I have a secret. And I’m not particularly proud of it.
I love The Bachelor. Not like I occasionally tune in when there’s nothing else to watch. No. I watch it religiously and even read the infamous spoiler blog for the inside scoop. It’s a total train wreck and impossible for me to look away.
But I’m not alone.
After 13 years, The Bachelor is still consistently one of the top-rated shows on broadcast television, particularly with women. Showing no signs of winding down, it keeps building in popularity — and length (the once “respectable” 60-minute affair is now a two- to three-hour marathon, sometimes airing two nights in a row). Not to mention the many spin-offs, including The Bachelorette.
Watching The Bachelor is like a weekly trip to Vegas: fascinating people-watching in a surreal environment where behaving badly is the norm. But let’s not pretend the seductive drama is haphazard. The narrative arc is meticulously orchestrated, which makes the selection and positioning of the women — and their “careers” — that much more disturbing.
Each season, the women are introduced via their first names, current cities, and occupations. Past careers include: former NBA cheerleader, Jumbotron operator, manscaper, dog lover, socialite, and (my personal favorite) free spirit. Let’s imagine what a comparable roster of male suitors might look like: lifeguard, former underwear model, sports enthusiast… I’m not knocking these women for not being CEOs or MDs. My point is that audiences would find it laughable if the men chosen for The Bachelorette had similar lines of work. (Note: Bachelor Chris Soules may be a farmer, but he’s also a millionaire.)
To be fair, each season usually does include a small crop of “professional” women — after all, the last Bachelorette, Andi, was a lawyer. But this season has gone to great lengths to de-emphasize the importance of careers. Why? Because Chris lives in rural Iowa, and he’s staying put. We’re not talking Des Moines. This is Arlington, Iowa: population 429, where the nearest “city,” Waterloo, is an hour away. (Fun fact: I’m originally from Waterloo. And as much as I appreciate where I’m from, I could never accept that rose.)
Chris originally appeared on last season’s The Bachelorette, and when Andi asked about her job prospects in the area, he suggested homemaker. In other words, by signing up for this season, these young women are saying they are ready to be a housewife in a town so small there isn’t even a restaurant (should you want a night off from your homemaking duties). The understanding is that the winner will leave whatever life she had in her city and move to Iowa to assume her new position as farmer’s wife.
One might easily mistake The Bachelor for something out of the 1950s. It dismisses the women’s careers as disposable and easily replaced with a new ambition: to be a wife and mother. The Bachelor spins a Cinderella tale in which professional pursuits are really just time killers as you get your MRS degree.
One of the rumored top choices for the next Bachelorette is a waitress. I have nothing against waitresses, but the franchise would never choose a male waiter as the next Bachelor. They would deem him not worthy of that position. In fact, it’s so important that the men have “real” careers that past contestants have been broken down by salary. A similar comparison of the female contestants would be irrelevant and unthinkable.
The question is not whether Chris is a quality person or whether joining him on the farm would be a satisfying role for some women (for the record, I believe both to be true). The question is whether that is a lifestyle that an educated woman with serious professional aspirations would find fulfilling.
While this “Prince Farming”–themed season has provided endless fodder for producers (bikini-clad women riding tractors!), the message is clear: Slip on some overalls, ladies, ’cause you won’t be needing those stilettos — or your degree — any longer.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.