Before I could even make it to this week’s episode of The Bachelor, my guilty (and, yes I actually feel guilty) pleasure watch, a close friend, and the main reason I love watching the show due to her hilarious commentary, texted me asking “Have you watched it yet?” When I replied no, she assured me, “...it’s bad.” I had seen the previews from last week, a dramatic cliffhanger that alluded to the idea that one of the five new women who would enter the ring next week to compete for the heart of the tall-glass-of-boring that is Matt James, was presumably an escort. There was a clip of one of this season’s obvious villains, Anna Redman, claiming this woman was “entertaining men for money” in a demonizing tone. Cue gasps and shivers from the puritans!
I was honestly intrigued when I heard this term being used on the reality show for the first time ever, considering I don’t doubt that this would be the actual first time a woman who had participated in sex work has appeared on the show. Sorry civs, but statistics dictate. However, it was quickly made clear that this was far more serious and harmful than a mere rumor, and not just a result of petty drama or catty behavior. This specific allegation even surpasses the condemnable bullying and cruelty that the producers have been orchestrating this season, and approaches the territory of doxing, which is absolutely dangerous and horrifyingly irresponsible of The Bachelor production team. This incident shined a big, bright spotlight on the fact that the shows’ misogynistic and patriarchal values have not changed at all in the last 18 years, despite the few seemingly progressive conversations about race and sex they’ve aired on Matt and Taisha’s recent seasons.
To give a brief background for those who don’t watch the show (congrats, you have a life!), this week on the fourth episode of the season, five new women were introduced to the viewers, the bachelor Matt James, and the 27 remaining women parlaying for his attention. One of these five women was Brittany Galvin, a 23-year-old model from Chicago. She made quite an entrance with a bold choice: tongue-ing Matt straight out the gate, which unfortunately put a giant *whorephobic* target on her back with the original girls. It’s natural to have feelings of jealousy and insecurity, especially in a heightened environment where you’re living and sleeping next to 32 other women who are dating the guy you like, but the rumors and “dirt” that began to get dug up on Brittney and spread amongst the others was a far more threatening situation. When Brittney continues to show her (for lack of a better term) big-ass-balls, and fight for her time with Matt, even if it means interrupting the short time others have with him, Anna becomes so enraged she proceeds to spread the idea that Brittany is believed to be an escort in the Chicago club scene, assumptions made only on the basis that she “knows all of the rich men in Chicago” and people have warned her to “look out for this girl.” Kaili, a 26-year-old hostess from Chi-town then fuels the fire by posing the question, "If Brittany spends time with this crowd and she’s not serving bottles like me and my friends, what exactly is she doing there?" I can tell you one thing, none of your damn business, bitch.
Anna even goes so far to confront Brittney about this rumor in front of a number of other girls, making her painfully uncomfortable, forcing her to defend herself in a panic, in which she stammered, “No I’m not an escort. “It’s just so ridiculous to say that. To have that come out of my mouth … I’ve had a boyfriend my entire life … since I was 16.” She’s obviously embarrassed and becomes teary-eyed, and my heart broke a little bit for her in that moment. Also a little bit because she felt the only way she could validate her "innocence" was through a relationship with a man. Sigh.
As someone who made the conscious choice to come out as a sex worker to my family and friends, as well as on a public space, it was still an extremely scary, vulnerable and painful experience, even when I had the privilege of coming out on my own terms, and could anticipate the reactions to prepare myself for the worst case scenarios. Whether there is any truth to these allegations or not, to be outed, let alone on national television, is not only cruel, but it could actually have long-term negative consequences for someone like Brittney. Whatever your feelings are about sex work, unfortunately we still live in a world where this accusation could actually criminalize you. We live in a world where “prositution,” defined loosely as “the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment” is illegal, bottom line. This could ostracize her from her family, it could cause her to lose her representation at Wilhelmina where she is currently signed, and puts her in an extremely vulnerable position publicly, opening her up to scrutiny and slut-shaming on social media and in her immediate circles.
There’s a million things wrong with this situation on so many levels; the production team strategically casting this woman knowing they could feed this information to other girls and then giving it so much unnecessary air time, the other women’s disturbingly whorephobic rhetoric and mean-girl mentality, especially Victoria reciting the word “slore” in reference to Brittney, as if she was writing “slut whore” all over her school picture in a burn book, and the fact that only one woman (a now crowd favorite, Katie Thurston) had the moral decency to step in and say that this is wrong. While I could go into all the nuances of why these women have absolutely no room to talk down on women who “entertain men for money” when they are all sitting around waiting their turn to entertain a man … for free, I can’t say I expect much from The Bachelor production, or the group of “pick me’s” they cast for this shit show. The recent attempt at diversity is appreciated, but including a comparative ratio of contestants of color to the white contestants is the absolute bare minimum, and I’m not exactly itching to give them a gold star for finally casting a Black bachelor after 18 years, following only two Black bachelorettes. However, representation means nothing if the show doesn't have the ethics to prioritize the safety and privacy of their contestants, and draw the line between drama and doxing.
It’s completely unfair what happened to Brittney Galvin, and I’m infuriated more people aren’t talking about it. As angry as I am, I’m not shocked or surprised. Part of the harm of the stigmatization of sex work is the blatant dehumanization. This was displayed on The Bachelor in the way that there was zero regard for how this juicy bit would impact Brittney’s personal life, because most people don’t see sex workers (or rumored sex workers) as real people with real personal lives. Society has trained us to believe that the occupation “escort” or “stripper” or “prostitute” has no connection to the humans who do those jobs. No one thought about Brittney’s family or job or friends, because if she’s an escort, she probably doesn’t have any of that, right?
A part of moving towards the decriminalization and normalization of sex work means addressing how the topic is discussed and manipulated on mainstream television, especially when the genre is “reality.” In supporting sex workers, it’s important to remember that includes ALL sex workers, those that are public, and those that are not and may never be. No matter if Brittney Galvin is a total civ, or may have dabbled in the work at some point in her life due to circumstance or chance, or it was her full-time gig, she deserves to control that narrative as her own. I would also like to disclaim, this is a micro-aggression. This could very well not be life-altering or dangerous for someone like Brittney simply due to privilege and other variables, but it’s extremely important to recognize how this micro-aggression could affect someone in a more vulnerable position. There are more marginalized individuals that participate in sex work that could not afford to be outed, and some may not survive it, due to the societal stigmas and dangers they already face. I want ABC to do better. I want the women who consider themselves “feminists” on the show (*cough* SWERFS *cough*) to do better. I want the 4.5 million viewers that tune in to hold ABC accountable, and to stop encouraging cruelty and bullying. And I want the media to stop making sex workers the butt of the joke, because it’s not fucking funny.