There was a time when I allowed myself to believe in the sincerity of shows like The Bachelor. Though exaggerated, the process occasionally worked, and the series satisfied my voyeuristic curiosity. I may not have liked the contestants, understood why they adhered to such unconventional romantic arrangements, or kept a straight face when they repeatedly mentioned "taking things to the next level," but part of me wanted to see it through. I suppose my naiveté paralleled the sentiments of those candidates, each of whom cast aside real life commitments for the chance of finding meaningful love... on TV.
Most people decry the ABC series for promising lasting relationships when an embarrassing few outlast production, but I'm more interested in the way the show depicts women in relationships. It may be a television show based on unrealistic expectations, but it's one of the more longstanding and popular; something about it resonates among audiences, primarily comprised of women, which is curious when one considers how terribly female contestants are portrayed.
Though I'm still watching, fanciful Monday nights with friends and popcorn are long gone. I increasingly find myself screaming at my television like a crazed contestant on the show. It's bad enough that we've had to watch the women whittle away over the years, now tiny in all regions except one, but the show reinforces more than physical stereotypes.
They begin with group dynamics. Female contestants on The Bachelor emote and bicker more than their male counterparts on The Bachelorette; drama is elevated, and the women rarely get along as seamlessly as the men. And who can forget those cringeworthy goodbyes between Bachelors and the women they send packing? Mascara-stained cheeks and "woe is me" speeches reinforce certain stereotypes about women: we fall hard; we fall fast; we are devastated whenever a relationship ends; and we're all certifiably insane.
The Bachelor, meanwhile, returns to the rose ceremony where a bevy of women awaits, one of them holding his next glass of champagne. Even when women wield the choosing power on The Bachelorette, imbalances persist. The woman always appears more emotional throughout the process; she's also more likely to get played by her contestants. Although Ben has chosen to date a manipulative woman on the current season, the Bachelors rarely contend with disingenuous contestants, whereas recent Bachelorettes have confronted too many scheming men to count (Wes, Justin, Frank and who could forget Bentley?).
Although she still controls her fate, she rarely, if ever, insists that the man of her choosing relocate to wherever she lives. Not only does she refrain from insisting on it; she never even mentions it, whereas the Bachelor spends approximately half of his conversations with his suitors discussing whether or not they would be willing to move for him. Express doubt and risk getting voted off the island.
In reviewing successful relationships (those lasting more than a few months) stemming from the past five or six seasons, I note the following:
1. Andy proposed to Tessa, and she moved to Hawaii where he was stationed.
2. Jason and Molly got engaged, and she moved to Seattle where he lived.
3. Jake and Vienna both moved to LA.
4. Brad unsuccessfully tried to convince Emily to move to his hometown of Austin, so they broke up.
1. Jillian chose Ed and moved to Chicago, where he lived.
2. Ali chose Roberto, and they both relocated to San Diego.
3. Ashley chose JP and moved to where he lived, New York City.
In some ways these "findings" are unsurprising. Men traditionally dictated where they and their partners lived; many still do. What's unique about this show, however, is that the arrangement affords one person excessive power over his or her relationships. The Bachelor or Bachelorette theoretically possesses the upper hand, but the Bachelorette never gets there.
That women come off looking so bad is particularly puzzling when one considers that the show's longstanding success depends on maintaining the loyalty of female viewers. Why do professional women like myself continue to watch the show? Your guess is as good as mine, although I'd like to think that we're holding out hope for a level playing field.
At least during the upcoming season of The Bachelorette, filming occurs on Emily Maynard's home turf. For the first time in series history, producers are digressing from LA-based production. Well done, Emily. Well done.
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