It’s refreshing Sophie Monk’s suitors are younger, but it’s not romantic

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Sophie Monk faces a choice of almost exclusively younger suitors in <i>The Bachelorette</I>.

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Don’t quote me on this, but I believe it was the French existentialist and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre who originally wrote, “Hell is a tropical mansion populated entirely by alpha males and boy-children.”


Bachelorette 2017: Jarrod gets first kiss

Jarrod Woodgate and Sophie Monk end their first date with a sweet surprise. Vision: The Bachelorette, Network Ten.

Yes, we’ve hurtled around the sun once more, and it’s time for The Bachelorette to return to our screens. And, small mercies, Sophie Monk is the new Bachelorette.

I have long believed that Monk is one of Australia’s most naturally gifted comediennes, which I spell in that fashion not because I’m a sexist pig but because she’s made in the mould of grand dames of golden-era comedy like Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett and Goldie Hawn. It follows, then, that I’m happy to have her back on TV on the reg.

Beyond the treat of her casting, though, I’m impressed, as a fellow lady of a certain age, that Monk’s bachelors are almost exclusively younger than her (she’s 37); that’s an unusual power play for a show that doesn’t exactly pride itself on being at the forefront of social progressiveness.

If the groan-inducing template laid down by The Bachelor is “a few dozen 21-year-olds vye for the attention of a fading playboy”, then at least this season of The Bachelorette has attempted to balance the ledger of hot young babes.  

A younger man with an older woman is still a sufficiently transgressive notion as to elicit titters of uncomfortable laughter at best and howls of derision at worst. From The Graduate to Adoration, audiences still struggle with any May/December-esque romances in the older woman’s favour – and things are not much better in real life.

Dare to shunt your Tinder age bracket closer to the Millennial end of the scale and you may well be met with cries of “cougar”. High-profile women who’ve dated or married younger men, from director and artist Sam Taylor Johnson to actress Robin Wright, are looked at askance as though they’re hardly better than deviants.

Having dated “younger” a few times in my life, I’m well used to the elbows to the ribs, the winks, the “cradle snatcher” jokes and just about everything else you can imagine – comments that were never unloaded upon the 38-year-old man I dated when I was 21.

Whether Monk requested a spread of mostly-younger guys or the producers had the final say is fascinating to ponder: if it’s the former, get it; if it’s the latter, it could be a comment on the plight of the single woman over-35. Perhaps the producers realise that all the “age-appropriate” Bachelors are too busy choosing between 21-year-olds on the other show.

Aside from the presence of the ever-delightful blonde and her Mae-West-esque cavalcade of younger men, however, The Bachelorette makes me feel something I haven’t felt since I was chased at full-sprint by an evil zombie cowboy at Knott’s Scary Farm: pure and unbridled existential terror.

Because under its thin facade of female empowerment, The Bachelorette puts retrograde dating behaviours front and centre.

The blokes are a puffed-chest mess of either leaning back in their chairs with a cold one and expecting Monk to come to them, barging towards her like deer in the rut, or worse, competing with each other like a bunch of peacocks. Where The Bachelor is often praised for his sensitive nature (in fact, I’d say it’s a prerequisite for the role!), The Bachelorette is the “no homo” of dating shows.

The sort of mating rituals on show on the show wouldn’t be out of place in a Barry McKenzie telemovie. The drongos are such drongos that they make the relatively decent guys look like Jimmy Carter by comparison.  

It’s easy to believe, in our rarefied inner-city, cultural-theory-reading bubbles, that cro magnon style “romance” has died out. Alas, as The Bachelorette demonstrates (albeit on a heightened stage), “bro codes” and other horrors of intergender social interactions are still alive and well – on and off screen.

Curiously, it’s the younger guys on the show who seem less keen to engage in these sorts of shenanigans (so far, at least).

That Monk’s suitors are predominantly young guys is, well I don’t want to get too ahead of myself and say “revolutionary”, but it’s at least refreshing.

(I’ll save the former term for the day we get a gay Bachelor, or a bi Bachelorette, or a properly diverse cast of suitors, or our newly liberal global overlord bans dating shows in perpetuity throughout the universe.)

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