The Bachelor’s representation of women is littered with thorns

Devin Bosley

On an ordinary Monday night, when little of interest seems to be playing on television, the routine channel surf begins. In the midst of the random, advertisement-filled chaos associated with rapidly flickering through stations, one program differs from the rest, emanating a familiar air of drama, lust and romance. Of course, I am talking about “The Bachelor.”

In my household, for as long as I have known, the popular series has never even been featured long enough on a screen for the host, Chris Harrison, to complete the opening phrase, “Previously, on the Bache…” I had no complaints about this unspoken protest against “The Bachelor,” as my distaste surrounding the show’s premise did not instill in me any desire to watch it. That is, until this most recent season. 

My sister, breaking our family’s “vow,” watched Hannah Brown’s season of “The Bachelorette.” For an unknown reason, I joined my sister in watching the season’s finale. And, to my suprise, I enjoyed it. Equally curious and perplexed by this revelation, I decided to further investigate the program and have watched the current season of “The Bachelor” for pleasure as well as for analytical purposes. Through my viewing experience, many of my initial judgements concerning the series were proven true, specifically its villainous, marriage-crazed portrayals of the female contestants. This treatment poses a significant threat to the public’s perception of women, as there are few realistic representations of women currently focused on in the media as a whole.

Cartoon By Devin Bosley

“The Bachelor” is considered by many to be the pinnacle reality show of the dating genre due to its rampant success. According to Variety, the Season 24 premiere, with Peter Webber taking the helm as the season’s “Bachelor,” garnered over six million total viewers—a 20 percent increase from the season prior. From the numbers alone, it is no secret that the show has a large following, and the number of viewers only seems to be growing. That is why it is so vital for the audience to be aware of the show’s problems. 

Essentially the show’s premise is a feminist’s nightmare—pitting women against each other with the common goal of marrying a man they just met. “The Bachelor” is heavily produced to create drama, making it yet another media outlet that fails to provide an accurate female perspective or role model for women. According to a study conducted by San Diego State University, 40 percent of top grossing films in 2019 featured female protagonists. While this is a historically high percentage, there is still much more work to be done in terms of female representation in the media. 

The increase in female narratives, however, reflects a promising change in the entertainment industry: when women and women’s rights movements are vocal, more movies will be made. “The Bachelor,” with its large audience, has the ability to contribute and create change in the public’s perception of women in all spheres of life, on and off the television screen. Since the show’s conception in 2002, the franchise has used its platform to ignite important conversations that I believe have done some considerable good. For example, a major aspect of Hannah Brown’s term as the Bachelorette was her commentary on the double standard of women in relationships and sex-positivity in conjunction with faith. This is an important conversation, especially on a series where women are commonly criticized for having multiple sexual partners, even though the “fantasy suites” make this behavior seem encouraged. That is why “The Bachelor,” by orchestrating dramatic situations that criticize the female contestants’ decisions, has created an environment that is unproductive and dangerous, specifically in regard to slut-shaming. 

It is important to note that the issues surrounding “The Bachelor”—including the fabricated, catty portrayal of contestants—are not exclusive, and bleed over into the issues with its gender-swapped companion series, “The Bachelorette.” The expectations set upon the male contestants, who are conversely competing for the same woman’s heart, can equally perpetuate unhealthy male stereotypes. “The Bachelorette,” specifically when there are altercations between contestants, prompts the men to act “strong” and more husband-like. By encouraging such behavior with resulting applause from both producers and audience members, the show furthers the problematic culture of toxic masculinity that creates the wrongful image of an ideal man. 

As someone who is a strong proponent of women’s rights, a part of me felt like I was doing something wrong, like I was not a feminist because I enjoyed a show that perpetuates such incorrect female sterotypes for profit. However, I do not seem to be alone in the guilty pleasure I find through the program, as many famous feminist authors and celebrities publically love the program, including Emma Roberts, Anna Kendrick, Emmy Rossum, Amy Schumer and Roxanne Gay. 

Gay, in her novel “Bad Feminist,” discusses her own reasoning as to why the program is so popular: “They know where we are most tender, and they aim right for that place.”

I believe this to be entirely true and further illuminating of the underlying beauty of the classic franchise. As humans, love is a central part of our daily lives, and it is represented in our music, films, literature and actions. “The Bachelor” capitalizes on love and the natural vulnerability towards it, which is how the show has claimed their incredible ability to unite audiences—whether that be their love for the program or love in their own lives. I have found so much joy, dare I say love, in discussing the show with others, and I think that is an incredibly beautiful thing.  

Redwood is not exempt from Bachelor fever; of the 75 percent of students surveyed that have watched the program, 41 percent said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “I believe the bachelor promotes a positive image of women.” Should this belief stop people from watching the program? I would say no. However, viewers, myself included, should be mindful of how we are contributing to the inaccurate representation of women in the media through toxic criticisms; whether that be when we tune in next season, or turn to social media to voice opinions.