Is "The Bachelor" Here for the Right Reasons?
It’s late Monday evening. I’m snuggled up on the couch in my living room, popcorn rapidly flying into my mouth. My eyes are glued to the TV screen in front of me. I can’t look away from the scene of a handful of girls and one guy bouncing around the beach on some exotic island. It’s Bachelor time.
The Bachelor is part of a whole franchise of reality TV shows about finding love. There is The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise. To say that this is a successful franchise would be an understatement, with last year’s Bachelor finale attracting almost 10 million viewers. Many truly believe in the show’s ability to help people find true love, but when my friends and I convene Tuesday morning at school to talk about the events of the night before, we view it as more of a comedy. Viewing it this way is kind of a coping mechanism for myself; if I think of it as a joke, then I don’t have to internalize everything that’s wrong with it. And believe me, there’s a lot. There are obvious issues: lack of diversity, objectifying women, heteronormativity, pitting women against each other, etc.… But I think it’s the subtler sexist undertones that need to be discussed.
One of the main issues with the whole franchise is that there are different standards for the contestants based on gender. For instance, in this season specifically, Nick (the bachelor) has shown up to dinner dates wearing a sweatshirt or something else that’s super casual. The women, on the other hand, are expected to wear fancy dresses that are tight and revealing, clearly showing that the women are held to a higher standard when it comes to appearances. And if a woman were to dress as Nick does, my bet would be that she wouldn’t receive a rose. Though this may seem trivial, it demonstrates that the franchise views women as sexual objects who are supposed to be visually appealing; this isn’t the case with the men on the show.
Another example is the age differences among the men and the women. Nick is 36. The oldest contestant on his season is 31, a solid five years younger than him. Throughout the franchise’s history, a bachelorette has yet to be over 30, while, on the other side, it’s quite uncommon for any of the bachelors to be under 30. Yes, these age gaps may seem smaller than some of the more obvious ones we see in Hollywood, but it still plays into the idea that a woman’s greatest asset is her beauty, and therefore she’s only worthy of a man’s attention when she’s “in her prime.” On the other hand, men never lose their appeal because they’re described as looking “distinguished” as they get older. Plus, women are encouraged to go after older men because their age suggests wealth and/or power. By pairing older men with younger women, The Bachelor just perpetuates these harmful and untrue stereotypes.
Finally, there are the proposals. In the finale of The Bachelor, the man decides if he wants to propose to one of the two women who are left. In the past, it has gone multiple ways; there have been proposals, just a final rose (signifying continuing the relationship without an engagement yet), and walking away without either of the women left. However, at the end of The Bachelorette, every season has ended with a marriage proposal from at least one man. While The Bachelorette is supposed to be equivalent to The Bachelor, with the woman in control of her love life, she ultimately loses her power and autonomy because it’s still the men’s job to propose. It is not clear if the bachelorette even gets to choose if she wants to be proposed to. This feeds into the sexist notion that the man must be the one driving the relationship forward. The fact that all of the women’s seasons have ended with a proposal, while some of the men’s haven’t, also speaks to the stereotype that a woman’s whole goal in life is to get married and care for a family, while it isn’t mandatory for men to be “held down” by marriage.
Despite these problems, The Bachelor franchise does seem to be taking some positive steps forward. It was recently announced that the next bachelorette will be African-American attorney Rachel Lindsay, one of the frontrunners since the beginning of Nick’s season of The Bachelor. This is a historic pick for two reasons. First, as many have pointed out, this is the first time that a person of color has been chosen as either the main bachelor or bachelorette. The franchise has faced quite a bit of criticism over its failure to include much diversity, and they seem to be taking it to heart. Additionally, she will be the first bachelorette over 30. Seeing these types of changes is heartening, and it demonstrates the power of constructive criticism from the fan base.
The Bachelor clearly has some kinks to work out. It is on us, the audience, to continue to demand that the show display a more balanced picture for the men and women involved. I can’t just laugh it off because the show seems so foreign to me; as a piece of pop culture that is being absorbed by millions of viewers, it heavily influences our society’s ideas about “perfect” relationships, and love. With the improvements on the racial diversity front, I hope we will also be seeing feminist changes in the future. Who knows, maybe Rachel will end up going on dates in sweatpants, proposing to the man of her choice instead of being proposed to, or skipping the proposal completely!
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Olsberg, Eden. "Is "The Bachelor" Here for the Right Reasons?." 22 March 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/is-bachelor-here-for-right-reasons>.