On tonight's The Bachelor, Brad Womack makes a second effort to locate his wife using television.
Fact: The Bachelor is a guilty pleasure for plenty of intelligent, forward-thinking people. And as hard as it is for those people to look away from the obvious and inherent issues of sexism and old-fashioned gender roles that dominate the show, it's even harder this time around. As the season wraps up tonight with Brad Womack making his final choice between single mom Emily and jittery Chantal, it's become clear that Brad's love of independent women doesn't keep him from sending them out the door.
Brad came into this season a self-proclaimed "changed man." He's been on the show once before, but he ultimately decided not to propose to either of the final two women. He was publicly pilloried for this, naturally, by people who cannot understand how one could be presented with 25 women chosen by television producers and not choose to marry any of them.
Since he's had plenty of time to ruminate on his decision (which he now obediently chalks up to commitment-phobia rather than an attack of good sense), he now feels confident that he knows what he wants out of life. (SPOILER ALERT — It still involves choosing a wife on television.) Brad has constantly said that he is looking for a strong, independent woman who complements him well, and who would make a good wife and mother. He claims to want someone who gives priority to family, and has repeatedly stated his admiration for women who are career-oriented with strong personalities.
And yet, his last few choices for elimination have made it painfully clear that this is not, in fact, what he's looking for at all.
On a recent episode, Brad visited the hometowns of the final four women: Chantal and Emily, along with dental-school student Ashley and funeral director Shawntel (that's right, there's a Shawntel and a Chantal). During those visits, Brad laid out two very important points.
1. He reiterated that he fully expected the woman he chose to move with him to his hometown of Austin, Texas. This was non-negotiable. It didn't matter whether these women had ever been to his city or even his state, or whether they had children of their own to consider. He wanted them to move to him, regardless of any other obligations they may have in their lives.
2. The main thing he was looking for in these visits (aside from attempting to get to know these women's families — in one night) was whether he could picture each woman's life fitting in with his own.
Accordingly, the career choices and family obligations of Ashley and Shawntel (our aspiring dentist and our funeral director) were very problematic for Brad. In the case of Ashley, Brad was concerned that her career in dentistry (which he referred to as "following her dreams") might take her somewhere other than Austin, a point on which there could be no compromise. And though Shawntel, who's been planning to take over her family's funeral home, told Brad that she was willing to give that up and move to Texas, taking her recession-proof career with her, he expressed serious doubts. While he may have found other justifications, both women were eliminated right after serious conversations (and lines of questioning) about their careers.
But it wasn't only professional concerns where Brad wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He set an ultimately unattainable double-standard of wanting someone who was emotionally vulnerable (he talked endlessly about not wanting the women to "put up walls" and "retract" — even on a nationally televised show where the point is for almost all of them to be sent home crying) and yet he demanded that they not be so vulnerable that they felt uncertain, displayed too much emotion, or asked for reassurance.
In spite of the fact that his expectations are both conflicting and inconsistently communicated, it was the women who were eliminated who almost all went out questioning what they did wrong, and how they could have acted differently to have won over Brad's affections. They never considered the possibility that if you're in any position to marry a person, even a few awkward comments or nervous moments wouldn't destroy the relationship, or the possibility that he decided not to propose to them despite their not having done anything "wrong."
Even though he lives in the unreal world of reality television, Brad Womack's waffling exemplifies a conflict that a lot of couples still experience. He politely paid lip service to the idea that he wanted a modern marriage to a career woman who was independent, ambitious, and emotionally stable, who had her own life and interests outside of him. But he also wanted a woman who, like Emily and Chantal, would unquestioningly make huge adjustments (like, in Emily's case, uprooting a child) for him and his uncompromising lifestyle.
Brad's mouth said he loved independent women, but his choices said he wants a very old-fashioned marriage. And while Brad and his chosen mate obviously have every right to choose whatever lifestyle and balance of power they see fit, Brad should probably admit, before his next game-show-based attempt to get married, that what he's really looking for is somebody who loves him even more than clean teeth and embalming, who's ready to pick up and go at a moment's notice.
Tonight, either Chantal or Emily will get the chance to do just that.