Unpacking the Deep-Rooted Gender Inequality Seen in the Bachelor Series

Abigail White and Molly Pierce

Introduction

The Bachelor is one of America’s most popular prime-time reality franchises, running yearly since 2002. An icon of the romance genre of reality TV, it has spurred dozens of similar dating-based competition series. Throughout the course of the competition, twenty-five women compete for the affection of one eligible bachelor. The second edition of the franchise, The Bachelorette, airs between every season of The Bachelor and flips the genders of the players so that the men compete to win the affection of one woman.

Though the flip-flopping of The Bachelor/Bachelorette rotation alludes to a sense of gender-neutrality, there are many cultural implications of the show that are worth questioning.

Part One: Historical Lack of Representation

Peter Weber cast of contestants consists of mostly white women that fit traditional beauty standard

The images were chosen to explore the gender biases seen in the TV series “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” The first image shows the lack of diversity in the cast. Traditionally, the series has been deemed very obviously white-centered, and so they have in recent years attempted to even out the racial disparity. As is obvious in this photo, though, women of color featured on the show are required to exhibit an otherwise American-European appearance, with relaxed long iron-curled hair and slim figures, and they have maintained in the minority. The contestants on The Bachelor and Bachelorette are always assumed straight and cis gendered. The one contestant to come out happened to do so after her appearance on the bachelor was over. Notably, there have been zero plus-size women and only one disabled woman on the show. Not only are queer, disabled and full-figured women left out of the conversation, but as is any woman that doesn’t adhere to strictly traditional gender roles.

Part Two: Promotion of Hegemonic Masculinity and Emphasized Femininity

There are many manners in which The Bachelor franchise reinforces traditional gender roles and promotes hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity. The image above is an example of this in action. When put side by side the images paint a picture of the hypocritical standards set for women vs men in this popular media outlet. As we learned about in class, Audre Lorde’s “mythical norm” is strongly at play in The Bachelor, which idealizes the “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual… and financially secure.” Anyone who does not fit these ideals is made invisible (not cast) or quite literally erased in the Bachelor, as contestants are eliminated to invariably bring a thin, attractive white person to the finish line, suggesting that they who fall within the norm are deserving of love, and those who don’t are not. (Ross/Moorti, 333-364)

The women wears a white dress symbolizing her angelic femininity

The first episode of the series featured Executive Producer Mike Hess stating that, in choosing contestants, “Most importantly, they have to look good in the hot tub.” (Ross/Moorti, 333-364) Throughout the series, the camera drifts across tanned buttocks, bikini-adjusting, and cleavage. Women are always done-up to the nines with a full face of make-up no matter the occasion. It is clear that there is an emphasis on presenting the women as sexual dreamboats, but bold, aggressive personality traits play out to harm a female contestants’ possibility of winning. Women that are not passive, caring, emotional, and in need of protection are the villains and those that are are usually saved by the bachelor emphasizing his masculinity. It is an interesting paradox that the show presents, that the women seem to be aiming for a sweet spot of sexy and spunky enough to woo the crowd, but passive and angelic enough to “take home to mama.” In the above photo, a winning contestant wears a white lace dress to the final episode – a perfect embodiment of the sexual-angelic line the women toe throughout the series.

Many of the women on the show are portrayed as emotionally unstable

As discussed earlier, bikini-clad chasteness is rewarded on The Bachelor, and contestants displaying overtly discussed or displayed sexuality is a no-no. Along with the delicately negotiated flaunting of their bodies, there is a common theme of the exploitation of female emotions as opposed to overtly expressing the sexuality that is being continually hinted at. According to “Fallen Women in Reality TV” by Rachel Dubrovsky, Dubrovsky relates the explosion of female emotion as a storytelling device in the bachelor to the “Money Shot” in film pornography. In the reality TV version of this moment, the woman loses physical control in the form of sobbing, heaving, shedding tears, messing her makeup, as her “animal instincts” take over. This creates a melodrama effect that intensifies the illusion that women are fragile, foolish, and desperately in need of a man’s love and care if he with all the power chooses to give it to her. (Dubrovsky, 353-368)                                                                         

Part Three: Hypocritical treatment of the Bachelor vs the Bachelorette

The male contestant is portrayed as easy going whereas the women is sexualized

The male contestant is portrayed as easy going whereas the women is sexualized

When you compare the bachelor promotions to the bachelorette the two genders are displayed in polar opposite ways. The bachelor appears strong and powerful. He usually wears a well tailored suit and maintains a casual carefree composure suggesting that despite his success he is down to earth. The woman in the bachelorette promo is in a tight dress emphasizing her toned physique and good looks. She poses on the floor and her face is barely visible. This says that the bachelorette is something to look at rather than a person to get to know. The bachelors appeal is his personality and success whereas the bachelorette is a potential trophy wife.

In addition to the promos, the actual bachelor and bachelorette are treated differently because of their gender during filming and in the media. During Peter Weber’s season of the bachelor, the women were put in skimpy lingerie and told to fight. The winner of the fight got extra time with the bachelor. There was little to no backlash in response to this date even though this was clearly a display of sexist behavior. The combination of women in little clothing and women fighting for the attention of a man created an environment meant to fulfil the desires held by men. The bachelor was able to enjoy this date at the expense of the dignity of the women involved. In contrast there was significant backlash to a date held by Bachelorette contestant Clare Crawly. She had her contestants play strip dodgeball in what was believed to be an attempt by the producers to be a display of women taking back the power. This was a missed attempt and came off as Clare disrespecting the men instead of overturning the patriarchy.

Clare Crawly and Colton Underwood

Conclusion

After facing backlash about lack of diversity, the show has made attempts to add people of color to the cast, choose an older bachelor, and have a woman of color as the bachelorette. The lack of diversity is so deep rooted in the bachelor process that in newer seasons, the producers seem to struggle including the conversations that come with the additional diversity. The contestants rarely talk about important issues like race, religion (unless it’s christianity), or sexuality. They choose to avoid acting like these issues exist. They tackle surface level topics and then wonder why the majority of relationships do not last long term.                                                         

SOURCES

Dubrofsky, R. (2006). The Bachelor : Whiteness in the Harem. Critical Studies in Media Communication,

23(1), 39–56. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/10.1080/07393180600570733

Rachel E. Dubrofsky (2009) Fallen Women in Reality TV, Feminist Media Studies, 9:3, 353-368, DOI: 10.1080/14680770903068324

Yep, G. (2004). The Normalization of Heterogendered Relations in The Bachelor. Feminist Media Studies., 4(3), 338–341.

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