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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Tadross

The Bachelor and Escaping Subconscious Bias

I'm about to make a pretty big confession.

I watch The Bachelor. And, I'm a feminist. Anyway, for a while I didn't think I had anything meaningful to say about The Bachelor, because it's just meaningless Reality TV, right? Well, I thought again, and it actually might be part of a generational step-back.

For those of you not familiar with this show, it is based on 30 women competing to be engaged to one man at the end of the season. Contestants ultimately get jealous of each other's relationships, and then get involved in drama. Upon further thought, it seemed to me that this television franchise is feeding off the same dynamic that led to the first polytheistic religions. These first gods were manifestations of the forces that govern people, rather than what values should govern people. There were gods who glorified anger, fear, hunger, power, and more, all based on animal-like instincts that people follow. Similarly, The Bachelor attracts viewers by appealing to their imperfect biases.

In the book Lean In, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg chronicles her time in the workplace and her thoughts on why women are not yet treated equally in this forum. She concludes that gender inequality in the workplace remains because people see the traditional state of their environment, and assume that's how it must remain. Consequently, they become a part of the problems they see. Whether you’re watching the State of the Union Address, the United Nations Summit, or the judges on American Idol, there always seem to be very few women involved in the action. When women see a limited number of women in power, they grow to believe that only a select few of them can succeed and begin to compete for these leadership positions. Women and men not only accept these traditional sentiments such as women competing, but they instinctually seek them. In this way, it's no surprise that people would enjoy watching 30 women jealously vie for love on national television. However, this dynamic based on our instincts, just like the gods of anger and glory, unfortunately feeds even greater inequality in our society. The gods motivated people to follow imperfect desires that led to the oppression of lower classes, unchecked cheating in relationships, and more. Media like The Bachelor justifies people's instinct to watch women compete with one another. When women start believing that they are vying for limited leadership positions, bitterness grows, and there is not a large enough support system to help them all succeed. With a limited number of women in the workplace, co-workers are not used to seeing women in power, and their brains respond adversely to it. Women’s ideas are stolen, they are given fewer promotions, and they face sexual harassment and threats. Far too many women leave the workforce due to this uncomfortable environment. And just like that, the predominantly male workplace is set up to make another generation of women falsely think that only a select few of them can succeed. Sheryl Sandberg believes that we can fight this inequality by making our subconscious biases conscious, and supporting other women. But is this enough? Can someone watch women tear each other down on The Bachelor and still support other women in real life? Or could something as simple as watching this show drag people right back into the false belief that women should compete with each other? It is impossible to avoid media and situations that can fuel our biases. As long as we view these situations with an understanding of the causes of inequality, we can avoid becoming a part of the problem.

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