Episode 2 of The Bachelor featured what the show is touting as the “steamy” first kiss of the season. There's just one problem: it was less of a kiss, and more of a one-sided attack. And not from the Bachelor himself.
Twentynine-year-old Romy, from Queensland, was invited on a “surprise single date” by Nick. He took her to his uncle’s restaurant, where they learned how to make pizza and a predictable food fight ensued. It was relatively cute and harmless, if a little boring – until they made their way to the couch. The couch is, in the world of The Bachelor, where personal conversations, rose-giving and kissing happens.
The kiss is typically a significant turning point in the relationship between the Bach and whoever is on the date. It means things are getting serious. Unlike the American Bachelor, kisses here are treated as special – almost sacred. In short, they are a Big Fucking Deal. The first kiss of the season is especially significant, bestowing early favourite status upon whoever receives it.
It was interesting, then, that on Nick’s first date, with 25-year-old Shannon from Victoria, there was no kiss beyond a chaste cheek peck when he gave her a rose. Shannon had been adamant that she doesn’t kiss on the first date, and it seemed like Nick was respectful of that. Going into her own date with Nick, Romy had no such qualms, proclaiming “if there’s an opportunity there to kiss Nick today, I’ll do it.”
Now, I am all for narratives in which women make the first move and own their sexuality, but what happened next was not a positive representation of that. Romy went in for a kiss, but not on Nick’s lips – she went straight for his neck. It appeared prolonged and aggressive, and Nick seemed extremely uncomfortable. His eyes widened, his expression telegraphing “what the hell is happening?” He laughed nervously. As their lips grazed, he appeared to push Romy back.
In a to-camera piece, Nick explained how he was feeling in that moment: “Romy came in for a kiss with. She came in hot. Real hot.” He said this not with enthusiasm, but a kind of horrified disbelief. “The only thing is,” he added, “for me, I like to hold back a bit and establish a real connection, to try and make it a bit more meaningful if possible.”
It was clear Romy had overstepped. Especially when Nick actually said to her, “it’s getting a bit steamy in here. Better take this down a notch.” Despite his explicit attempt to establish a boundary, Romy persisted in trampling all over it. Nick tried again to politely rebuff her, saying “it’s about love and I’d hate to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s not my thing.”
The scene made for uncomfortable viewing. And the show only got worse from there.
When she arrived back at the Bachelor mansion in time for the cocktail party, Romy brandished her rose and gleefully told the other girls she’d had a “really romantic kiss” with Nick. “It was a real kiss...it wasn’t tacky. It wasn’t forced,” she said.
Unless the edited footage we watched was vastly different to what actually happened (which is not entirely unlikely – but let’s focus on the narrative we’ve been presented with for now), forced is exactly what it was. Nick didn’t seem to consent to the physical interaction with Romy at all. Not only that, he actively tried to extricate himself from the situation – both with his body language and his actual words.
Within the framework of the show, however, the only line Romy was presented as crossing was against her fellow contestants. The “kiss” was used to set-up girl-on-girl drama, not open up a discussion about what the Bachelor was (or, more importantly, wasn’t) comfortable doing. This was further reinforced when Romy approached Nick during the cocktail party, once again launching herself at his neck and even trying to kiss him on the lips. The other girls watched on in horror – stunned that Romy would dare do this in front of them, breaking the unspoken rules of the weird group dating scenario they’ve all volunteered for.
But the horror I felt watching it at home was of a different kind. It was awful to witness Nick, once again, looking stunned and uncomfortable. Again, he laughed nervously, this time repeatedly saying, “you’re a funny thing, aren’t you?”. The unspoken truth behind his words and his expression was apparent: you’re making me uncomfortable, please stop.
Nick’s attempt to diffuse the situation was something I instantly recognised. The instinct to laugh, to be polite, to not make someone else feel bad, even when you’re the one actually feeling uneasy or threatened, is something most women know in their bones. It’s a way to cut through the tension, to mitigate threats, to avoid danger. It was quite startling to see a man in such a situation on national TV – and largely ignored by the wider narrative in favour of a catty mean girls angle.
Nick has been positioned – by himself, by the show – as a charming, loveable larrikin; a blokey bloke with a sensitive side; a man’s man who women will also fall for. I imagine that as Romy mauled him, surrounded by cameras and producers (not to mention the other contestants), the pressure was on for him to adhere to this image. Even still, even when delivered with a laugh and a joke, his words clearly set boundaries that Romy deliberately and repeatedly crossed.
The Bachelor franchise is no stranger to trouble where issues of consent are concerned. Just last year, the American Bachelor in Paradise was rocked by allegations of sexual assault. In Australia, there hasn’t been any major problems of this kind to date (although The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise have both been guilty of casting and uncritically showcasing toxic male contestants). Thanks to the turkey-slapping incident on Big Brother in 2006, local reality TV producers have apparently been more careful when it comes to alcohol and consent.
Until now, at least. Of course, what happened between Nick and Romy was nowhere near the level of the incidents mentioned above. But it was also not in the realm of consensual. It was especially far from the enthusiastic consent that a healthy interaction should be built upon. In the era of #MeToo, it’s simply not good enough. If you’re not a fan of the show, or perhaps even if you are, you might be thinking, “it’s a reality dating show – what more do you expect?”
I’ll tell you what I expect from The Bachelor. I expect to be entertained. I expect to watch people fall in love – or get caught up in the idea of falling in love, at least. I expect drama, and I (begrudgingly) expect the contestants to be pitted against each other.
What I do not expect – and what I do not want – is to see blurred consent play out for the whole country to see. Whether it’s a man or a woman making the sexual advances, and whether it’s a man or a woman on the receiving end of them, the consent of both parties should be clear and present every time.
It’s 2018. We all deserve better. Including the Honey Badger.