Those of you who, like me, have been hooked on VH1's Rock of Love Bus this season (perhaps against some of your better feminist judgment), may have found last night's finale a bit unfulfilling. Not only was it a challenge to care whether it was Taya or Mindy (the two final contestants) who won Bret's cowboy-hat loving heart in the end, but the episode broke some new and unsettling ground when it came to reinforcing sex and gender-based stereotypes. (You thought they had already broken all of the available ground and then some, didn't you?)
This season of Rock of Love Bus kicked off with some vagina shots on top of a bar, so it shouldn't surprise us that it ended with some sex and gender weirdness as well. What is surprising, to me at least, is that the show's finale managed to both promote and condemn female sexuality AT THE SAME TIME. How is this possible, you ask? Read on and let's discuss!
I will spare those of you non-fans the details of the show's premise and what happened prior to the finale, but if you are so inclined you can find most of that info here. Suffice it to say, the show casts Bret Michaels as an object of rock 'n' roll desire, and Taya and Mindy were the final two women competing to be his "Rock of Love" (commence eye-rolling… now).
In order to get to know the women as best he could before making his final choice, Bret took each one of them out one last solo dinner date. Mindy, the midwestern sweetheart who Bret feared was prone to mood swings (another stereotype for your bingo card), chose to spend the night in Bret's room at the end of the date and they presumably had sex. On the other hand, Taya, the too-good-to-be-true Penthouse model, told Bret she'd rather not spend the night with him at the end of her respective date.
In and of itself, this situation is not a problem. Who cares who slept together and who didn't? However, the show framed Mindy as a total slut for giving it up to Bret, and in the end he chose the virtuous Taya to be the bandana to his hair extensions instead of Mindy. This all coming from a man who has spend the past three months (or 22 years, depending on how you look at it) talking about how much he loves sex with women, and strippers, and threesomes, and porn, and, you get the picture. WTF?
Leading up to the series finale, my feminist hackles were raised during Rock of Love Bus because Bret (and the contestants on the show, and the producers, and VH1, etc.) encouraged women to use their sexuality to get attention and compete with one another. The skimpier their outfits and the raunchier their behavior, the nearer the contestants came to winning Bret's ballad-singing affections. I didn't like it, but at least it was pretty straightforward and the women were being honest about their sexual desires (even if, to me, those desires seemed misplaced). I think that's why I feel so grossed out by the insidious sexual morality tale of the finale, because the reason I've been drawn to Rock of Love Bus is that (up until now) it's been one of the few shows on television that didn't ask women to apologize for our sexuality. It may have been a bit low-brow for some tastes, but it was honest (and kind of hilarious).
In the end, though, the "virtuous", hard-to-get woman was rewarded with the prize that the other, "looser" women were urged to use their sexuality to win. While Bret told the camera that he respects all of the women he's been with and Taya's choice not to sleep with him had nothing to do with his final decision to pick her, he followed up that line by saying, "but I can't stop thinking about her." Of course, there was also ample footage of Taya calling Mindy a slut and a whore for spending the night in Bret's room, even though everything about the show and its premise encouraged her to do just that if she wanted to win.
I guess it all comes down to the age-old, frustrating, Madonna-Whore archetype. Bret is a "rock star" who has supposedly been with tons of hot women and just can't get enough overt sexuality from his female counterparts. He spends months telling women to act on their sexual desires and try to win his affections by being sexy (and by having sex with him), and then at the very end he decides to go for the woman who wouldn't give it up. (Again, I support Taya's decision not to sleep with Bret, just not the way it was framed by the show. Hell, I don't want to sleep with Bret either.)
I saw this season finale as just another subtle reinforcement of the notion that as women we should use our sexuality as a secret weapon against men. It doesn't matter if WE want to have sex (since according to these types of media representations, we never do), we have to make a guy wait for it if we want him to stick around afterward. As soon as you give up your one valuable asset (your vagina), that's it. That's your only card, and if you play it too soon you're screwed (both literally, which might be a good thing, and figuratively, which isn't).
I'm not surprised to say that Rock of Love Bus disappoints me, but I am surprised to say that it's because of a weird, moralistic attitude towards female sexuality. The framing of Bret's decision to be with Taya sent the not-so-subtle message that a man won't buy the cow if he can get the vagina for free, and I expected a different message from good ol' Bret Michaels. This message is made all the more unsettling by the fact that Rock of Love Bus is the number one show on VH1, and that I can only assume its target demographic is young women. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I'd prefer vagina shots.