How to Win a Husband: The Singular Path to Female Fulfillment on The Bachelor

Rose Ceremony

Television programming has seen a tremendous increase in availability and popularity in the last century and has, in a sense, taken over the role of educating women about femininity and matrimonial aspirations. Specifically, reality romance competition shows like The Bachelor further perpetuate conservative definitions of womanhood and offer marriage as the sole path to happiness.

The premise of The Bachelor is set up around the assumption that all women’s ultimate goal is to find and secure a husband. Twenty-five female contestants abandon their lives for six weeks in exchange for the chance to marry a total stranger. This drastic upheaval of their lives is understood as a necessary and commendable sacrifice because a life without heterosexual love and traditional monogamy is assumed to be incomplete. Beautiful, successful, and seemingly normal women desperately compete for the attention and affection of a single man and agree to date him all at once. Season after season, producers are overwhelmed by the hordes of eager would-be contestants who jump at this opportunity. The desire to live out a fairytale romantic narrative and to achieve marital bliss overrides a contestant’s own routines, lives, and selves. Commitment to finding “Mr. Right” is so strong that they are willing to share him with 24 other women until he eventually makes his decision.

Cast of The Bachelor
The Cast of Season 18 competes for Juan Pablo’s affection

Because of this competitive aspect, female contestants are encouraged to mold themselves into what The Bachelor supposedly wants. They define themselves through their desire for him and demonstrate a willingness to compromise their needs in order to fit into his. They want to win, and are willing to surrender their personality and individuality for marriage. They find themselves through service to a man and through pursuit of the sacrament of marriage.

On a more specific level, women’s careers are belittled or ignored by the shows editors and producers, highlighting that these women’s primary objective and purpose is marriage and motherhood. Trista Rhen, one of the two finalists of The Bachelor’s inaugural season, was described in her caption as a “Miami Heat Dancer.” The show failed to mention that she was also a pediatric physical therapist. Apparently the producers decided that a less threatening and less intellectual job would make her more desirable. Likewise, a different contestant on the same 2002 season was described exclusively as a “Hooters Waitress” when she actually works primarily as an insurance agent, waitressing on weekends. More recently, on the 18th season of The Bachelor, women were given such frivolous job titles as “Free Spirit” and “Dog Lover.” This trend towards minimizing the professional accomplishments of contestants further emphasizes dating, marriage, and motherhood as the primary life path of modern women. If the show were to present its contestants as self-actualized, self-confident, and professionally accomplished women, with complex and nuanced identities, the show’s central message would be weakened.

It is important to present the women as incomplete until their attachment to The Bachelor. Furthermore, it is important to describe them as relatively unremarkable and generic because that leaves room for them to shape themselves into whatever that season’s Bachelor wants them to be. The girls find their personal identity through fairytale romance to a real-life Prince Charming; a narrative that wouldn’t be nearly as effective if contestants were whole to begin with. Each contestant derives her self-worth through his approval and affection, investing completely in the artificial structure of rose ceremonies, group dates, “Fantasy Suites”, and eliminations.

We see this message of heterosexual romantic relationships as the singular path to fulfillment most clearly in the confessional-style interviews that follow every elimination ceremony. Time after time, the rejected women lament their apparent failings and blame themselves for not being deemed “the one.” One contestant on season one, Rhonda Rittenhouse even required emergency medical attention following her elimination when she suffered an anxiety attack. She was unable to handle the rejection after investing so profoundly in promise of marital bliss. The show uses these contestant interviews very deliberately to articulate why each “loser” is somehow unworthy of love. The show frames women like Rhonda as inadequate because of their solo status, perpetuating the idea that a woman without a man is incomplete.

Trista gets married
Trista and Ryan Sutter marry in a televised ceremony in 2003

This is further depicted in the various reunion shows and Women Tell All specials where achieving a relationship is seen as the ultimate revenge. It seems that the only way these rejected contestants can redeem themselves and reassert their worth is to engage in a monogamous relationship with someone else, particularly if they are chosen to do this publicly on the shows spin off series, The Bachelorette. The first season of The Bachelorette in 2003 featured Trista Rehn who came back from the rejection she faced with Bachelor Alex and went on to achieve redemption through her engagement to Ryan Sutter. Following the 18th season of The Bachelor, lovable single mother Renee Oteri announced to the world that since being eliminated by Juan Pablo, she had met someone new and was well on her way to the alter. Renee was redeemed in the eyes of the public not through her own merit or accomplishment but rather by attaching herself to a new man. Renee and Trista are not isolated examples. Anyone who has glanced at a People magazine cover can tell you how one former contestant or another has finally achieved her “Happily Ever After.”

Through this never-ending race to the alter, The Bachelor establishes marriage as the ultimate accomplishment, presenting a very narrow range of options for contemporary women’s pursuit of happiness: marry The Bachelor, or marry someone else. These are the only legitimate options presented to Trista, Renee, and other contestants on the show. The extent of this influence is not, however, limited to those featured on or involved with the show. In fact, these messages are being internalized by audiences everywhere, casting a much wider net. Viewers are shown that single women are losers and that success wears a white dress and a diamond ring.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Studying Critical Media Theory and Art History in Southern California. I like throwing elaborately themed dinner parties and following celebrity meltdowns on Twitter.

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  1. Ha Gatewood

    Fortunately, no family values or marriage sanctity was harmed in the making of this series.

  2. Dotty Beavers

    Reality TV brought the end to main stream creative television. Watching a bunch of talentless people pretend that they can act and releshing in some perverse form of new found fame is a poor commentary on our expectations of entertainment today. It’s a cop out on the part of producers. Go back to finding real talent in professional entertainers and create programmes with imagination, artistry and something worth watching. The past may be viewed through rose coloured glasses but growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, the quantity of tv may have been less but the quality was so much better. People had to have talent to appear on television.

  3. I think the strangest thign about it is the fact that people are willing to go on it and forever be known as ‘the person that went on The Bachelor’. Those Google results and Youtube videos will never die.

  4. It is not reality; it is reality TV. It is crappy TV.

  5. Vivien Selby

    I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the show’s sub-context. They all appear to be nuts – of mixed variety. Just think of the producers and telly executives who researched and ‘sold’ the idea to some other fruit and nut cake.

  6. The fact is that the show is still on TV because there is a public who favors it. It is great that you analyzed the show, but it is probably worth more to analyze why Americans are still watching it. We as a population empower the show by giving it the ratings.

  7. Liz Kellam

    It is shows like this that are reinforcing the ideal of find your prince charming and live “happily ever after”. There is a reason why you don’t see a lot of reality show about “normal” people. Our lives are complicated enough without all this rubbish.

  8. Jamie Tracy

    I cannot believe these shows are still popular. I have never seen the appeal.

  9. I’ve never understood the frustration among the women in regard to the main man being a “player”. I’m fairly certain the show’s main focus is on dating several women at a time, where is this surprise coming from?
    I feel as if there are two audiences for this show: those that watch seriously and those that watch ironically to laugh at the ridiculousness. And the latter seems to be growing with each new season…

  10. From the point of view of someone has never seen this show before, it gives a comprehensive description of the show. But, as someone claimed up there, this is reality show. We all think it’s real. The truth is, everything is not real when there’s a camera filming. In a word, even a reality show is a TV show per se.

  11. Very insightful article. I have only seen one episode of The Bachelor and I remember that each of the women were expected to undergo hypnotism. Once hypnotized of course, they did ridiculous, embarrassing, and demeaning things. One woman refused to be hypnotized because she was uncomfortable with it and she was basically shamed for being disobedient. I was amazed at this blatant demonstration of patriarchal dominance. It was clearly implied that women who are silly, suggestible, and vulnerable are attractive and strong-willed women are not. I believe that The Bachelor, like most reality TV these days, is specifically designed to put women in their place.

  12. The whole show is car crash Tv, from the gag enducingly smarmy host to the ridiculously scripted proclamations of love from all and sundry.

  13. There are no winners in competitive dating.

  14. Romantic love is an illusion and there is so much more to life,an I don’t mean a god job!

  15. Whenever I happen to catch such shows I stare at the screen dumbfounded, then shake my head and retreat back over the line of sanity/reality to do some casual ironing.

  16. I’ve experienced the show via my friends. Often times, they gather around to watch the Bachelor because they know how awful it is and it serves as an excuse to hang out with each other. I think this kind of crappy TV needs to right approach, one knowing that what’s happening isn’t real; unfortunately, many viewers see this as reality.

  17. Monalisa08033

    How sad is it that as far as we’ve come since Rosie the Riveter, we are still told that the most important thing a woman can do is get her M.R.S. degree? I despise shows like this and likewise the bachelor. It goes both ways.Little girls and women need to be reminded that the acquirement of true happiness can, in fact, happen without having a wedding ring on your finger and making sure dinner is on the table by five every evening. I’m am married, yes, but being married is not the end all, be all in a person’s life (man or woman). Marriage is an immensely wonderful thing. To share your life with someone in the most intimate of ways is indisputable. But to communicate that marriage is a woman’s (or man’s) yellow brick road to happiness and downplay her/his own personal and professional accomplishments to millions is disgusting. All hail Wonder Woman.

  18. I think it’s sad that so many young woman today view this as a life goal aim for. What happened to finding love the old fashion way?

  19. Mr Oakes

    The TV about the cretins for the cretins.

  20. The Bachelor situation is looking more and more like a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

  21. I find it very interesting how the perceptions of these women are portrayed on the show. Especially with the examples that you gave regarding the women’s careers. An unrealistic view of fairy tale relationships is being exemplified through these types of mainstream television shows. I definitely think this skews peoples, especially women’s view of a “perfect” relationship.

  22. I have watched [minutes] of the show and found it to be simply awful. The selection process as the article points out is phony. The description reminded me of the process attorneys and judges use to select jurors as they look for human nature’s lowest common denominator.
    The article describes the contestants as presumably normal women. I beg to differ. Any women who would expose herself to the humiliation of competing for a “man” on a grand stage and go further to manipulate herself in order to confirm to what she imagines the bachelor is looking for needs her head examined – especially after the presumed wedding, which is based on brute competition, may well end up as an all bets are off situation after the reality sets in.

  23. Julianna

    This was really cool! What a good reading of this awful awful show!

  24. Mo Sadek

    This show is horrible. As you stated, the women in the show always are the ones giving something up. Last season, Andi had given up her position as an Assistant District Attorney for “love”. What? Despite the hours of work and effort to get to such a prestigious position she chose to give that all up for “love”.

    The show is really demeaning in some cases and it becomes hard to relate with the Bachelor/Bachleortette when these situations are unrealistic.

  25. One definitely has to wonder how much of these shows are scripted with how much women are torn down, embarrassed, or shamed on the show. Women who don’t participate in certain dates due to safety reasons or fear or whatever else are always looked down upon and the man in question is always quick to express his “disappointment.” The concept of “love” is completely warped and there is pressure to confess one’s undying “love” within two months of the people knowing one another. Not to mention the sexual expectations set upon men and women with the Fantasy Suites, and the sexual exploitation audiences see on the show itself as well as the Men/Women Tell All specials (specifically thinking about Andi’s season where one of the men told the entire audience that they had sex).

  26. Siothrún

    I think that this is a spot on dissection of The Bachelor. I always believed that loving someone should not be one’s primary focus in life. I am married, but I do not define my life as “worthy” just because I have a husband, nor did I marry my husband for such a ridiculous label. I married because we decided to face life with all of its blessings and trials together as a team. I believe that I define my own works and my goals that I want to reach in life, and I just happened to find someone who supports and values those goals, as I support and value his goals.

    I feel that The Bachelor, as you suggest, is shallow, and I feel that a reason why it is popular still is that it makes sure to focus on the myth of “Happily Ever After.” Love is reduced to nothing more than a feeling, when love is so much more than an emotion, which you also state eloquently. Personally, I do not watch the show, and I feel that you defined every reason why I do not partake of this craze.

  27. Megan McKay

    Things I don’t understand about this show:
    1) Why would you willingly share a man you’re interested in with 24 other women? I hate sharing.
    2) I would not want the entire world to be privy to the goings on between me and the person I’m supposed to love/be falling in love with/at the very least be interested in. That’s just between us.
    3) There is very little that I actually know about relationships, but one of the only things that reliably works in my experience is being genuine. This show is the very definition of faking it.

  28. I am not in favor of the concept of “winning” a husband.

  29. Sarah Faulkner

    This article is well-written and articulate. I think the author is spot on; as a former avid watcher of the Bachelorette, I quickly noticed that the male contestants captions were always “doctor” or “firefighter”, etc. They were never reduced to something as vague or irrelevant as “dog lover”. There are obvious double standards that are clearly perpetuated on these types of shows.

  30. Ryan

    I always found this show, along with The Bachelorette, to be really monotonous and is a waste of space as a show. It gives false stereotypes to women and men who are seeking a companion on a “reality show” which really acts as a game show. Who ever plays the game right and seems to be perfect for the Bachelor or Bachelorette, even if they aren’t, is not appealing. I could go on, but I don’t have the time and many other shows would be brought in…

  31. By placing women in such a romanticized situation, they neglect their everyday commitments and normal schedules. How can these women supposedly find a husband when they live in such a fantasy world without jobs or any other commitments? The show would be okay at finding potential suitors, but it’s naive to leave the show engaged and fully committed.

  32. I never pay much attention to shows like these because you never really know what they actually script or pay the participants to do. Just because of this I can’t add anything to how the contestants act and truly “feel” about marriage, rejection or anything else. But I can tell you that either way I’m not a fan of these shows or any like them for the things I’ve listed here among others.

  33. The same issue with the Bachelor(ette) is similar to those in shows like “The Biggest Loser.” The contestants are not only held as stereotypes as well as placed in entirely unfeasible situations, they are detached from their own lives and their own schedules. In the same way many Biggest Loser contestants find themselves regressing in their weight loss, many of these Bachelor contestants find themselves in hot water with their own partner since they met in an unnatural environment and grew their relationship unnaturally. Contrived relationships tend not to flourish after the bright lines leave.

  34. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed in this article. Shows such as The Bachelor are incredibly grotesque representations of what passes for dating these days.

    That being said, is anyone surprised?

    We are living in a capitalist society that is making the relationship between love and marriage inconsequential in proportion to the relationship of money to the ability to choose how to live one’s life. Thought i do not envy any contestant on any dating show I do think that they represent a privileged class of persons who will be able to escape into someone else’s life for comfort and security if need be. For the rest of us, as someone already stated, it’s elbow grease and honesty. The old fashioned way.

  35. The scathing remarks against reality TV, although justly applied toward the unreal nature of this form of programming, often do not take into account the method of this form’s creation. How is it that reality TV has become such a phenomena? What are the conditions from which it emerged?

    It might be a stretch to critically incite certain sociological concepts toward this end, then again it might not. One concept that I find interesting is the ever blurring relationship between the virtual and the actual. If we look at the way in which societies place a standard value to different cultural aspect, like monetary value for instance, we might develop a pattern.

    Money, for the most part, has become virtual. It is nothing more than a set of ones and zeros inside a virtual network that tracks its progression and exchanges. This is how we value things today. And it might be no surprise that mass culture reflects this in the form of reality TV, which I think we can all agree, is not real at all, but a form of blending between the virtual and the actual.

  36. I do think reality TV has become an uncontrollable monster with people readily digesting crap that is scripted and exaggerated, but we have only done it to ourselves. My friend and I watched the latest Bachelorette (ironically, of course) and could not help but get caught up in the staged “romance.” If you are really going to watch this, watch it for the magic the producers perform by keeping you hooked. I would have liked to have seen more of The Bachelorette in this article. Though you think it gives a balance to the sexes, it does the opposite. I think the only time I heard what occupation Andi Dorfman had was in external articles. The men, however, were characterized almost solely by their earning potential and ability to support Andi. I don’t know the nitty gritty details, but Andi even quit her job after the show wrapped up. Not only was income an issue, but Andi also kept saying she liked “real men.” What the hell is a “real” man? This show is extremely dangerous for our already heteronormative (and very white, might I add) society, but will continue to damage the way people think if we allow it to.

  37. Alexa Muniz

    I most definitely agree that the show sends a message that women can only be successful through their relationship with a man. I just wonder if this is a message that most viewers by into, or if most people understand the construction of the show and are able to critically engage with it while also being “mindless viewers” and taking the show for entertainment sake.

  38. rileyzipper

    Great piece. I think the “fairytale” aspect is pretty interesting. Pretty much all classic fairytales follow a plot that express that the female character can only be happy if she gets married to the dashing, charming, male prince. The female is useless without her man and is usually not an interesting character at all. So then it can even be said that The Bachelor itself is a sort of bad fairytale that ingrains, nay, brainwashes young girls into thinking that happiness is only achievable with a man.

  39. Ben Hufbauer

    Good research and analysis. Have never watched the show, but these sentences really opened my eyes: “The show failed to mention that she was also a pediatric physical therapist. Apparently the producers decided that a less threatening and less intellectual job would make her more desirable.” Wow. But I have hope that some people who watch the show are almost as skeptical and analytical as the writer of the article.

  40. Morgan R. Muller

    This is a fantastic piece and I completely agree. I guess I watching the Bachelor is the guilty pleasure i’m giving up this year!

  41. Nof

    The show is completely ridiculous. This a well written article and is a really important one for people to read and realize what is actually happening when we watch this show (and shows like it). It would have been interesting to explore what happens after the show, like how many of the marriages actually last.

  42. MRichens

    This is a great piece about an awful show.
    *In paragraphs seven and eight, the word “alter” should be “altar”.

  43. I completely agree that this show sends the message that women need a man in their lives in order to be truly happy. This was an incredibly well- written article that made me deeply analyze the show. I have never seen The Bachelor, but I watched The Bachelorette last season for the first time. While I have to admit, it was entertaining, I also found it disappointing because it gives off an image that women are distressed without a husband and lack satisfaction when they don’t have a man by their side. I observed this when Britt lost the vote to becoming the Bachelorette. She was absolutely devastated because she was under the impression that all the guys admired her, and that she could really see her husband in that room. Even Kaitlyn said she would be completely shattered if she got voted to go home because she knows, for a fact, that her husband was there. The whole show, in general, is just very unrealistic to me because I don’t believe that women need men in their lives to be successful, and it is crucial that we get away from this idea. I say this because it makes females look incredibly weak since they rely on men to make them happy and support them. The article concludes with a very strong and accurate thought, “Viewers are shown that single women are losers and that success wears a white dress and diamond ring”. I couldn’t agree more with this because, at the end of the Bachelorette, Kaitlyn was ecstatic that she was engaged to Shawn. She was basically announcing to the public how her life is now complete because she found her husband, the one she wants to “spend the rest of her life with”.

  44. Some really interesting points here. What do you make of the fact that ABC has cast its first LGBTQ cast member? (Jamie on Nick’s season)

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