TV | January 26, 2021 8:58 am

The Sex-Work Scandal on “The Bachelor” Was Much Ado About Nothing

The show built up rumors about contestant Brittany Galvin in an attempt to stoke scandal, but the result was a tone deaf, whorephobic failure

brittany galvin the bachelor
"The Bachelor" was banking on a whorephobic response to rumors about Brittany Galvin.
ABC

Last night, The Bachelor finally got around to airing its first big scandal of the season: sex work. That’s it. That’s the scandal. 

Drama surrounding the suggestion that a Bachelor contestant on this season could potentially be involved with the sex industry is something producers were clearly banking on, making sure to drop some pretty big hints in the December trailer for Season 25, which began airing earlier this month. 

“I’ve heard two different terms going around, I’ve heard ‘sugar baby’ and ‘escort,’” a contestant can be heard saying in the promo video, while another alleges someone “may be having a transactional relationship with wealthy men.”

Early leaks from leading Bachelor spoiler Reality Steve predicted that the woman in question was one Brittany Galvin, a 23-year-old model and DJ from Chicago. As predicted, Galvin made her debut on last night’s episode, along with a few other new contestants who seem to have been inexplicably thrown into the batch, and immediately entered a lion’s den of supposedly salacious rumors. 

“People have gone out of their way to tell me, ‘Oh my god, watch out for this girl’ … that she is entertaining men for money,” one contestant, Anna, told another, before taking it upon herself to “confront” Galvin personally about the escorting rumors, which Galvin swiftly denied. 

“No, I’m not an escort,” said Galvin. “It’s just so ridiculous to say that.”

Galvin’s denial, while potentially disappointing for some sex workers and activists who may have been hoping to see some sex worker representation on the show, is fine. Whether or not Galvin is in fact an escort or otherwise engaging in “transactional relationships,” she is under absolutely no obligation to disclose that information to anyone, particularly not on national television. What is not fine, however, is the show’s clear attempt to sensationalize sex work and shame sex workers in a whorephobic ratings ploy.

Fortunately, pretty much no one is here for The Bachelor’s blatant whorephobia. 

“BOO AT SEX WORK SHAMING,” tweeted one member of Bachelor Nation, while another echoed, “We do not shame sex workers over here.”

“I am pretty shocked that Bachelor fans are riding for sex workers but ok! Thank you, Bachelor Nation,” wrote writer and sex worker Charlotte Shane on Twitter.

But while the public response to The Bachelor’s attempt to spin whorephobia into scandal may come as a pleasant surprise, the show’s dated, closed-minded views on sex work do not. Despite some recent — much too little, far too late — attempts at a progressive rebranding, The Bachelor remains a reality television show that’s spent nearly 20 years actively pandering to white, heteronormative, Christian American values. Of course the show, even in the midst of its long overdue progressive glo-up, left room to shame sex workers. 

Anna, for her part, later apologized for starting the supposedly damning rumors — in the worst way imaginable. 

“I think that’s an awful thing to say about someone, and I want to apologize,” she told Galvin. 

Spoiler alert, calling someone an escort is only “an awful thing to say” if you actually think it is one and are subsequently trying to out that person. In case anyone needs a quick reminder, there is nothing inherently wrong, bad or shameful about sex work or those who enage with it. The Bachelor’s attempt to manufacture scandal out of sex work hinges on negative views of the industry and its workers as bad, untrustworthy and something to be avoided. Anna’s “warning” to the other girls and attempt to confront Galvin — echoing the classic “there for the wrong reasons” Bachelor refrain with, “I just want to make sure your intentions are pure” — also reinforces a dated, fundamentally untrue belief that sex work should or does preclude sex workers from also pursuing traditional, non-transactional relationships. 

Of course, one might also argue — no doubt more controversially — that all relationships are on some degree transactional. The quid pro quo nature of sex has been baked into our precious traditions of heterosexual monogamy from the beginning; the entire construct of marriage is based on a patriarchal exchange of sex for protection and financial security. Society has no problem with women exchanging sex for money as long as it’s done within the sacred patriarchal bounds of marriage; it’s only when women decline to trade their freedom along with sex that we run into trouble. As feminism has progressed and the need for women to rely on men has diminished, many women have decided they’d like something else in exchange for their efforts. The question is no longer, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”, but rather, “Who told you the cow was for sale, and why do you think you deserve free milk?”

If you are not having sex for money, you could still be trading sex for something, even if it’s just emotional stability, a partner to split half the rent with or the social acceptance of conforming to society’s expectations of monogamy. As an oft-recycled tweet puts it: Stop judging people for having sex for money while you’re having sex for “good morning” texts and lies. 

But while The Bachelor may be behind on shifting attitudes toward sex work, the generally negative reaction toward the show’s tone-deaf editing of the episode in question is heartening. In the age of OnlyFans, the idea of a woman engaging in the sex industry just isn’t as shocking as it once was. While there are certainly issues surrounding the appropriation of a historically marginalized identity into a mainstream “trend,” the growing popularity and accessibility of sex work has had the positive effect of normalizing and destigmatizing it. Sex workers are everywhere: they’re your coworkers, classmates, family members and strangers sitting next to you on the subway. They might even be Bachelor contestants. 

As sex worker, writer and activist Maggie McNeill told InsideHook earlier this year about the shifting landscape of sex work amid the OnlyFans boom: “People become more blasé about it … ‘Yeah, okay, she’s a sex worker. So what? Her and my Aunt Mabel.’”

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