? If the show allows contestants who do drink to drink to a dangerous point, it doesn’t matter that they never offered you a margarita.
Also, did anyone else have the suspicion that all of that was purely for the benefit of the producers to get back into the audience’s good graces?
The next topic of conversation is how unfair it is to DeMario that all of this happened. The undercurrent in this conversation is that being accused of sexual assault is just as bad as being the survivor of sexual assault.
Chris Harrison keeps asking Raven for her “take,” as if she’s the moral compass of this group. Raven says that it’s unfair that everything bad is going to be associated with DeMario. Iggy says that it was hard to see DeMario typecast by the media and forced to bear all the responsibility for what happened. Then Diggy says that he’s concerned about the long-term effects of DeMario being labeled as someone who could commit sexual assault, especially as a black man who’s been implicated in this “scandal” with a white woman. Chris asks the group if race has anything to do with it and everyone immediately gets uncomfortable.
Then Raven chimes in again by saying she’s from the South and there’s still a stigma about seeing a black man with a white woman and we need to get rid of the stigma that interracial relationships are wrong.
IS THIS WHAT WE’RE MAKING IT ABOUT NOW?
That is not what this is about. There certainly is a long history of white women’s “chastity” and “purity” being used as justification for the violence against and destruction of black men, whether those black men had any contact with white women or not. The relationship or contact was often imagined or insinuated to justify violence. Meanwhile, black women were and continue to be subject to violence, physical and oftentimes emotional, to protect that same “purity” of white women.
That was never about “normalizing” or “accepting” interracial relationships. It was about controlling, dominating, and attempting to wipe out black people from this country with harassment, intimidation, and violence.
To invoke that is pretty damn classless.
Also, for the record: Saying that white men aren’t as scrutinized when it comes to sexual-assault charges isn’t a demand to treat black sexual abusers like we treat white abusers. IT’S A DEMAND TO TAKE SEXUAL ASSAULT MORE SERIOUSLY AND BELIEVE THE MEN AND WOMEN THAT ARE ABUSED AND ASSAULTED.
The next part of the conversation is simply dangerous and straight out of the rape-culture handbook. Chris Harrison refers to Corinne’s statement that she and her lawyer put out after the show. He says, “Corinne referred to herself as a victim.” Danielle M. adds, “She wanted to try to save face. That’s what I took from it.”
Then Raven reveals that she was in an abusive relationship and she was sexually assaulted in that relationship, so she takes this issue personally. Raven says, “I hope this doesn’t deter actual victims from coming forward and really speaking their truth and getting help.” [Emphasis mine.]
This is truly, very, supremely bad.
This is textbook men’s-rights-activist bullshit about rape accusations. Open up any corner of the internet where pitiful, misogynistic dung beetles lurk and you can find language just like this: That rape accusations are hurled by women who have drunken sex and regret it. That rape accusations are nothing more than a way for women to keep their “number” down because a sexual encounter doesn’t matter. That rape accusations are a way for women to hurt men they don’t like.
All of that? That’s what really deters men and women from coming forward when they’re assaulted. That if they were drinking, they won’t be believed. That if they dress too revealingly or too modestly, they won’t be believed. That if they had sex with that person before, they won’t be believed.
That if they do anything other than appear to be the perfect “victim,” they won’t be believed.
Not a single person on that couch said they believed Corinne, or that they even believed she felt uncomfortable about what happened with DeMario. Not one woman said she believed Corinne. Why? Because it didn’t look like real assault to them. They may not have used those exact words, but that’s what they meant. Jasmine even said, “He wasn’t aggressive toward any of us.” Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone say the man who harassed you was nice to them. All of these women sold Corinne out and praised DeMario — and all of their praise only exists to justify DeMario’s return to the show.
A lot of the people who watch these shows are young women, some even as young as middle school. I used to do a kid’s show and a group of 10- to 12-year-old girls told us that The Bachelor was their favorite show. Imagine being a young woman watching this show and seeing how it treats women who come forward with accusations of sexual assault. They may not consciously realize what they’re being indoctrinated to believe, but they might find themselves repeating, “He wasn’t aggressive with me” or “She was just trying to save face” later in their lives. Or they might find themselves believing they deserve to hear it.
Even when this episode offers some perfunctory conversations about consent, it looks like the contestants are reading cue cards held just off camera. Diggy even suggests, “You can consent when you’re drunk.” ARE WE REALLY? There’s a lot of complicated legality to consider in that idea, but is Bachelor in Paradise the place to have this conversation? Or even to dispense that kind of information? Just teach affirmative, enthusiastic, and informed consent. Why even open the door to anything else?
Finally, Host Chris asks each contestant if they want to return to Paradise. Everyone says yes.
And I turned my TV off.
If you would like to speak to a trained staff member from a sexual-assault service provider in your area, call 800-656-HOPE, or visit www.rainn.org.