The Final Rose of Feminism

The Bachelor is one of the longest-running reality tv shows, spanning a total of 26 seasons, and has gained an impressive cult following (The fandom calling themselves “Bachelor Nation”) in the nearly two decades it has been airing. For those not familiar, the show follows a man, “The Bachelor,” in his pursuit of finding love amongst a group of thirty women. Over the span of a few weeks, the bachelor is filmed going on dates with various women and developing connections. The contestants are then eliminated in rose ceremonies, where the bachelor hands out roses to the women he wants to continue seeing and sends the rest home. 

The narrative of the show follows the path of a “conventional” relationship, starting with dates, then meeting the parents, and finally an engagement – where the bachelor and the women of his choosing get their happy ending. On a more realistic note, if you think the idea of people finding “true love” in a few weeks is laughable, you are absolutely correct. Just look at the numbers, out of the 22 seasons “The Bachelor” has been airing, only three of the 22 couples are still standing. That being said, it is safe to conclude that the success rate of this show is simply horrid. However, even with the obviously flawed premise of this show, “The Bachelor” still attracts millions of viewers each season. For example, the most recent episode, airing on March 15th, 2022 attracted a total of 4.73 million viewers. All things considered, “The Bachelor” is the gold standard for trashy reality TV, but at what cost?

One of the key pillars of “The Bachelor” is the portrayal of heteronormative dating culture as the prime standard. Where the men take the leading role in the relationship, and women hold the passive subordinate role. This presumptuous theme makes no effort to mask itself from the audience, whether it be the man asking the women on a date or ultimately deciding whether the women get a rose to stay on the show. The inherent concept of “The Bachelor”, promotes the idea of putting the fate of women in the hands of a man. Another aspect of the show that is deemed the “entertainment value”, is the chaotic interactions between the contestants. The show essentially pits thirty women against one another to steal the heart of a man, but the true entertainment lies in the women getting at each other throats. In this narrative, we often see women fighting with each other and trash-talking one another all to get farther in the show. The edits the characters receive by the producers, only enhance the ideals of “women putting down women.” One of the most popular phenomena on “The Bachelor” is the presence of a season villain, who is essentially the contestant who is out to step on everyone else to get the man. This person is often edited so viewers develop contempt towards them, helping the audience root for some contestants while condemning the others. 

It would be a disservice to talk about “The Bachelor” without mentioning the spinoff franchise “The Bachelorette.” The Bachelorette has the exact premise as the original show but with a role reversal. Now, it is the men out to win the heart of a singular woman. While this may be viewed as a push against gender roles in relationships, the inherent construct of the show continues to promote the conventions of heteronormative roles. In The Bachelorette, it is the woman who chooses the last man, but it is the man popping the question at the end. If anything, after the show airs the couple would most likely revert back to the conventional relationship roles. The Bachelorette in all senses is a network’s mediocre attempt to uplift women and appear “woke.”

However, the audience’s reception to “The Bachelorette” puts all the lousy efforts of breaking gender stereotypes to rest. The stark difference in reception between “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” is astounding and is perfectly exemplified in the “fantasy suite” segment of the reality show. The fantasy suite is where couples are encouraged to spend the night together to explore their physical attraction. With that in mind, on “The Bachelor” when men spend the night with multiple women it is brushed off as a man fulfilling his “needs”. Unsurprisingly, women in the same context are called sluts. In fact, on “The Bachelorette” when women are aired kissing multiple men on the show, they are slut-shamed and reduced to having no standards, but when men do the same on “The Bachelor”, they are simply exploring their options. 

The Bachelor franchises’ portrayal of women can be seen as archaic in the way they are molded to fit the norms of society. The inherent concept of the shows is not meant to uplift women but to pit them against each other for the approval of a man. The portrayal of women in such a degrading way, for the pure purpose of entertainment, is heavily problematic in the climate of analyzing gender roles in society. When examining this notion, we are brought back to the gender inequality that is prevalent to this day. 

One of the leading issues on this front is the gender wage gap. “In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers.” (Barroso and Brown, 2021) It is important to note that this statistic does not account for women of color, where the gap further widens. The wage gap is a very complex issue, having to do a lot with women’s perceived roles in society. Historically, women were seen as the homemaker and caregivers of the household. Today, women are not only expected to work a full-time job, but to take care of their children and household duties as well. This factor alone drives a lot of women out of the workforce. In addition, a lot of people simply cannot afford the added expenses of child care, and that duty more often than not falls to the mother in a two-parent household. The workplace’s inability to accommodate maternity leave also means that women are unable to get more work hours or experience to advance their careers at the same rate men would. In fact, “40 percent of women don’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which grants 12 weeks of protected job leave, unpaid, at the federal level.”(Healthline) Now, most women are left to make the difficult choice between having children during their prime years or working to advance their careers. 

Compared to the 1980s the gender wage gap has drastically reduced from 33 cents to a man’s dollar to 93 cents on average. However, the societal perception of women’s role heavily influences the progress we make on this front. It is a matter of dismantling the preconceived notion that the man is the head of the household, while the woman is the caregiver. This directly plays into how “The Bachelor” reinforces those archaic notions of how women are dependent on the decisions of a man and nothing more. “The Bachelor” has been airing since 2002, exactly two decades, and in this time, from a policy stance, we have made drastic changes to progress women’s roles in society. And it begs the question as to how this shows has been airing for so long with the same format, and not been brought under much heavier criticism for its implications on gender roles in relationships and society. I think it is time for television networks to stop pushing narratives that serve to further demean women in relation to their male counterparts and be more aware of their impact on societal standards.

Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020

5 thoughts on “The Final Rose of Feminism

  1. I really liked this blog post Preethie! I’ve never seen an episode of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” but I’ve had many of the same questions you outline in this article. I know of some women who describe themselves as “feminists,” yet still enjoy watching the show and supporting this franchise, which I find interesting. Do you think it’s because, deep down, some women/people enjoy seeing women pitted against women? Are we perhaps cultivated to enjoy this competitive bent, particularly when it comes to securing a romantic life partner?

    I also really enjoyed how you tied the show, and the way it promotes submissive, old-fashioned perspectives of women, back to ongoing gender-related injustices. Many argue that TV shows (and other media) are “just for fun,” citing their “entertainment value” as you mentioned and the fact that it’s reality TV, not reality. However, I think this is a sorry excuse; although each woman is free to portray herself as she chooses, saying these shows have no/very little implication on reality overlooks the fact that any portrayal of women affects people’s perceptions of women more generally, including those who would never choose to be portrayed in the same way as women on a show like “The Bachelor, or act similarly in their lives.

    Finding the right balance between “fun entertainment” and being socially responsible about the implications of such entertainment is a tricky, but worthwhile endeavor that I think will benefit from increased diversity in the field.

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  2. Hi Preethi!
    Thank you for a great post. I’m so glad you brought up “The Bachelorette” as well. I was going to ask you if you thought “The Bachelorette” attempted to challenge the conventional heterosexual roles but you made good points as to how roles still stand even in the female version of the show. I’ve never watched the Bachelor, so I wasn’t aware of the “fantasy suite” aspect of the show. It’s so interesting (and not that surprising) that a man can sleep with multiple women but when a woman sleeps with multiple men she is immediately labeled as a slut. I personally think this is very reflective of real life too. In terms of the gender wage gap, I have always been a bit skeptical about the data and what it is really reflective of. I definitely think that the societal perception of women’s role influences her ability to be a part of the workforce but I’m not exactly sure what to make of the wage gap. Finally, I totally agree that with so much progression and change in the past 20 years, it’s odd that the show hasn’t changed at all. I am curious to see if/how it will change in the future.

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  3. I really enjoyed this post! I’ve watched (well more like, hate-watched/made fun of) one season of the Bachelor, and definitely resonate with the trends you’re pointing out. I think you’re totally correct about the Bachelorette not being much of a disruption of traditional roles at all – especially in terms of heteronormative standards. Specifically, the fact that both versions rely on strictly heteronormative relationships (by virtue of their very format) means that any feminist potential seems rather limited. I remember there being an interesting controversy a while ago when two Bachelor contestants fell in love with each other (although you had to wonder how much of that was engineered to draw attention to the show). I wonder what a version of the Bachelor/Bachelorette would look like if it portrayed LGBTQ+ relationships, or had a caste of suitors with multiple genders?

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  4. Hey Preethi! I think that this is a really fun post and that you did a really great job of integrating the problems with the show with the problems of gender inequity. As someone who’s watched a few seasons of the Bachelorette, I can definitely attest to the double standard on the show. While bachelors are “exploring their options” bachelorettes are “leading the male contestants on”. The way that not only fans discuss the show, but the set-up of the show itself, as you point out, is based on extremely heteronormative understandings of romance. I think it’s also important to note the role that the editing plays in our perceptions of women and men on the show. Unfortunately, the producers know that “cat fights”, “villains” and heteronormative romance will get views, and after over 20 seasons, they likely think “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. You do a great job of challenging this by showing how pervasive gender norms, even in stupid reality TV like the bachelor/bachelorette, are linked to real consequences that have a lot to do with continued inequality and harmful gender norm promotion between men and women.

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  5. Thank you for sharing this piece with us, Preethi! I enjoyed reading it, and enjoyed a rare critical take on the empire that is The Bachelor Extended Cinematic Universe. It’s interesting to think about how, in some ways, television and film have been more progressive than the real world they represent has been, particularly in terms of representation for queer and trans people, along with some other marginalized groups. Representations of heterosexuality in media have, however, seemed pretty static and, quite honestly, tragic, as can be seen in The Bachelor, despite heterosexual couples making considerable progress in society. I find it’s really hard to make a generalization about whether media narratives surrounding heterosexuality are moving faster or slower than the real world is, particularly because we are in such an odd political climate right now. Like Brynn said, though, it does seem to pretty heavily driven by profit, and if toxic heterosexuality sells to a certain audience, it seems that companies are happy to keep selling it. I hope the future has better things in store, and that more people will adopt your critical perspective with regard to their media consumption.

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