One skill every modern woman learns is the ability to briefly lock her feminist ideals away in a dark cupboard to enjoy a good hour of TV.
It’s a tactic I picked up somewhere between seasons two and three of Game of Thrones and, let me tell you, it comes in handy during Australia’s Bachelor months. A glass of Aldi rosé in my hand and that show can reinforce all the outdated romantic stereotypes it wants.
That was until it came to Abbie Chatfield.
Abbie, who made it all the way to last year’s finalé, was clearly a villain. She had the creepy music, other contestants said she had “bad intentions”, and, as the Bachelor Matt Agnew’s friends pointed out, she was more “girlfriend material” than a wifey. (Yikes!)
The only problem with the evil edit for Abbie was that in reality she had done nothing wrong. In fact, it seemed her most heinous crime was not being nice to women who were bullying her and admitting to Matt that she wanted to have sex with him. (Appalling behaviour from a woman in her mid-20s who had been dating a man for a number of weeks, if you ask me.)
No one has ever accused the Bachelor franchise of being a feminist masterpiece but the producers appear to have seen a funny, confident, sexually empowered woman and correctly assumed that they could make the Australian population hate her for it.
But now they have the chance to make things right, because Abbie is set to star in this year’s Bachelor in Paradise. It’s something I can only imagine she agreed to in the hopes of the fabled redemption arc, and I want them to give her that.
On the basis of ethics, they must do it, in the name of entertainment, they should do it, and purely pragmatically it would be bad marketing not to do it.
See, unlike many Bachie contestants, Abbie didn’t disappear into the obscurity of Instagram influencer-dom when she left our TV screens. She unapologetically stood up for herself, slammed her treatment on the show, and loudly used her platform to promote feminist politics.
One major sticking point for Abbie on the show was whether she wanted to have kids in the next “three to five years”. She didn’t seem enthused, leading other contestants to suggest she was “here for the wrong reasons”.
In an interview on the podcast Shameless, she said this was because she was still emotionally working through a pregnancy termination she had the previous year.
“The producer asked me if I was wondering what it was like to be pregnant,’” she explained in the interview. “And because I had an abortion last year, I just started sobbing … I think at that time, I felt very guilty for saying that I wanted kids.”
Abbie said she “begged” producers not to include a clip where she told Matt on camera about the procedure and, while this clip did not appear, the “Abbie doesn’t want kids” plotline stayed in.
The revelation of how this and other storylines were manipulated, and a bit of healthy distance from the show’s villainous background music, began to turn the tide of public opinion.
Abbie had an IRL redemption arc, winning the support of young female Bachelor viewers en masse. She went on to launch her podcast, It’s a Lot with Abbie Chatfield, in which she deconstructed her characterisation, called out the show’s “Madonna/whore” complex and spoke about how intense online hate from the show took an extreme toll on her mental health.
If this year’s season of Bachelor in Paradise decides to re-demonise this woman, for me it just might be the final straw. I really don’t think I’m alone.
Sure, there is still a large viewership who dislike her (and to them, I would suggest some classes in critical reasoning), but pandering to them would be lazy, boring and may potentially alienate the not-insignificant portion of the show’s audience who are young and politically engaged.
Trash TV only works if it touches the zeitgeist, and shaming women for admitting that the thought of sex has crossed their minds feels distinctly far from that.
The evidence so far doesn’t fill me with hope. The show airs on Wednesday night and in promos Abbie is shown as a jealous, vindictive scorned lover (again).
“She needs to stay – away – from – my man,” she says in a voice that seems as distinctively spliced as a 12-year-old’s first attempt at using GarageBand. And it doesn’t seem like the producers are shying away from the “sex kitten” angle either.
We also know that she isn’t on the show for long – she was photographed returning from Fiji, where the show is filmed, only two weeks after she departed.
But I’m still holding out hope. I’m praying that they let Abbie be funny, sarcastic and weird, that she has a good pash and goes out in a blaze of glory, burning the whole franchise to the ground with her.
If not, well, maybe we can all give Love Island a go instead.
• Bachelor in Paradise starts on Wednesday at 7.30pm on Ten