Race, Consumerism, and Gender in The Bachelorette

By Anika Grevstad

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Much of the press surrounding last spring’s Season 13 of The Bachelorette focused on having a black woman, Rachel Lindsay, as the star of the season, the first time in franchise history that a person of color had taken the title role. The season’s contestants were also more racially diverse than in seasons past. While putting Rachel in the spotlight for this season may allow the franchise to seem progressive (despite the fact that increased racial diversity was long, long overdue), doing so serves to hide racist undertones on which the show relies and to obscure the fact that the reality contest generally perpetuates a problematic, heterosexual, consumerist, and primarily white representation of fairytale romance.

Different manifestations of racism appear throughout the season, and while some contestants call out overt racism, many of those same contestants participate in inferential racism themselves. The producers dedicate a significant portion of airtime throughout the season to conflict between Lee, a racist contestant, and Kenny, a black contestant towards whom Lee directed much of his racism. Other contestants on the show call out Lee as racist, the producers portray Lee as a villain, and Rachel ultimately sends Lee away. However, the overt racism on display in Lee and Kenny’s disputes serves to hide the inferential racism that manifests itself in other contestants’ comments and that underlies the show’s very premise. White contestants who call Lee out on his racism in one episode say, in other episodes, statements such as, “I’m going black, and I’m never going back,” fetishizing and exotifying dating a black woman, and that Rachel is “a girl from the hood,” even though she comes from a suburb of Dallas. These statements “have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them,” a characteristic of inferential racism as described by Stuart Hall in “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media” (104); however, unlike the more obvious racist comments made by Lee, these subtler manifestations of racism are never called out or shown to be problematic.

More importantly, featuring Rachel and a diverse cast of contestants functions to conceal the fact that the image of romance and fairytale that the franchise sells to its audience is still exclusionary in a multitude of ways, particularly in its portrayal of women, consumerist qualities, and heterosexual focus. Similar to Gareth Palmer’s point in his article “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” The Bachelorette “is part of a growing number of television programs that are not simply recording or reflecting on society but becoming active elements, working practically and ideologically to change the world” (55-56). The Bachelorette influences ideology by painting the ideal, fairytale relationship as heterosexual and based in material consumption. The show, which features one woman choosing among many men – or vice versa, in The Bachelor – excludes any version of love that is not heterosexual and any gender identity outside of the male/female binary. Through elaborate dates, the show implies that the ideal romance is only accessible to those who can ride in hot air balloons, stay in five-star hotels around the world, and eat fancy meals. In this way, “capitalism is sold to audiences,” but, like in EMHE, “costs have no place in a fairytale” and are therefore left out (Palmer 54, 55).

The Bachelorette is also problematic in the way that it relies on ‘commodity feminism’ but in fact undermines many feminist ideals. Commodity feminism is “an attempt to incorporate the cultural power and energy of the feminist movement whilst simultaneously domesticating its critique of advertising and the media” (Gill 279). The Bachelorette puts a woman in the spotlight, giving her power to choose among many male suitors, presumably partially aiming to engage viewers disillusioned with the earlier male-centered counterpart, The Bachelor. However, the franchise presents a very specific image of feminine beauty, as the women on the show are generally very thin, wear heavy makeup and tight dresses, and would be considered conventionally beautiful in society’s predominant, narrow beauty standards. Furthermore, while The Bachelorette gives the woman decision-making power throughout the season, the show ultimately falls back on the societal tradition of men proposing to women in the last episode; this serves to take the power out of the woman’s hands at the last minute. This is especially apparent in the final episode of Rachel’s season, in which a contestant, Peter, says he won’t propose, instigating a long conversation that makes apparent how reliance on the convention of men proposing wrests all of the power out of Rachel’s hands at the last minute in a show founded on giving the female star the decision-making power.

The idea of exploiting feminism as a commodity could, perhaps, be extended also to diversity as a commodity in this season of The Bachelorette. After all, even if the cost of this capitalistic fairytale is never shown on screen, “there are many people who profit enormously from the show” (Palmer 55). It makes sense, then, that the producers of the show would hope to make it seem progressive to please audiences, in the hopes that audiences would then not question the problematic basis of the show itself.

PETITION: Diversify the Curriculum at Colorado College

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By Amairani Alamillo (‘16) & Han Sayles (‘15)

Dear President Tiefenthaler, Dean Wong & Faculty,

In recent years, Colorado College has made strides in becoming a more inclusive and diverse institution. There has been an increase in diverse course offerings; an increase in tenure-track lines for the Feminist and Gender Studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, and Southwest Studies programs; a restructuring of academic programs, such as the Bridge Scholars program; the establishment of The Butler Center; and, finally, a substantial increase in the percentage of students of color admitted to CC each year. The aforementioned accomplishments are all evidence of the current administration’s and faculty’s commitment to having an inclusive campus. We want to propel these efforts forward, as we believe there is still much work that needs to be done to transform CC into a truly diverse educational environment.

We, the students of Colorado College, believe that every student who graduates from CC should have a basic grasp of issues concerning responsible citizenship in a globalized world. In an increasingly hostile racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic national and global environment, we want the skills to peacefully confront the hurdles that we are facing today, which we will undoubtedly grapple with throughout our lives. That means our curriculum should facilitate a critical historical engagement with the pertinent issues affecting ourselves and our local, national, and international communities. This petition is a formal statement of our dedication to engaging with subjects of (but not limited to) class, race, gender, and sexuality everyday—subjects we want to see reflected in our classrooms and in syllabi across campus. We want to embrace Colorado College’s core values: “value all persons and seek to learn from their diverse experiences and perspectives,” “seek excellence, constantly assessing our policies and programs,” and, “honor the life of the mind as the central focus of our common endeavor.”

Many members of the staff and faculty at Colorado College have been advocating for this initiative, privately and publicly, for decades, and students have been by their side, but there has not yet been a collective effort on behalf of the students at the College to communicate clearly to faculty and administration exactly what we want from our education. Here and now is the time and place for Colorado College to become a national leader. The following are the points that we believe the faculty and administration at Colorado College need to enact in order for our education to be utilitarian, relevant, and ethical.

  1. The College needs a diverse curriculum; a commitment marginalized and/or outsider perspectives needs to be reflected in the syllabi of every single department or program on campus.
  2. The College needs to reassess the current all-college course requirements in place to ensure that students are taking courses that are rigorous for an introduction to issues of global and social inequality.
  3. Faculty development is the core of a diverse curriculum and pedagogy, which means the College needs to focus on committing to the development of the current faculty so that they are well-equipped to handle these issues in their classes, as relevant to specific disciplines.
  4. The forthcoming proposal to make Race, Ethnic Studies, and Migrations a major should be fully-funded and supported by Colorado College. As the proposal made on behalf of the Core Faculty of Race and Ethnic Studies points out: “RES continues to consciously bridge the spaces between theory and practice, the classroom and the communities outside it, the individual and the individual as citizen.” Besides being a well-established, productive field of academia, having a Race, Ethnic Studies, and Migration major would enable students to develop important practical professional skills in cross-cultural competency and a basic social understanding of the world we live in.”

In closing, as Stephen Quaye and Shuan Harper report about the effects of diversity on 15,600 undergraduate students after four years, all students, not just students of color, report that they are most satisfied with “faculty who employed methodologies that respected and were inclusive of cultural differences; constructed welcoming environments for sharing cultural perspectives; and required writing assignments that challenged students to think critically about diversity and equity issues.” We believe a diverse curriculum for the students of Colorado College is not only valuable but essential to our success as educated people in the 21st century. Thank you for your time and commitment to our continued success.

CC STUDENTS, please click here to access and sign the petition.