Monday, March 30, 2015

Core Response #5: What's more (post)feminist than The Bachelor?

Core Response #5: What's more (post)feminist than The Bachelor?
~Bobby Sevenich

Before reading McRobbie, Banet-Weiser, and Butler's articles exploring the ambiguities, complications, and debates surrounding postfeminism, I assumed the term referred to an imagined state in which feminist ideals were deemed antiquated or non-applicable. In this case, I equated the prefix "post" with the notion that the significance of the base word is no longer reflective of current ideologies. That is not to say that "feminism" was misguided or wrong, but rather that our society's preoccupations have shifted or transcended beyond what the term "feminism" encompasses—not that I believe this is true. Banet-Weiser deftly articulates the problematic nature of postfeminism and corroborates the pitfalls of my reductive understanding: "The danger, of course, in labeling something as "post" is that this prefix implies that whatever it modifies is somehow over" (Banet-Weiser, 214). Jess Butler nicely examines the current culture through the lens of the postfeminist ideology. She extends upon Banet-Weiser's examination and asserts that postfeminism "is not (just) a resentful retaliation of against earlier generations of feminist, or is it (just) an empty celebration an empty celebration of feminine consumption" (Butler, 44) and observes that postfeminist—while linear, backlash, and sex-positive (43)—also privileges white middle-class heterosexual individuals and relationships and reproduces inequalities of race gender, and sexuality.

Reality TV is a place in which societal ideals—good or bad—are put on display and even hyperbolized, so it seems appropriate that Reality TV is able to help us clearly see “postfeminist” characteristics. Butler offers a list of six postfeminist qualifiers that can be applied to readings of media texts/narratives. Even though The Bachelor has been exhausted as a case study, I would like to propose that the show—which is shockingly excluded from Butler's compilation of postfeminist texts—is a (or "the") superlative microcosm to observe Butler's postfeminism tenets at work.

The Bachelor, in a very simplistic summary, celebrates sexuality and the restoration of heteronormative rhetoric, behaviors, and interactions. Butler first points out that postfeminism believes that gender equality has been achieved and activism is no longer necessary.  As evidences, the female contestants on the show almost unanimously uphold this ideal and claim that they have achieved what they personally and professionally desire through their own acts of agency. For example, a woman may attests that she is looking for love and has decided that—up until starting the show—has not found it for herself. Additionally, under the guise of authentic romance, the show confirms the physical and sexual differences between the contestants and the bachelor for whom they are all vying. Visually and narratively, The Bachelor gratuitously showcases these differences. Heteronormative relations and values are retained throughout the narrative of the show. It also posits that if a woman/girl want to succeed and effectively win over the bachelor, she must enact her own beauty regimen, take responsibility for her own behavior, and manifest what she wants in the future—in other words, she must decide if she is competing for the "right reasons." Each contestant must strategize and adopt a "self-promotion" mentality. In the process, she must capitalize on her distinctiveness. Finally, The Bachelor reinforces the prioritization of consumerism; each female contestant is gleefully commodified and presented to the bachelor and the spectator's viewing consumption through various means (daily challenges, group dates, one-on-ones, fantasy suite endeavors.

Later in her piece, Butler identifies postfeminism as a classification that does not benefit the non-heterosexual/middle-to-upper-class/white (Butler, 47). The Bachelor assumes whiteness as the epitome of the American population and TV viewership. We can see this exemplified in in each season; not one Bachelor (or Bachelorette) has been a person of color or from any socioeconomic background below middle class (to my knowledge), nor have any of the finalists or winner represented anything other than whiteness, though some may argue otherwise. What's more, the show has not entertained the idea of having a non-heterosexual conceit nor reworking some of the heterosexual criterions. Butler explained that postfeminism does not however, completely exclude persons of color, so long as they are prepared to conform to the general characteristics of postfeminism. Typically, every season has at least one contestant of color—who is inevitably required to stand in for all people of marginalized identities but must still uphold the values of the show, such as consumerism and femininity. This contestant stays in the completion just long enough to create an impression on the bachelor(ette)'s (and our) consciousness. Once they prove “visible,” they are conveniently eliminated to make room for a feasible winner. When they are jettisoned, there is usually an unspoken parallel narratives implying that their "non-whiteness" is the only reason it didn't work out, even though they attempted to assimilate as best as possible.

I worry, however, that the next season of The Bachelorette will depart from these notions of postfeminism, considering the male contestants first vote on which woman they want to fill the position of the bachelorette. This reverts the power the bachelorette is customarily supposed to have and gives it back to the male(s). Ultimately, this undermines the women's authority and shifts the show back to sexual objectification—if it ever surpassed “objectification” in the first place. 


  1. Robert,
    Complely agree with much of your reading of The Bachelor, especially the horror that will occur in the next Bachelorette where the two contestant women will shift the show to objectification (withdrawing the female "power" to be the bachelorette in the first place). The show will in this sense, never put the power in the hands of the women, because the opener starts with a man's choice. Also Catherine from season 17 was Filipino- American, and she did win that season. Though I do agree with the exclusion of diversity on the show on the whole. Even look at that picture you posted from this season and what do you see...

    I also wanted to push your point a little re: "she must capitalize on her distinctiveness" in the early episodes of the show. I agree with that notion, but noticed (especially with this season) that has the girls get weaned out... their own distinctions come into question as the two finalists from this season had to contemplate dropping their lives to move to Iowa with Chris. Where was the modernity of long distance? Why did the girls have to give up their careers just to be married to him? That was obviously never discussed in the show as a possibility, just a point of drama and a potential eliminating factor.

  2. Hey Lauren,
    Great points! I forgot about Catherine. I guess she did win… but isn’t that picture blinding?! There are photos like that from many seasons, and they all look the same. So white. I do think that how the show chooses to highlight each of the contestant’s careers is very problematic. In one sense, the fact that their professions are part of their identity suggests that the show wants to celebrate the “working woman”—definition ranging from psychologists to former NFL cheerleaders. She is lauded for her ability to navigate through femininity and the workplace. Yay. But you’re right, this season, especially, positioned the women in such a way that they were expected to sacrifice an element of themselves (like their career and residence) if they wanted to prosper in the competition. There was never a conversation of compromise, and in the end, the winner was expected to be absorbed back into the patriarchal structure. If we consider Butler’s postfeminist classifications, does this negate the notion that postfeminism “emphasizes… choice…as the primary route to women’s independence and freedom” (44), or is it possible to suggest that the female contestants still have some agency in choosing to proceed with the competition and/or accept a proposal. (I think not.)