The Bachelor franchise might be trashy reality TV, but it’s also an incredible anthropological insight into Australian culture. Dismissing it as simply influencers trying to garner more influence ignores the fact that these people are, well, people – and their interpersonal relationships often reveal hard truths about how far we have to go as a society.

This season on Bachelor In Paradise, we’ve seen “bro code” take centre stage, with Ciarran and Timm passionately backing an archaic double standard where a guy can date his way through his ex’s friendship group, but will arc up when anyone he’s remotely connected to wants to date his ex.

While bro code is disgusting and is absolutely a social construct we need to dismantle, the far more upsetting trend on Bachelor In Paradise for me is how women are still tearing down other women to get ahead.

Whether it’s trying to “win” a guy in a love triangle, or cementing their place as top dog, this season is rife with women belittling, criticising and stepping on other women to get what they want.

We first saw this trait in how other women spoke about Abbie Chatfield. Both Cass and Mary turned Abbie’s confidence into a negative, slut shaming her for her overt sexuality. When Jess entered Paradise, Cass made jokes about Jess’ job as a stripper, as well as asking to her face if she’d lost weight – a long-standing method used by women to belittle others.

More recently, Cass has come under fire for her treatment of Brittney in the battle for Jackson’s heart. Not only did she ask Jackson if she’d get “cold sores” from Brittney if she drank his drink on their date, her to-camera rant about how baffling it was to her that Jackson could choose Brittney over her was horrendous to watch.

Mary has won hearts for her adorable romance with Conor, but her attitude has been far from exemplary toward other women. She regularly slams confident women like Keira for going after what they want. Speaking of, while Keira cops it from other women, she is also culpable. Her treatment of Alisha at the first Bula Banquet stunned fans, but it was the secret footage of her calling Alisha a “peasant” filmed in her room that really showed how little respect she has for other women when she feels threatened. More recently, she pretended she couldn’t remember Keely‘s name when it was clear her current partner Alex showed interest in the newcomer.

As women, we’ve all experienced this kind of behaviour. It’s like from birth we’re conditioned to compete with other girls. We bitch behind each other’s backs to manipulate friends in the schoolyard. We criticise outfits and body shapes when we feel threatened or insecure. There is this ingrained sexism toward our own sex, passed down from generation to generation.

It reaches absolute peak when men are involved. The worst examples of women attacking women that I’ve seen have all been in a scenario where male approval or validation is being sought. Whether it’s a romantic love triangle or wanting to be the “hottest” in the room, women are notorious for ripping other women to shreds to assert their dominance.

I’m no innocent in all of this. None of us are. How many times have you mentally scanned other women in a room, critiquing their outfits, their looks, their hair to assess if you come out on top? How often have you seen a heart-wrenching photo of your ex with a new girl, only to validate yourself to friends by ripping into her features to confirm that he’s “downgraded”?

It’s obvious that this all stems from our own insecurities. And those feelings are absolutely valid. I can imagine Cass felt completely blindsided when Brittney told her Jackson had kissed her again, right after Cass gave him her rose. That would have sucked! It’s natural for her to feel humiliated by that information. It’s also understandable that less confident women would feel threatened when another woman sees what she wants and has the guts to go for it. Loads of us will see another woman’s body and subconsciously judge our own against theirs. These are all valid emotions and reactions that will take time for us to dismantle – personally, I doubt I will ever rid myself of them for good.

I also don’t think it’s realistic to say we should never speak ill of others. To be honest, I’ve long felt that what you share with your nearest and dearest doesn’t need to be constantly assessed for negativity. It’s okay, I feel, to have moments of insecurity and to vent with a best friend, someone you trust who will keep it between the two of you.

See, I believe it’s less about how we respond internally when another woman threatens our existence, and more about how we project it publicly. What I can’t accept is tearing other women down from public platforms, whether that’s to a friend group right through to national TV. Using our words to lower their status, to lessen their influence, to remove them from the “competition”. We need to be done with that shit. It’s been said so many times – we have enough battles as women in a patriarchal world, we don’t need to add to the struggle by attacking each other.

Luckily, while Bachelor In Paradise has presented us with plenty of this behaviour, it’s also shown many instances of women lifting up others.

Brittney accepting the fact that Jackson might want Cass was refreshing – rather than tear Cass down, she acknowledged that a man choosing another woman isn’t a reflection on her worth. Renee has consistently avoided slamming women her ex, Ciarran, has dated like Jess and Kiki, recognising that her issue lies with him, not the women who date him. Instead of ripping into Kiki when it was clear Ciarran was drawing away from her and toward the newcomer, Jess recognised that it was Ciarran’s flakiness that was the real problem.

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I went into paradise with an open mind, an open heart and no pre-made plans. I wanted my experience to be authentic and I truly wanted to form genuine connections with people and hopefully one that was special and lasting. Unfortunately you cannot help who you bond to. I rarely have that “spark” with someone (like REALLY rarely) so when I felt it, I just ran with it. I let my guard down and I remembered what it was like to feel giddy again! I had moments in paradise that will stay with me forever and although it hurts, I do not regret anything. I am a bad bitch but I am also soft, gentle and loving and that’s okay too. I want to take a second to thank my cast mates for some amazing memories. Despite everything, I want to remember the joy, romance and bliss that is paradise. I want to thank @reneejbarrett for being so strong and pushing through her own pain to make sure I am okay. What a woman. Lastly I want to say thank you to all the positive people in my life who supported me throughout this journey and helped me heal and feel deserving of love. Thank you to everyone who has sent me kind messages, I’m going to spend all of tonight reading my DMs. We are all unique, beautiful and innately deserving of love. ❤️

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It’s fantastic to see women supporting other women on national TV and refusing to tear other women down to feel good about themselves or get ahead. It’s just a damn shame there are still so many examples of the opposite. I’d like to think watching back will see Cass, Mary and Keira recognise how damaging these behaviours are. For us as viewers, it’s a sobering wake up call that we still have a long way to go.