This year has been a year for polarity, but perhaps nothing has been more polarized in pop culture than Bachelor Nation’s views on the latest Bachelorette, Clare Crawley. I’ve spent the last three years of my life as a dedicated member of ABC’s cult. I watch every Bachelor/ette season, every godforsaken spin-off, read the think pieces, write the think pieces, deep dive into every contestant’s social presence, buy into every Ponzi Scheme past contestants are pushing on their IGs, and just generally find myself enmeshed—almost against my will—in Bachelor culture. (Keith Reinere could have taken some notes from Mike Fliess on How To Build A Cult Following 101). Which is why I feel qualified in answering the question that seems to be on everyone’s minds since last Tuesday’s episode: why does everybody hate Clare?
When it was announced last spring that Clare was going to be the newest Bachelorette I felt… fine about it. I didn’t watch Juan Pablo’s season because it was a blight upon humanity which should never have seen the light of day, and I didn’t watch Clare’s stints on BiP either, as I’m pretty sure that was when I was still young and hopeful and had some semblance of a social life. I did watch her on Winter Games, but had no real lasting impressions of her. I liked that she was older but I didn’t like that the franchise had given her so many chances already. Now that we’re three episodes into The Bachelorette, I still just feel very fine about her. I’m not actively rooting for her like I was with Hannah B, or enviously jealous of her like I was with JoJo, or overly impressed with her like I was with Rachel, but I’m not ready to filet her character on the internet like I’m a chef at Benihana either.
The internet seems to have three major points of contention with Clare: one, they’re outraged over the nude dodgeball game; two, they think she’s leading the men on; and three, they consider her “super immature” for having an immediate connection with Dale. I don’t really get the hate over the naked dodgeball game, because humiliating contestants on national television is sort of ABC’s thing. If anything, I found it refreshing that a female lead had the audacity to ask men to put aside their own pride for her pleasure. As for the second point, it’s completely normal, especially for the Bachelorettes, to form early attachments with front-runners. And in terms of “leading the men on” I’m not convinced that ABC isn’t giving Clare a bad edit on purpose. There are rumors that production forced her out, so who’s to say that the footage we’re seeing isn’t heavily edited to build up resentment towards Clare and excitement towards Tayshia’s takeover?
I think the real reason people hate Clare so much has to do with the way she plays the game. Normally, Bachelorettes pick a front-runner early on (no really, it’s a trend that the recipient of the first impression rose goes on to win the whole thing) and then spend the rest of the season testing their connection with that person by pursuing other people in the house. That makes the process sound mature and elegant and like there’s not a lot of puffy-eyed confessionals that will eventually be embalmed for all eternity in the form of a viral GIF. But here’s the thing: Clare’s not playing the game like a Bachelorette would, she’s playing it like a Bachelor would.
Let’s look at the evidence. Clare is decidedly a rule breaker. She skips half a group date when she doesn’t feel like going, she spends hours of other group dates exchanging hickies with Dale, she sent a guy home for not knowing enough about her on the first date, and it’s rumored that she leaves the show after only three weeks with one of the men from her season (in case you don’t have working eyes or ears and have been living in an underground bunker, SPOILER, it’s Dale). So, yeah, Clare breaks the rules and we hate her for it. But why do we hate her for it exactly?
When Colton decided to leave his season after the fantasy suites for a woman who seemed decidedly less interested in him than he was in her, the internet, while poking fun at him a bit, ultimately declared his gesture romantic. He was a go-getter. He went after what he wanted. When Arie ditched Becca after his proposal to her to pursue Lauren B instead, he was vilified at first, yes, but now that they’re married and have a baby and an Instagram for that baby that doesn’t at all feel like a cry for help or a certain descent into madness (seriously, someone check on Lauren, those captions worry me), Bachelor Nation has forgiven him. Here again, his gesture was ultimately written off as romantic. Ben Higgins broke one of the cardinal rules of The Bachelor by saying “I love you” before the final rose to not one, but TWO women. He remains a beloved member of the franchise. So, why are we vilifying Clare for breaking the rules of her own damn season when Bachelors have been doing it for years?
The bottom line is this: Clare isn’t twentysomething years old. At her age, she’s been dating for roughly 15 years, so she knows what she’s looking for and what she isn’t looking for. To put things into perspective, the average age of ABC’s Bachelorettes is 27, and before Clare there had only ever been two Bachelorettes over the age of 30. I’m not saying age determines everything, but I do feel like women in their 20s are more likely to play games and put up with bullsh*t than women in their 30s (especially their late 30s). I know at 28 I’m exhausted from swiping and casual dating, and yet, when I’m drunk I still call an ex-boyfriend who has ghosted me on no less than six different occasions. If I’m tired, I can’t imagine how I’d feel in 10 years at Clare’s age.
I think because of her age we expected her to be desperate for love, a doormat for ABC producers to walk all over, and Clare’s proving to be anything but. She’s challenging the men to take stock of their emotions and negative relationship habits through therapy. She’s asking them to step outside their comfort zones (and clothes) simply for her pleasure. Selfish, unhinged, demanding—we vilify her for acts that we’d tolerate from male leads.
When it comes to the Bachelorette, we want a strong woman, but we still want her to play by gendered rules. Be strong, but not pushy. Be in love, but not head over heels. Show attention, but don’t play favorites. Clare might be breaking ABC’s rules, but she’s also breaking ours. I’m not declaring Clare my personal favorite Bachelorette, and I’m not saying she’s a feminist icon or above critique, but I am saying that we should question where this hatred for her is coming from and why we’re not ready for her kind of Bachelorette.
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