Here's How to Fix The Bachelor's Problems with Race and Gender Roles

By Rosunnara RothLast Updated Aug 9, 2020 1:59:46 AM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Craig Sjodin/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

In the midst of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, many things have changed dramatically in the entertainment world. From abrupt TV season finishes caused by halts in filming and production to movie theater shutdowns and film premieres put on hold indefinitely, the changes caused by the risk of COVID-19 have caused disruptions that viewers couldn’t have imagined just six months ago. 

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In the midst of the growing chaos, the deaths of African Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor reignited support for the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked protests around the country and even the world. In the aftermath, many executives in the entertainment industry stepped back and took a hard look at the elements of equality and racism throughout the industry. It will take time to fully solve these problems, but many have already taken the first steps toward positive changes.

For The Bachelor on ABC, one key step came when the show finally cast its first Black lead. Real estate broker Matt James brings all the talent, brains and hunk factor that fans expect from the show, but the franchise still has a lot of work to do to fully reflect the makeup of modern relationships in a modern world. The casting of Tayshia Adams — also Black — on the 16th season of The Bachelorette could be viewed as another step in the right direction. Adams, who was a fan favorite and a finalist on season 23 of The Bachelor with Colton Underwood, is replacing Clare Crawley, who reportedly fell in love with one of her suitors during the COVID-19-induced break from filming.

For almost two decades, the reality show has kept millions of people watching and talking about the romance, drama and fantasy of finding your soulmate on reality TV — even though most of the show’s relationships don’t last. The successful show also resulted in several spinoffs, including The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise and The Bachelor Winter Games

However, despite the franchise’s success, fans and even contestants have spoken out about the show's questionable history, including the lack of diversity, harassment and issues related to gender norms and beauty standards. Viewers are tired of the show’s nonsense and excuses and have (finally) put executives in the hot seat after 25 seasons. It’s time for the franchise to redeem itself before the final rose disappears.

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Remove Toxic Gender Role Expectations and Beauty Standards

Since the show’s 2002 debut, critics have called The Bachelor sexist and outdated, and they’re not wrong. The program has pushed a narrow, homogeneous and unrealistic view of beauty by overwhelmingly casting thin white women with long hair. This sends a clear message (deliberately or not) about who in society is more appealing, beautiful and worthy of love.

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Photo Courtesy: Rick Rowell/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

Disrespecting women is also a common occurrence in the franchise; they’re frequently humiliated, degraded, undermined, slut-shamed and exploited. For instance, the franchise has portrayed women as having little power by presuming they will permanently leave their jobs to find love, move anywhere to follow a man or remain alone forever if they don’t win the competition.

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It’s hard to ignore the fact that the franchise exploits stereotypes, degradation of female participants and cat-fights for higher TV ratings. The creator of The Bachelor, Mike Fleiss, even said, "It's a lot of fun to watch girls crying… Never underestimate the value of that." This is exactly why it all needs to stop. Some may argue that it’s just fun and drama, but it’s actually toxic and painful for cast members and sends the message to society that this perspective is acceptable. The franchise should instead feature women of all different shapes, sizes, skin colors, abilities, identities and backgrounds to celebrate their diversity and show that beauty is more than just looks. Allow women to have more control and demonstrate their strength. Let it be known that women don’t have to drop the jobs they love and move across the country for men. Respect women and teach others to do the same by modeling it on the show.

Properly Handle Cases of Harassment and Racism

Sexual misconduct and racism aren’t new issues for The Bachelor. In 2017, a former producer filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the show’s production company, Warner Bros., which disputed the allegation in response. But that's not all. Multiple contestants have also raised concerns about inappropriate sexual behavior toward women in different seasons of the spinoff, Bachelor in Paradise.

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Rachel Lindsay, a former Bachelorette, leads a conversation about hate and harassment. Photo Courtesy: Bachelor Nation on ABC/YouTube

The franchise also got caught up in a scandal in 2012, when two men filed a discrimination lawsuit because there were no non-white people among the 25 cast members of The Bachelorette that year. The case was dismissed after the producers argued that the First Amendment protects their casting choices. Although it raised valid concerns, the lawsuit didn’t make much of an impact on future casting decisions.

In 2017, the franchise was in hot water again. In The Bachelorette, Lee Garrett (a white contestant) fabricated stories about a couple of Black contestants. However, the show called the incidents "drama," exploiting the problem even more by intentionally pitting Garrett and his victim, Kenny King, against each other and forcing them into uncomfortable interactions. Even worse, racist and sexist tweets Garrett posted prior to his casting on the show surfaced online. However, the network was unaware of the posts, which raises the question of whether the studio completes extensive background checks on cast members like it claims to.

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Rather than dismissing or denying harassment and racism, the franchise must do a better job of owning up to its mistakes, pushing harder for ethnic diversity (and respecting that diversity), performing thorough background checks and taking immediate action against attackers. The network also needs to stop using racism and harassment as forms of entertainment. All reality-show drama is fabricated to some degree, but producers must stop relying on racist contestants to create that drama. If cast members make bigoted comments or exhibit racist behavior, pull them to the side, let them know why their actions are wrong and take the necessary steps to end the behavior by ejecting them from the show. It’s essential to keep contestants and cast members safe and handle cases more thoughtfully, not trivialize the effects of racism and capitalize on them for the sake of views.

Show Diverse Love Stories and Cast Members From All Walks of Life

For a long time, many fans have asked, "Why is The Bachelor so white?" This includes the leading man and his pool of romantic interests, who are often white women. Cheesy dates set in helicopters, hot tubs or mountain resorts are also getting old. Much of the dating show focuses on materialism and a life of luxury. However, viewers want entertainment that reflects what America actually looks like — beautifully diverse.

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Photo Courtesy: Adam Larkey/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

The Bachelor (and all of its spinoffs) should present love stories of people of color, same-sex relationships and interracial relationships. It should cast an LGBTQ+ lead. The franchise should also introduce folks with different educational backgrounds, income levels, professions, lifestyles, abilities, social experiences, gender identities and skills. Mix it up by representing people with diverse racial origins, people who practice different religions, people who can speak many languages and people with unique philosophies. Open the series up to show a more realistic world that goes beyond the typical cast members, dates and love stories that viewers are tired of seeing — and that have no place in the more-inclusive society we need to build.