America has gone wedding mad.
Not only do people seem to be obsessed with the idea of getting married, but our popular culture also reflects this form of dementia. Multiple TV networks currently broadcast wedding-themed shows. TLC started the trend with A Wedding Story, followed by ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. The Style Network has Married Away, Who's Wedding is it Anyway and The Proposal. And the WE channel has the infamous Bridezillas. When we think of misogynistic images of women, rock and rap music videos, crime shows and pornography in all forms come to mind. But the ways in which some of these shows -- namely Bridezillas and The Bachelor -- represent women, should be labeled in the same way.
I suppose because of the soft lighting, handsome gentleman, young beauties and tepid soundtrack, The Bachelor, which is in its 11th season, is regarded as a "safe" show. Capitalizing on the paternalistic idea that it is men who choose their wives, The Bachelor shows this "eligible man" sift through women in search of love.
He is supposedly a great catch because he is rich, handsome (not to me), kind and a great guy, which is supported by the contestants who constantly espouse his numerous qualities throughout the show. They passively sit by hoping to be chosen by this "great guy," while actively plotting against the other female contestants in an effort to be "the one." Although many of these women are accomplished in their professions, they turn into these wimpy, weak, wacky women who will do anything to be with the bachelor. They cry hysterically, beg mercilessly, run around half-clothed (or all-out naked), and withstand the humiliation of having him go off and frolic with other women in hot tubs and other secluded spaces.
This is clearly a male fantasy that has nothing to do with love, marriage or commitment. It has to do with a man choosing from a pool of willing women who ignore his lack of integrity and blatant disrespect in hopes of landing "the one" -- which in "bachelorspeak" means a rich, white man. But in "nsengaspeak" means pimp. In fact, they should call this show, A Pimp and His Hos, which is more reflective of the true premise of the show: a guy whose only asset is his money, sifting through beautiful gold diggers who can't seem to find any other way to meet a man, other than on a reality show.
Like the character of Lulu in the film The Mack, they will do anything to please this man, because his happiness is paramount. But instead of giving over their money to him, they give over their self-respect, confidence and self-esteem. Like the character of Goldie in The Mack, the bachelor can choose from this diverse group of women, who are indebted to him in multiple ways, to have his immediate and future needs met. The bachelor puts them through mental and physical tests to determine who will be his "one" -- or in "pimpspeak", his "bottom bitch." This show re-inscribes dominant ideologies about male and female roles in society and behaviors on to a televisual canvas that pretends to tackle the challenge of finding a suitable spouse in a nontraditional way.
These shows present women as stereotypically manipulative, duplicitous, and motivated primarily by money. Yes, women like this are out there, but what is the likelihood of finding happiness with someone like that in real life or on reality television? The very presence of these "characters" undermines the idea of finding an "ideal" mate, which should not be someone who is motivated by money. It further promotes the idea that men don't know what they are looking for and someone has to guide them to a suitable mate (seen in the form of a manservant, host or some woman willing to manipulate him and, simultaneously, her way into his life.) This lets the bachelor off the hook, when the relationship does not work out ... as is the case with every season of The Bachelor for the last 10 seasons.
The Bachelor speaks to how little our culture values marriage. There are more than 2 million marriages in the United States each year, yet we have a startling divorce rate: 50 percent overall and the numbers can be higher depending on race and ethnicity.
This show not only presents men and women in a stereotypical and problematic way, but also minimizes the complexity of marriage and the hard work that it requires. Further, it perverts and distorts the process of falling in love, which does not have to involve games, trickery and manipulation. What's more troubling is the idea that many women watch this show religiously. Many are in love with the idea of finding love. In addition to being socialized to accept passive roles in our love lives for the benefit of others (usually men and children), we embrace these tired narratives where ironically, there is no prince or happily ever after at the end of the story. Drama and divorce become a reality when there is too much focus on the superficial -- as evidenced by this proliferation of wedding shows -- and not enough attention paid to the partner/spouse and the marriage.