The newest season of “The Bachelorette” aired on Monday, June 10, and it is nothing like past seasons. Except, it’s exactly the same.
“The Bachelor” franchise believes it has created some fundamental change through its addition of another Bachelorette this season, but it does not realize that its shows still have the same values. The shows highlight white, heterosexual men and women, emphasizing both toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. Christianity is the only religion depicted, and “The Bachelor” solely promotes skinny and muscular bodies — mid-size and plus-size do not exist in its world.
While attempting to prove that it supported racial diversity, the franchise faced one of its biggest scandals. After backlash for its failure to cast a Black man as the Bachelor, Matt James was announced to fill the role in 2021. He was given the most diverse cast that the franchise has ever seen with 65.8 % BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) women and 34.2% white women. The winner of Matt’s season was Rachael Kirkconnell, who was seen in leaked photos at an antebellum party at a plantation. Longtime host Chris Harrison furthered the scandal by defending Rachael’s actions, claiming that the party would not have seemed controversial when it took place in 2018. Fans of “The Bachelor” campaigned for Chris’ removal from the show, and various hosts have replaced him since.
However, the franchise still reflects a history devoid of racial diversity. The franchise had not had a BIPOC lead until Season 18 in 2014, when Juan Pablo Galavis was promoted as the first “non-Caucasian” bachelor. However, critics still labeled him as too white. Supposedly, “The Bachelorette” Season 12 was originally going to star Caila Quinn, who is of Filipino descent, but JoJo Fletcher was cast instead. While JoJo is half-Persian, the franchise overlooked her identity — and by ignoring JoJo’s identity, the show expressed no change in its uniform world.
In 2017, “The Bachelorette” finally cast a Black woman as the lead — Rachel Lindsay — but her season received significantly fewer viewers than previous seasons, much to the disappointment of the producers. The franchise failed to cast another BIPOC lead until 2020, when “The Bachelorette” Season 16 brought in Tayshia Adams, who is a Black-Latino biracial individual; however, she was only cast as a replacement when Clare Crawley left the season early.
After the Black Lives Matter protests shook the world in 2020, fans pushed for diversity, and Matt James was cast. After his season, “The Bachelor” announced that it would film two seasons of “The Bachelorette” in 2021, one of which would star Michelle Young, a Black woman and a fan-favorite of Matt’s season.
Of the last six seasons of “The Bachelorette” prior to the season currently airing, only Michelle’s season had a majority of contestants who identified as BIPOC. Matt and Clayton Echard’s seasons of “The Bachelor” were the only seasons out of the most recent five to have more BIPOC contestants than white.
Outside of its non-racially diverse tendencies, the franchise emphasizes heteronormative behavior. The shows are clean-cut; on “The Bachelor,” women throw themselves at a single man, and on “The Bachelorette,” men lust after a single woman (or women, in Season 19). Is there even room for queer contestants on such shows? “The Bachelorette Australia” claimed there was. In Season 7, Brooke Blurton was cast as the first bisexual Bachelorette, and the season featured both men and women contestants vying for her heart.
The franchise thrives off drama — arguably, the drama is more important than the romance. So, why is “The Bachelor” ignoring the drama that a queer Bachelor or Bachelorette could offer? Contestants would end up falling for each other rather than the Bachelor or Bachelorette, whom they would spend less time with. Each season of the two shows is marketed to potential viewers as “the most dramatic yet,” and queering the shows could easily make them much more notable.
A few former contestants already identify as LGBTQ+. Jaimi King from Nick Viall’s season of “The Bachelor” was open about her bisexuality from the start. Demi Burnett from Colton Underwood’s season came out as bisexual and brought her girlfriend, Kristian Haggerty, to “Bachelor in Paradise.” Former Bachelor Colton came out as gay publicly two years after his stint on “The Bachelor.” Queer contestants have been in the franchise since at least 2017; “The Bachelor” could even adapt a new spin-off to expand its heteronormative franchise.
“The Bachelor” also provides no space for transgender and nonbinary individuals. The shows adhere to strict gender roles, offering no room for flexibility. Toxic masculinity and toxic femininity shine prominently on the shows, specifically in “The Bachelorette.” The Bachelorette chooses the man she wants to marry, but the man acts out the proposal in a heteronormative, masculine manner. Even with a woman in charge, the men still maintain control. The men who meet the Bachelorette’s family ask the father or father figure for permission to marry his daughter, and the Bachelor during hometowns asks each of the father figures of his hometown contestants for consent. In these strict gendered settings, the woman is objectified, never having any power — not even to decide if she wants to marry someone. The ordeal is a transaction ordered by male supremacy and outdated, misogynistic traditions.
On “The Bachelor,” the women play into toxic femininity in the form of “cattiness” and a willingness to pit themselves against one another for the affection of a man. They often believe marriage to be the end all be all; they only need a husband and children to fulfill their lives.
“The Bachelorette” highlights toxic masculinity by staging multiple group dates based on competition and strength, such as the Viking challenges in Season 18, the dodgeball game and wrestling matches from Season 16, and the Highland Games from Season 15. The show also features challenges that encourage the men to show off their bodies because, for the Bachelorettes, the more muscular the men are, the more masculine they are.
On the topic of body types, “The Bachelor” franchise has shown blatant fatphobia throughout the 26 seasons of “The Bachelor” and 19 seasons of “The Bachelorette.” Midsize and plus-size contestants rarely appear in the franchise. Only two contestants from the franchise identify as plus-sized — Bo Stanley from Chris Soules’ season of “The Bachelor” and Bryan Witzmann from Michelle’s season — and both were sent home on the first night.
In 2014, Chris Harrison said that the franchise does not cast “chubby” contestants because “that’s not attractive, and television is a very visual medium.” However, eight years have passed since that interview, and Chris is no longer a part of “The Bachelor” franchise.
This year, more and more fans are calling for diversity in the bodies of the contestants. The franchise established a repetitive narrative over the years that only thin women with model-like features deserve to find love.
And are Christians the only ones allowed to find love? “The Bachelor” heavily promotes Christian ideals throughout its seasons, with many Bachelors and Bachelorettes expressing intense Christian beliefs, such as Clayton, Matt and Tayshia to name a few. Clayton escaped to a church after a devastating breakup. Matt began his first night on the show by praying with his contestants. Tayshia sent home a final four contestant for his agnostic beliefs. The franchise has consistently chosen Bachelors and Bachelorettes with strong Christian affiliation, which excludes much of the religiously diverse country.
The solutions to these deficiencies are clear. “The Bachelor” franchise needs to accept more diverse contestants, Bachelors and Bachelorettes in the areas of race, sexuality, gender identity, body size and religion and allow them to actually foster relationships with the Bachelor or Bachelorette. It must adapt the shows to allow for queer seasons or create a new series for LGBTQ+ individuals. It has to expand beyond gender roles and toxic masculinity and femininity, so that the Bachelorette proposes, the men stop asking the fathers for permission to marry their daughters, and the men and women contestants relax on following toxic gender stereotypes. “The Bachelor” can adapt in an effective and meaningful way, but until it changes, the franchise will reflect stereotypes and judgments that are harmful to multiple populations — and to the franchise itself.