The Bachelorette was first conceived as an empowering answer to The Bachelor — a show where the women could finally call the shots. Its message stuck with viewers, and over 30 million people tuned in to see O.G. Bachelorette Trista Rehn choose Ryan Sutter out of 25 men on the first season's 2003 finale. Public opinion has changed a bit since then, and many people consider the show's treatment of women to be a bit retrograde. The ratings reflect this trend: Season 12 of the show only drew 8.21 million viewers, despite its star, Jojo, being one of the more popular Bachelorettes of recent memory.
There are many reasons why The Bachelorette has drawn ire from progressives, feminists, and younger viewers. Despite having its heart in the right place, the show still forces its lead women to undergo scrutiny and emotional abuse from the 25 men vying for their hand in marriage. Although many more women decry the show nowadays, it's still majorly addictive and quite popular.
The show hopes to regain relevance and shake off accusations of backwards thinking in Season 13, which premieres May 22 and introduced audiences to the first ever black lead on any show in the Bachelor franchise. Rachel Lindsay, a 31-year-old lawyer from Dallas, was the runner-up in season 22 of the show, and already has a devoted fanbase waiting to see her get hitched. Expectations are high that she'll attract curious new viewers and deliver the fan service necessary to keep them there.
Click through to see what obstacles the show will need to overcome in Season 13 and beyond in order to repair its image.
15 The Men Are Manipulative
Despite seemingly holding all the power, the leads of The Bachelorette are often played by the show’s male contestants — and don't make moves to stop them. Whereas Bachelors rarely put up with scheming or manipulative female contestants, Bachelorettes are expected to stick it out whenever an obviously terrible man is pursuing them. Even Season 12’s Jojo allowed Chad to overstay his welcome because she believed in his ability to change (that was surely in part to heighten the season’s drama, but still). They’re also edited to seem more fickle and emotional, whereas the Bachelors are often stoic or even apathetic. All of this goes to show that The Bachelorette, though pro-female on the surface, is reinforcing stereotypes that women are more emotional and can thus be easily manipulated.
14 Speaking Of Chad...
In addition to picking fights left and right and generally being a manipulative, lying man-demon, Season 12's Chad Johnson fired off a misogynistic, homophobic rant in which he accused his fellow former competitor Robby Hayes of being a closeted gay man. After being eliminated from the show, the possibly psychopathic meathead tweeted, “If I have to watch Robby Hayes pretend to like women for one more second on The Bachelorette, I’m gonna blow my head off. #TheBitchelorette.” In one fell swoop, Johnson managed to use a misogynistic term, ignite a gay witch hunt, and make light of suicide. And yet, he remained on the show long enough to land two stints on Bachelor in Paradise. The fact that people like Chad are celebrated rather than condemned is proof that the Bachelor producers are more concerned with villains and ratings than punishing antisocial behavior.
13 The Love Isn't Real
Although the original bachelorette, Trista Rehn, is still married to Ryan Sutter, with whom she has two children, there are many more “soulmate” couples from The Bachelorette (and The Bachelor) who broke up after confessing their undying love for each other. Out of the twelve final couples from The Bachelorette, only five are still together. Only two of those couples, including Trista and Ryan, are married. The discrepancy is further proof that the behind-the-scenes machinations of dating shows are much more powerful than the romantic connections themselves. After all, when your “true love” has been focusing on grabbing camera time and staying in competition, they haven’t really gotten to know you at all. The Bachelor franchise peddles love, but fails to celebrate it.
12 Race Relations Are A Joke
Although Season 13's black Bachelorette is a step in the right direction, the Bachelor franchise has yet to produce a lasting interracial relationship. Black contestants are discarded early on, but kept long enough to ward off accusations of racism (it’s still totally racist). Moreover, a dating competition producer recently explained to Refinery29 that casting directors for shows like The Bachelorette look for “upmarket contestants,” which is reality show code for “white affluent contestants.” By this logic, black contestants are generally viewed by Middle America as less affluent than their white counterparts. We can only hope that 2017’s black Bachelorette doesn’t shy away from confronting these issues. Thankfully, it’s literally impossible for her to be booted off the show before the final round.
11 It Ruins Lives
Thanks to the producers’ machinations, contestants on reality shows and competitions can be made to look like villains when they’re not. Sometimes producers manipulate contestants into committing malicious acts; other times, editors clip their words to alter their meanings. Once producers factor in dramatic music and reaction shots, they can even create emotional responses out of thin air. The problem is that The Bachelorette can ruin real people’s lives and reputations when it decides they’re the villains. Sure, they kind of asked for it by signing on to a national television show, but it doesn’t lessen the blow when they inevitably exit the show and face down little job prospects and even harassment from viewers. Except for Chad. He deserves all the hate he can get.
10 The Bachelorettes Still Have To Make Sacrifices For Their Men
Until recently, Bachelorettes didn’t fuss about whether their suitors would move to their hometowns. Although JoJo asked Season 12 winner Jordan to move to her hometown, past Bachelorettes have followed in the footsteps of their male suitors. This is just another example of how The Bachelorette isn’t all that empowering. Considering the show was created by the same exec who said The Bachelor would only work if audiences “like the guy and hate the girls,” it isn’t all that surprising that the show doesn’t care if the girls are happy. The trend of Bachelors asking their female suitors to move to their hometowns is so well known that SNL even spoofed it in its Bachelor parody Farm Hunk (or was it Beard Hunk?) They’re basically the same.
9 It Promotes Unrealistic Physical Expectations
Literally everyone on this show is hot. They’re so hot that it’s literally a joke when The Bachelorette inevitably complains about having 25 smoking hot guys pining after her 24/7 (count your blessings, gurl). The problem here is that we get so used to seeing a hot woman choose from hot men that we forget what normal people look like. As viewers, we start to think that the only way we can find love and attract a good man is by being smoking hot ourselves. We also inevitably compare our own boyfriends and husbands to these male models on our screens, which is never a good look. If ABC really wants to switch things up, they should produce a season of The Bachelorette with a full-bodied woman at the helm.
8 The Show Itself Is Manipulative
No one believes that reality shows are real, but it’s easy to get swept up in the fantasy. As contestants bicker, plot, and belittle, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s well documented, however, that reality show drama is mostly a façade. Behind every drink to the face, there’s a producer telling someone to throw it. Look no further than Lifetime’s hit drama Unreal (pictured above) for a mostly accurate account of the manipulations and subterfuge that go into making a reality competition pop. Although the show, created by a former Bachelor producer, is occasionally exaggerated, it conveys how far producers are willing to go to trick their gullible audiences. Essentially, we’re willing to condone the ongoing emotional abuse of reality competitors in the name of entertainment.
7 It Promotes Unrealistic Financial Expectations
The Bachelorette makes it easy to forget that its contestants are being financed by a wealthy, all-powerful network that will literally send them anywhere in the world for ratings (except for Antarctica, where liquid freezes too quickly to be thrown at people). As we watch the various male suitors take the Bachelorette on increasingly more elaborate and ridiculous dates, we grow accustomed to thinking that bigger is better in the world of dating. We start to expect grand gestures from the men in our lives, and settle for nothing less than a naked horseback ride along a Bermuda beach while simultaneously parasailing. We turn to our husbands and say, “How come you never take me hot air ballooning anymore?" And then they say: "We've literally never done that."
6 It Normalizes Cheating
The actual premise of The Bachelorette is that she’s dating 25 men at once. At ONCE. No matter how you spin it, she’s immediately cheating on 24 guys without even trying. That’s either #winning or #whoreing, depending on if you’re Chad Johnson. Of course, the male contestants all treat this as a friendly competition, even though the continual existence of their fragile male egos is inextricably tied to the Bachelorette’s decision to offer them a rose. In any case, the show definitely normalizes the worst aspects of cheating: lying, playing people off of each other, and having to date 25 people at once. We watch in awe as the Bachelorette toys with the affections of the obvious losers, only to dump them for rating bumps.
5 Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison is a perfectly fine host for The Bachelor, but why is he also the host of The Bachelorette? No matter how sensitive and understanding he is, he just can’t bond with the Bachelorettes like he does with the Bachelors. This inevitably leads to him adopting a condescending attitude whenever chatting with his leading ladies. It also leads to him saying dumb things. If there were a female host, then the Bachelorette would have an understanding partner in crime to help her gossip about the extremely attractive men chasing her. This would reinforce the importance of female friendships while creating an organized resistance against the scheming bromances of the men trying to “possess” the Bachelorette. The show wouldn’t pass a Bechdel test, but it would be just slightly more empowering.
4 It Doesn't Encourage Women To Pursue Careers
The lead women on The Bachelorette are all too excited to put their careers on hold in order to find a man. For the career women on this show, there’s always some variation on “She can navigate open heart surgery, but not her own heart.” Or whatever. When you factor in that some of them don’t even ask their male suitors to relocate, it becomes clear that many Bachelorettes prioritize marriage above financial independence and personal fulfillment. For a show that is meant to be empowering, this sort of sends the message that having a job doesn’t matter as long as you have a man. Of course, there’s the possibility that some of these women are appearing to give their careers an extra publicity boost, which isn’t unheard of in the world of reality TV.
3 The Men Are So Apathetic
When a woman is eliminated on The Bachelor, there are tears and awkward goodbyes. It’s an event. We briefly believe that she loved him, or at least didn’t want her 15 minutes to be up. Men, on the other hand, are historically trained to be stoic in the face of loss and heartbreak, which unfortunately includes those moments on The Bachelorette when they aren’t given a rose. In addition to being boring, this reinforces the idea that the love on the show is superficial and manufactured. It also kind of makes them look like tools. It also reinforces the idea that women are more emotional, and these men are merely there to joylessly “win” the heart of the Bachelorette before any vaguely European villains can get to her like romantic action stars.
2 There's Intense Pressure To Get Intimate
Bachelorette contestants know all too well that they have to land a kiss from their leading lady if they want to get anywhere in the competition. Rather than promote any organic connections, however, this just encourages 25 horndogs to relentlessly hit on the bachelorette. This puts her in an awkward situation. She’s rarely not attracted to the male contestants — again, they’re smoking hot — but she’s not always itching to make out with them. However, there’s always a producer in her ear telling her to do it anyway. In the world of the Bachelorette, it’s almost a given that the female lead will have to make out with a bunch of guys. It leads them on — which is great for storylines and ratings — and it keeps viewers entertained.
1 It Normalizes Getting Wavy
What’s better than going on 25 dates? Going on 25 dates when you’re hammered! The Bachelorette keeps the booze flowing freely, which encourages bad decisions (aka good ratings) and sets the scene for drunken makeout seshes. For those contestants who are less — uh — professional with their alcoholism, this can be bad news. You try getting a job when you’ve flashed your goods on national television. By encouraging bad behavior, The Bachelorette also normalizes extreme drunkenness for its viewers. When you combine this with the various other messages the show sends — that having a man is more important than having a career, that all women need to be impossibly attractive — it seems like the show is trying to create an army of jobless hot messes just waiting to get pregnant. Wait, no, that’s just the cast of The Bachelor.
Sources: refinery29.com, huffingtonpost.com, people.com, hollywoodreporter.com