The politics of “The Bachelor”

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I really enjoy “the Bachelor.”  I do not watch it religiously—I would consider myself a casual viewer– but every few seasons I get sucked in and watch every Monday night.  As a feminist, this has created a lot of internal conflict in me.  For those blissfully unaware, “the Bachelor” is a reality dating show in which two dozen or so women vie for the attention of one man in the hopes of getting engaged.  Episodes feature “group dates” and “one-on-ones” where contestants compete to spend more time with the bachelor. There is a female equivalent of “the Bachelor” called (surprise) “the Bachelorette,” in which men fight for the chance to propose to her at the end of the show

The show is hugely problematic in many regards.  Contestants are slim, very made-up, and, overwhelmingly, white.  The show is heteronormative, pits women against one another, shames women for their sexual histories, and has been accused by former contestants of providing more alcohol than food and very little time to sleep. What always surprises me is how, despite these circumstances, the women seem to generally get along and form close friendships.  It does not make any sense. This observation is probably the result of much of the show being orchestrated by producers, like every other reality TV show.  This is confirmed by both producers and contestants.  Episodes are heavily edited to emphasize particular storylines and create drama where there likely is none.  When I feel guilty about watching “the Bachelor,” I tell myself, it is all fake– the contestants know what they are getting themselves into.

Even if the contestants do know what they are signing up for (though this may not be the case as one contestant last week cried that it was not fair that the bachelor was also dating other women; like, Vanessa, that is the whole premise of the show) is that enough to absolve it of its faults?  Many fellow students I know at Bates watch the show and, universally, we see it as parody.  We watch it because it seems so ridiculous that it almost makes fun of itself.  However, even if the show is ridiculous, it still perpetuates negative narratives of women as sexual objects, playing into tired tropes like ‘the virgin,’ ‘the whore,’ and ‘wife-material.’  It also fails to represent a diverse range of women.  The show has never had a gay bachelor or bachelorette and has never featured a trans* contestant.  The first bachelorette of color will appear next season.   

The truth is, watching “The Bachelor” is escapism; it probably is no more sexist, or less diverse than the mass majority of television shows on air.  Still, that does not excuse it of its sins.  The President of ABC has acknowledged these concerns and promises viewers that there will be “tweaks” to the show’s content in the future.  While I am not holding out much hope for these “tweaks,” watching the show has led me to have many conversations with other Batesies about sexism in media and how we need to think critically about how women of all identities are represented.  Maybe the lesson to be learned here is that we need to be conscious of the media we consume and its issues.  The more people point out flaws, biases, and misrepresentation in media, the more pressure there is for producers and directors to change it.

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