Diversity and Gender Roles in The Bachelor

By Anushka Bhatia

Art by Camilla Lee

On Monday nights, millions of Americans gather around their televisions to watch a bachelor hand out roses to an array of beautiful women. The Bachelor is a popular dating reality show that has been around since 2002 and is now on its 25th season, garnering high viewership from all across the country. Every season, a pool of single women stay at a mansion and go on dates with the selected bachelor. Girls are eliminated each week during a rose ceremony until the bachelor eventually proposes to one of the women.

Despite its popularity among viewers, the show is often criticized for its superficial and ingenuine nature. Producers are eager to frame women as villains and clip content for drama and entertainment purposes. While the dramatic editing stays true to the nature of reality TV, The Bachelor has also been targeted for its lack of diversity and perpetuation of gender roles.

The Bachelor has historically struggled with a lack of diversity; both the bachelor himself and the female contestants are usually white. The 22 seasons that aired from 2002 to 2018 averaged around 26 women per bachelor, totaling 580 women. Of those women, only 9.5% were women of color who were not “white-passing.”[1] Even when women of color are present, few of these contestants make it to later rounds of the show, and the screen time they are given is little to none, often disproportionate to the other contestants. Since there is such a small amount of representation, it is even more important that the show portrays non-white contestants as individuals rather than as tokens or stereotypes. For Asian American and Latina contestants, producers have manipulated footage to portray them as hot-tempered or overly sexualized them. They also added ethnically linked sounds during post production when contestants of color appeared on screen to emphasize their ethnic background.[2] The repetitive, scripted nature of certain contestants reflect stereotypes that producers may have been exposed to. Of the bachelors themselves, prior to this season (season 25), only Juan Pablo and Peter Weber were of Latino origin but were both white-passing.

The premise of The Bachelor itself perpetuates gender stereotypes and specific traits that women are supposed to possess or follow. It enforces the traditional, patriarchal portrayal of women competing to be the object of a man’s affection, as the bachelor is put on a pedestal as the key to make their lives complete. The participants also leave their jobs for several months just for a chance on the show, taking a bigger risk than the bachelor, who is guaranteed to find a match in the end. Producers place greater emphasis on their personal appearance and presentation than on their careers. The women are shown to be physically fit but are never shown actually exercising, eating healthy, or eating at all. This display of idealized body types continues to enforce ideas that a woman's body is not acceptable unless it achieves perfection. This caters towards men’s desires, as these women do not represent the “average woman.”[3] Particular women on the show are framed as bitchy or emotional, crying or arguing with the other women while the bachelor remains stoic.

In terms of progress, there has been a push from viewers to include more diversity in The Bachelor over the past few years. The Bachelor Diversity Campaign launched in 2020, demanding action, and the change.org petition that they spearheaded asks the franchise to commit to 13 calls for action. These include a promise to cast BIPOC for at least 35% of the contestants moving forward. This petition has received over 75,000 signatures, including those from prominent contestants from the past seasons of The Bachelor like Rachel Lindsay, the first Black bachelorette.[4] Viewer action has motivated The Bachelor producers to increase effort to include more diversity in the cast. This season cast Matt James as the first Black bachelor, and it probably has the most diverse cast, with 32 women of different backgrounds. This is the first time white women have been in the minority. Though this is an improvement, there has been a clear emphasis on James’s biracial identity throughout the show, and the screen time for the women of color is lower even though they make up a higher percentage of the contestants.[5] Recently, there was a wave of outrage from fans over a final four contestant from this season, Rachael Kirkconnell, who has been called out for appearing in pictures wearing culturally appropriative costumes and attending an antebellum-themed party. Rather than condemn her behavior, host Chris Harrison defended her in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, arguing that the year the antebellum picture was taken should have been considered when evaluating its impact. He argued, “Is it a good look in 2018? Or, is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference...and this poor girl Rachael has just been thrown to the lions”. [6]

In the future, more initiative needs to be taken to promote bachelors of different races. It would be great to see an Asian or Latino bachelor (who is not white-passing). This can also be extended to contestants, with viewers calling for more Asian and Native American representation. Furthermore, Bachelor producers could look at data related to the show to improve how they present women of color, correcting for their unconscious stereotypes and use of ethnic background music. More on screen conversations about race and gender should be held, and producers should include more footage of the bachelor in less traditionally masculine roles, where he acts emotional about his search for his future wife. Representation may be increasing, but there is still work to be done.

[1] Paulette S. Strauss, “Scripted Stereotypes in Reality TV” Honors College, Pace University, July 2018 https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1201&context=honorscollege_theses

[2] Paulette S. Strauss, “Scripted Stereotypes in Reality TV”, 27

[3] Amanda Stewart Hall, ‘“Yes, I will Accept This Rose”: Representation, Consumption, and Identity in ABC’s The Bachelor” University of Georgia, 2005 http://getd.galib.uga.edu/public/hall_amanda_s_200505_phd/hall_amanda_s_200505_phd.pdf

[4] Lisa Respers-France, “‘Bachelor’ and ‘Bachelorette’ alums are supporting a push to make the franchise more diverse” CNN Entertainment, last modified June 9, 2020 https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/09/entertainment/bachelor-diversity-campaign/index.html

[5] “Bachelor Race Representation: Featured Screen Time vs Overall Cast” Bachelor Data Analyst, 2021 https://www.instagram.com/bachelordata/?hl=en

[6] Cady Lang, “The Bachelor Finally Cast a Black Man. But Racism in the Franchise Has Overshadowed His Season” TIME, last modified February 17, 2021 https://time.com/5926330/the-bachelor-diversity-matt-james/