I’m a big fan of The Bachelorette’s Rachel Lindsay. She’s been graceful in the face of some truly horrific bullshit, and she’s not afraid to tell an immature jerk to get the fuck out. That’s why I was so surprised—and upset—about the way her conversation with Fred played out on Monday night.
Fred knew Rachel from summer camp when they were kids, and it was clear from the beginning that Rachel wasn’t exactly charmed by this connection. Every single time the two talked, she brought up what a “bad kid” Fred had been as a third grader (for real, was Fred a 9-year-old murderer or something?). Fred took it relatively well, until he didn’t—in Monday night’s episode, he said he wanted to move on from the past with a kiss. The urgency was amplified by a reveal, during the group date on Ellen, that three other men had already kissed Rachel.
When the two sat down after the date, Fred made a sweet speech about how he’d been waiting for the right moment to kiss Rachel, but now realized that sometimes it’s about “creating the moment.” Then he asked, ”Is this the time that you feel that I can kiss you?” The mood immediately shifted. Rachel’s eyebrows shot up—“You’re asking me?” Fred countered that he was asking so she would feel comfortable, but Rachel was having none of it. “Well, now I feel awkward,” she said. “Because nobody’s ever asked me. They just do it.”
They did kiss, but the show's producers clearly wanted it to feel awkward. There was none of the romantic music that was supposed to make Bryan’s face-sucking more appealing in the first episode. Minutes later, Rachel took Fred aside and sent him home, telling him she couldn’t get past seeing him as a boy.
Rachel didn’t think Fred was right for her, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether or not they’d had this interaction, he probably would have been sent home sooner rather than later. But Fred did something we don’t often see on this show—He made an effort to get consent. And he was punished for it, not just through being sent home, but through Rachel’s reaction.
This show is keeping around a self-proclaimed “tickle monster” whose ‘funny’ bit is literally touching people without their consent. And yet it’s pointedly shaming a man who made the egregious mistake of wanting to make sure his date felt comfortable with a kiss. That’s a problem. We live in a world where 23 percent of college women say “they’ve experienced some form of nonconsensual contact,” according to an 2015 survey. The current president of the United States, who has shown himself to be supremely unqualified for every facet of the job, got his position despite bragging about assaulting women. It’s long past time to get over the idea that asking for consent somehow makes men less masculine, and therefore less capable and attractive.
A friend told me that after watching this episode, she made a list. On one side were guys she kissed, and wanted to kiss. On the other were guys who just went ahead and kissed her without asking. And—surprise!—there wasn’t a lot of overlap. Pop culture makes it seem like the only way to have a first kiss is to just go for it—but that doesn’t match up with most women’s lived experience. Surprise kissing feels like a violation just as often as it marks the start of a magical relationship.
Sure, The Bachelorette has never been the place to go for enlightened takes on gender roles. But we can use moments like this to reconsider the way we’re acting in our own dating lives. Too often, people still act like consent is somehow incompatible with fun or romance. We’ve got to remember that it’s way better to have a slightly awkward conversation about consent than to knowingly or unknowingly force someone into something they don’t want to do.
Fred isn’t going to be Rachel’s future husband. But he respected her feelings instead of taking her position as the Bachelorette as implied consent—and I’d like to see a lot more of that on this show.