The Bachelorette: Accusations of Rachel "Settling" Take Away Her Agency
The finale of season 13 of The Bachelorette left fans frustrated, and they had many good reasons to feel that way. But one reason I wasn't expecting was the overwhelming response that Rachel somehow settled by choosing Bryan instead of Peter.
Peter and Rachel make the mature decision to break up, given their very different outlooks on what they want out of their relationship. Peter wants to continue dating, while Rachel is ready to get engaged. Sticking to her personal values, Rachel decides to move forward with Bryan, who was more than ready to propose to her. Despite both Rachel and Peter making the decision that ended their relationship, somehow Rachel is getting the blowback from fans for this while there are calls for Peter to be the next bachelor.
The next day, there were multiple headlines accusing Rachel of settling for Bryan. The unfair treatment between the two and the urgency to take away Rachel's agency to go after what she wants prove that black women still are punished for taking control of their relationships.
Black women have a right to have deal-breakers and stand by them.
Typically when you get into a relationship, you hope to find someone who has the same values as you. According to Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D., this is key to a lasting marriage. After talking to 500 people who have been married from 40 to 50 years, they believed opposites attract, but the same underlying values keep people together. This aspect was lacking in Rachel and Peter's relationship.
Rachel wants an engagement as a sign of commitment and plans to use a long engagement to get to know each other more after the show. Peter views engagement as a sure sign they'll be getting married in the near future. This difference reasonably has Peter and Rachel wondering how they could possibly move forward together, and feelings are heightened given the next day a decision has to be made.
A compromise is almost made. It looks like Peter is willing to propose the next day in fear of losing Rachel forever. But when Rachel asks if he would resent her for compromising, he answers that he would hope he'd be mature but "I'm also a very emotional person, so I can't make a promise." It's obvious this would be a Band-Aid on a much larger problem. They would only be putting off the inevitable, so they break up then and there instead of going through with a rose ceremony.
It's understandable how many fans might feel cheated out of the most pivotal moment of the whole show by only having one of the final two men go to the rose ceremony. But that anger shouldn't cloud the fact that Peter and Rachel made a responsible decision and stuck to what they believe in.
They had different outlooks on the future of their relationship and knew resentment would forever hang over them like a dark cloud. People are allowed to want things for themselves and for their relationships. Yes, compromise is important, but if you know something is so important to you that you would resent someone after doing it, then don't.
Black women are often conditioned to just be thankful and not ask for more.
We shouldn't applaud Peter for appearing to make the first move toward compromise considering he admitted it could possibly come at a price — resentment toward Rachel.
Black women are often conditioned to just be thankful and not ask for more. But Rachel pushes back on that multiple ways by sticking to her desire to get engaged and also seeing right through Peter's empty notion of a compromise. Why get engaged to a man who sees proposing to you as a "sacrifice" when another is leaping at the chance to get on one knee? Why is Rachel expected to settle for those scraps rather than go for what she says she wants?
Black women are punished when they're in control.
At a certain point in Peter and Rachel's conversation, he asks an important question. He wants Rachel to say whether he is the person she wants to spend her life with. She says she can't answer that, which makes sense given that would spoil the finale of the show. But because Peter is obviously losing power in this conversation, he attacks her.
Rachel responds with the simple request, "I want someone who knows what they want to do," after Peter admits he doesn't know if he wants to make the sacrifice of proposing. He throws back, "Great, then go find someone to have a mediocre life with." This comment surprisingly doesn't get an angry response until much later when Rachel watches it back in After the Final Rose. She is rightfully angry that he would say that and says she's living her best life. But this comment puts Peter back on the defense and fans turned harder on Rachel.
Women are often expected to take men's bad behavior in stride and never retaliate. Researchers from Arizona State University found women are punished when they show anger while men's anger is viewed as a "powerful" tool. Another study published in Georgetown Law's Center on Poverty and Inequality found black girls are viewed as "older and less innocent," which leads to unfair treatment. The "angry black woman" stereotype is also part of this perception. This convenient oversight by Rachel's critics is upholding an unfair status quo, whether they realize it or not.
The same viewers who criticize Rachel for wanting to get engaged at the end of The Bachelorette now want Peter to be the next bachelor. Rachel is getting punished for playing by the rules of the show and going for what she wants, but Peter is oddly getting respect for breaking the rules. This definitely isn't a new thing on how respectability politics play differently across gender and race.
Rachel's "happy ending" is powerful despite challenges.
When talking about Peter's desire to propose and marry only once in his life, he says, "I choose that opportunity and that is my choice." That's a powerful statement that makes people root for him to be able to make that decision. Somehow Rachel's choice isn't being respected the same way when she responds with, "I just want somebody who wants what I want."
Again, having standards while dating isn't typically afforded to black women. We are often reminded that we come in last out of desired women in the online dating pool. Dark-skinned black women are rarely depicted in media as the romantic interests. So Rachel not dropping her resolve for a man as the first black bachelorette is a powerful moment that should be applauded, not diminished.
So is it fair to be disappointed in the finale of Rachel's journey? Yes! But it's not fair to take Rachel's right to go for what she says she wants and portray her as a scheming woman who only wants a ring just because she did exactly what Peter did: want a partner who has the same outlook on life.