Personal Health

"Bachelor in Paradise" Is Failing Its Fans by Treating Toxic Masculinity as Entertainment

In this op-ed, De Elizabeth, writer and editor for Allure and Teen Vogue, explores the insidious theme of toxic masculinity in the current season of "Bachelor in Paradise" and discusses why exactly it's so dangerous.

It’s summertime, and for fans of the Bachelor franchise, that means only one thing: four hours a week of guaranteed oceanside drama, thanks to Bachelor in Paradise. And while the current season of the popular ABC spinoff has certainly checked off plenty of boxes for viewers, including multiple unexpected arrivals, a host of date card meltdowns, and several edits of crabs scurrying across the sand at inopportune moments, it must be noted that this year’s installment includes a sinister motif of toxic masculinity — and it throws a dark cloud over the otherwise sunny reality show.

What's different about this season of Bachelor in Paradise?

Bachelor in Paradise, which is currently on its fifth run, features cast-offs from previous seasons of The Bachelor and Bachelorette as they compete for roses — and love — amid the scenic backdrop of the Vidanta Resort Nuevo Vallarta in Mexico. When the show first aired in 2014, it seemed as though contestants were primarily picked based on how popular they were with viewers. Many fan-favorites made the cut in the first few seasons, including Jade Roper, Tanner Tolbert, and Amanda Stanton. But as The Bachelor and Bachelorette continued to up the ante for the “most dramatic season ever," so did Paradise. It could be argued that today, regardless of airtime or likability during their breakout season, the contestants who will cause the most drama are more likely to be chosen to spend a summer in Paradise.

This season’s toxic masculinity seems to be contagious.

This year, Paradise has hit the jackpot when it comes to that desired effect — and it’s crossed the line into problematic territory in a myriad of ways. The fifth season stars several men who have already exhibited toxic behaviors in the first few weeks of Paradise ranging from shocking bouts of jealousy to gaslighting and verbal abuse. Putting these men in the spotlight of such a popular show with a chance to fall in love is questionable at best, and in the age of the #MeToo movement, it feels not only out of touch, but downright irresponsible.

Whose behavior are we talking about?

Chris Randone, a former contestant on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette, is just one of those men. Chris — AKA “The Goose” — raised red flags for plenty of viewers after he rapidly succumbed to feuding with the other guys in the Bachelor Mansion during Becca's season. And while some level of in-fighting is usually to be expected during a show where multiple heterosexual people "compete" for the affections of one member of the opposite sex, Chris’s aggressive behavior toward the other men went above and beyond what Bachelor fans typically see. It was concerning, and he revealed possessive tendencies early on in the season after he accused Becca of not giving him enough attention.

Now, on Paradise, Chris’s alarming behavior has only gotten worse. During the beginning of the season, we saw him develop a relationship with former Bachelor contestant Tia Booth, who was arguably in a vulnerable state as she sorted through her emotions for Colton Underwood, another previous contestant from Kufrin’s season. While the two were still seeing each other, Chris also began developing a relationship with Krystal Nielson — the “villain” from Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season of The Bachelor — and decided not to tell Tia about it. After Tia found out and confronted him, Chris twisted her words, with the purpose of making her feel like she was crazy — the very definition of gaslighting. A few episodes later, when Krystal began to show interest in Paradise newcomer Connor Obrochta, Chris’s jealous streak reared its ugly head once more.

Colton and Tia on a date

Where Chris might have once been an outlier on Paradise (like Chad Johnson, who was sent home from the third season for his behavior), this season’s toxic masculinity seems to be contagious. For proof, look no further than Jordan Kimball. On Becca’s season, Jordan was portrayed as an aloof, Derek Zoolander type, and fans seemed to find him kind of adorable. On Paradise, however, jealousy has gotten the better of him numerous times. Most notably, there was the moment when Jordan tossed a stuffed dog that his rival, David Ravitz, had given his love interest, Jenna Cooper, into the ocean in a fit of jealous rage — a scene that was heavily teased by the show as “funny,” but later struck Jenna as worrisome.

While Jordan is still loved by some viewers for his one-liners, the way he’s asserted his perceived ownership over Jenna is downright scary. While on a date with former Bachelor Winter Games contestant Benoît Beauséjour-Savard, Jenna even expressed that Jordan acts like she belongs to him, to which Benoît simply responded, “That’s weird.” It isn’t just weird — it’s unhealthy, and a warning sign of what could become an emotionally abusive relationship.

And abusive relationships aren’t something to be taken lightly. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 48.4% of women have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner. NCADV also reports that seven out of 10 women who are psychologically abused by a partner display symptoms of PTSD or depression. Given the fact that Bachelor in Paradise rakes in millions of viewers each night, portraying such problematic behavior as entertaining drama is both dangerous and irresponsible.

In the midst of the #MeToo era, Bachelor in Paradise has a unique
opportunity to educate its viewers.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this involves Paradise contestant Leo Dottavio. While vying for Becca’s roses earlier this year on The Bachelorette, Leo struck many viewers as sincere and approachable — a description that seems to be the polar opposite of his behavior on Paradise. Between his appearances on the two series, Leo faced allegations of sexual harassment shared by Bachelor contestant Bekah Martinez, who received claims about Leo’s past behavior via social media from multiple women.

Leo subsequently denied the accusations, and, according to screenshots on Bekah’s Instagram, responded to her by saying such things as “I’ll always be better than you, Bekah,” and “I don’t sexually harass women lol.” (Given that three out of four women have experienced sexual harassment, it’s not a laughing matter, regardless of whether Leo himself has sexually harassed women before.)

They all seem to feel inherently entitled to a woman’s time and space.

Shortly after going on a Paradise date with Kendall Long (a fan-favorite from Arie’s season of The Bachelor), Leo kissed former Bachelor contestant, Chelsea Roy. When approached about the kiss, Leo, like Chris, segued into a series of gaslighting (as well as confusing) comments — complimenting Kendall in one breath and insulting her the next, then derailing the conversation to evade accountability and leave her confused and frustrated. But it wasn’t until his final minutes in Mexico that Leo had what were arguably his worst moments.

Right before the rose ceremony, Leo told Kendall that she was “full of shit” in front of everyone before lobbing his drink at Joe Amabile (another of Kendall’s romantic interests and arguably viewers’ favorite person in Bachelor history). In the wake of the airing of his exit from Paradise, Leo has taken his volatile behavior to social media, suggesting violence in response to his critics, and allegedly sending a threatening DM to a former Bachelor contestant.

The common thread between Leo, Chris, and Jordan is that they all seem to feel inherently entitled to a woman’s time and space, and when they exercise that entitlement, it strips these women of their autonomy. They also seem to hold women to a different standard than they hold themselves; evidence of this can be no clearer than when Leo angrily shouted, “Kendall’s kissing everybody” minutes after he declared that “a kiss is just a handshake in Paradise” when confronted with his own actions. This kind of slut-shaming double standard is not uncommon in the Bachelor franchise; women are broadly criticized for being sexual while the men generally evade such attacks.

In the midst of the #MeToo era, Bachelor in Paradise has a unique opportunity to educate its viewers — and, it would seem, its own stars — about the bigger real-world issue of male entitlement and toxic masculinity. But by presenting these behaviors as consumable drama and editing them to appear as quirky rather than something to take seriously, the series shows us that it doesn’t actually have any interest in providing a vehicle for positive discussion or change.

Has Bachelor Nation ever addressed these issues before?

This isn’t the first time the series has had such an opportunity and consequently failed. Last year, production of Bachelor in Paradise was temporarily shut down while Warner Bros. investigated “allegations of misconduct” involving two former contestants, Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson. A producer had raised concerns about an alleged sexual encounter between Olympios and DeMario.

While production of the series eventually resumed (DeMario refuted the allegations and Olympios released a statement noting that the investigation has been completed to her satisfaction), the entire situation was treated by the show as a dramatic plot twist, teased relentlessly in commercials. And when the series did try to address the topic of consent in a group meeting led by host Chris Harrison, it ultimately fell flat, seemingly urging contestants to admit they felt safe in Paradise rather than actually allowing a real discussion about the important issue.

Jordan and Joe

We’re at a unique moment in history right now where sexual harassment and toxic male behavior is at the forefront of conversation. There is arguably a long way to go before we see widespread, societal change, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't work harder than ever to make improvements, and men need to be a huge part of the solution. Bachelor in Paradise, despite its goofy theme song and “guilty pleasure” premise, has all of the tools necessary to get involved in that discussion and show its millions of viewers what is and is not acceptable male behavior. But until the series addresses the way it plays into tropes of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and male entitlement, its potential to do good will always regress into mindless drama that ultimately sends the wrong message to its viewers — and its own stars.

Follow De Elizabeth on Twitter.

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