Nick Viall is pop culture's unlikeliest feminist
Monday night's finale of The Bachelorette, ABC's long-running guilty pleasure, was uncharacteristically surprising for a show whose formula has been well-established and its storylines fairly predictable. The show's final weeks have the Bachelorette -- this time, an Atlanta woman named Andi Dorfman -- choosing between two suitors. One, inevitably, will not get the girl. The live after-show, After the Rose, typically gives that person the chance to express any regrets or otherwise say his piece and, more often than not, conclude by gracefully wishing the woman and her winning bachelor well.
But this time around, the jilted suitor, Nick Viall, used the after-show to reveal to the millions-deep audience that he'd been especially hurt given that, well, Dorfman had slept with him not so long before telling him that he wasn't the one after all. "Knowing how in love with you I was, if you weren't in love with me," he said to her, "I'm just not sure why you made love with me."
Dorfman responded by calling Viall's revelation "below the belt." All across social media, fans called for Viall's head, accusing him of revealing the information, on live TV, in order to embarrass Dorfman or make her uncomfortable. After all: For all its on-screen canoodling and "overnight date" innuendos, the actual having of sex is rarely discussed on The Bachelorette or its sister show, The Bachelor. Calling Dorfman out for having sex with Viall under false pretenses, they said, was a form of slut-shaming.
But was it? Or was it simply the truth? I'm not judging Dorfman; in fact, entirely the opposite. What I am questioning is whether those who condemn Viall do so because they truly believe that Dorfman had the right to sleep with whomever she wants. Instead, I suspect what made people most uncomfortable wasn't Viall's revelation, but that it was a man who made it. The standard version of that story, after all -- the spurned partner who regrets having sex with someone who didn't feel the same way -- has as its victim the woman, and not the man.
Try to picture this scenario with the genders reversed: If the heartbroken contestant were a female wanting to know how the guy who'd had sex with her -- knowing how strongly she felt about the act -- could do so when, it turned out, he was clearly in love with someone else, would she be accused of trying to "slut-shame" him? No. More likely, we'd sympathize with the woman here, too. Similarly, it's pretty unlikely that if Dorfman were a man, he'd have considered the revelation "below the belt." He probably wouldn't be embarrassed by it at all.
And that's my point: If a man in her same position wouldn't have been embarrassed by it, why should Dorfman? If we're going to argue that Dorfman has the right to sleep with whomever she wants without shame, we can't react as if Viall was wrong to call her out on it.
As for whether or not this conversation should have taken place in front of millions of people, well, that's irrelevant. These two opted to be on The Bachelorette, where a "loser" is inevitable and privacy is besides the point. In the real world, this would have been a private conversation between two people who perhaps once cared for one another.