Even Judd Apatow was asked to get in on the joke — so what's the intrigue about a "virgin bachelor"?
Colton Underwood, the star of this season's The Bachelor, has never once had sex.
Watching the trailer will quickly give away the fact that the show, in its 23rd season, is featuring its first ever virgin lead, with the word "virgin" mentioned four times within the first 40 seconds. Is Underwood being marketed as "purity" propaganda? Not likely. As The Washington Post notes, "[T]his season will be more sex-obsessed than ever before," with the show only underlining the 26-year-old's virginity in order to build anticipation over him losing it.
The Bachelor Season 23 Preview youtu.be
After the season premiered Monday night, viewers shared their bemused reactions to the hour-long barrage of virginity jokes that kicked off the episode's unnecessary three hour length. The contestants' parade of cringe-worthy jokes include an uncreative card trick about a "V-card," a popped red balloon representing Underwood's "cherry," and poorly worded kickers like: "Did you know that dolphins are the only mammals other than humans who have sex for pleasure... other than Colton." Then there was the contestant in a head-to-toe sloth costume solely for the sake of the quip, "I heard you like to take things slowly."
Host Chris Harrison sat down with the former professional football player to address initial negative reactions to Underwood being named the Bachelor, with the hashtag #NotMyBachelor spreading on Twitter. Harrison asked, "How much of the negativity and the 'he's not ready' has to do with your virginity?" Colton responded, "That's sort of the stigma around being a virgin. Oh, he's not romantic. Oh, he's not going to be a good bachelor—" Harrison interjected, "He's not a man."
There have been nine contestants to appear in The Bachelor and its spinoffs who've said they were virgins, most of which were women, with season 17's Sean Lowe identifying as a celibate "born-again virgin." Underwood himself has appeared on previous seasons of The Bachelorette and Bachelor In Paradise, but taking up the mantle of the bachelor puts his virginity under a microscope for millions of viewers. He said that the decision was "the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life."
So what's the intrigue about a virgin bachelor?
Some say the appeal is simple mockery. Sociologist Laura M. Carpenter told Vox, "If it [were] a woman, then historically it would be a tantalizing thing: 'Will I be her first?' And although there is kind of a countercultural narrative about male virgins in that way, there's also a stronger narrative that you see it in things like The 40-Year-Old Virgin: 'What's wrong with this dude for not having had sex?'"
Indeed, promo materials for this season went so far as to have Judd Apatow release the artwork used to promote 40 Year Old Virgin so the show could riff on it by replacing Steve Carell's character with a picture of Underwood.
Despite what ABC executive Rob Mills told Variety, the show has clearly been marketing Underwood's sexual history as if "virginity" is an identity. How far they push the blunt, unsophisticated narrative of "which beautiful contestant will Colton lose his virginity to?" will frankly depend on the ratings. Mills stated, "I think by a certain point, it's just going to get old. If we don't have other angles in — which is the girls and the relationships he's forming — then people are going to start checking out."
Esquire vouched for Carpenter's take on a man's virginity being stigmatized with an article condemning the double standard of a society that freely mocks men who abstain from sex, while doing the same to a woman would be considered crude. Justin Kirkland writes, "[I]n this weird franchise where virginal women are typically good and virginal men are a mystery, it makes you think that either there are some very tired women out there or, perhaps, we have a double standard on our hands."
To be clear, of course Underwood is benefiting from the publicity and revived fame from appearing on three of the Bachelor franchise's reality shows. But the show's heavy-handed marketing of virginity banks on the belief that abstinence is a contradiction to an attractive and successful man's appeal. Underwood has also clarified that he's not making a religious stance with his celibacy, stating, "I'm not waiting for a ring, I'm not waiting for marriage. I'm waiting to be in love," he says. "I'm waiting for it to feel right to take our relationship to the next step."
Altogether, society's double standard when it comes to men and women's virginity is actually the entire premise of Underwood's appeal. Carpenter surmises, "So they're sort of mocking him, because some people in the audience are going to see this as 'Oh, what an idiot for not being sexually active.' But then other people who would value that, think it's wonderful and special."
Of course, no one is counting the steaming hot tubs and crocodile tears of the Bachelor franchise as high art. But when scanning the reality show for representations of sexuality, double standards, and the interests of prime time media, virginity is at best overblown as an exotic identity and at worst a lazy pejorative that demeans sex-less lives as less than human.
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.