On The Bachelorette, roughly two dozen men compete for the right to propose to one woman. In order to prove that they're marriage material, the men have to be charming, confident and show how they would be able to provide for their future wife. But the men who are getting the most camera time this season don't do that. These guys — Chad, Alex and Evan — are more concerned with demonstrating that they're the alpha male of the house. And that's a problem.
Look: The Bachelorette and its brother The Bachelor have never been progressive in their depictions of gender roles, but the current season of The Bacheloretteis endorsing toxic masculinity to a vexing degree.
If confidence, bravery and protectiveness — character attributes possessed by respectable Bachelorette contenders — are traits that are culturally thought of as "good" and "masculine," then aggression, recklessness and dominance are toxically masculine.
Toxic masculinity promotes and perpetuates stereotypical, harmful beliefs about how men should act. It writes a script for what a "real man" is, and a "real man" is unemotional, insensitive, hypersexual and violent. It perceives anything stereotypically feminine — such as having feelings — as weak and inferior, unfit for a "real man" to engage with unless he's subjugating it. Thus toxic masculinity is misogynistic and homophobic. It's also physically dangerous, because it compels men to solve problems through violence.
Chad, this season of The Bachelorette's villain, embodies toxic masculinity to the point it verges on self-parody. He says offensive things and then belittles others for being sensitive when they get offended. He thinks of himself as superior to all the other men, especially physically weaker, emotionally softer men like Evan (an erectile dysfunction specialist), and attempts to resolve all conflict with violence.
Chad's propensity for violence reached its peak so far on the show when he tore Evan's shirt and threatened to kill him, after Evan embarrassed Chad; but it's infected every conversation and interaction Chad's had on the show. From threatening to find and beat up frontrunner Jordan Rodgers after the show is over, to saying he wished he could hurt his nemesis Alex, after Alex badmouthed him to JoJo (this year's Bachelorette), to the production increasing security in the house, Chad's menacing presence has made everyone else on the show question their safety. He's taken the show hostage at d--- point.
Chad has even said that JoJo wants a man like him, which hits the toxic masculinity jackpot: a man professing to know what a woman wants better than she herself knows, based on his own opinion... Not anything she's actually told him. He positions himself as a proverbial "real man," while in his opinion the other men are children, or girls, or whatever.
Don't get us wrong, The Bachelorette presents Chad as unequivocally bad... Even as the producers know the audience will revel in his bad behavior, and hang on his every ridiculous word.
But there are other men of low moral character this season who aren't so transparent. Chad's main antagonist, Alex, is also toxic, because he's fueled by aggression and the compulsion to dominate; and yet Alex is repeatedly referred to as a "stand-up guy" by his peers.
Alex, like Chad, is a Marine (Chad was discharged, and Alex is still active). Alex doesn't think Chad's boorish behavior befits a serviceman, so he's is on a single-minded campaign to destroy Chad. But in Alex's attempts to get justice/punish Chad for his inappropriate behavior, Alex acts even more aggressively than Chad. Chad may call him a "p---y," but Alex calls him a "piece of sh--" first. He's just as domineering as Chad, but he couches it as being the peacemaker who stands up for what's right, a role no one appointed him to.
Toxic masculinity is more complicated than just being applied to immediately recognizable alpha-male aggressors, though. Whiny Evan is equally problematic, even though he's more likely to deal with conflict through dialogue than violence. He could use his verbal skills for diplomacy, but instead he tries to mix it up with the meatheads.
When he publicly embarrassed Chad by implying Chad takes steroids, during a group date in Episode 3, Evan demonstrated that he's willing to escalate conflicts he wasn't even previously involved in. In the aftermath, he showed he's unwilling to take responsibility for his actions when he starts things he can't finish. Evan pretends like his blatantly disrespectful comments were all in good fun and Chad is crazy to take them otherwise. Evan acts like the victim of bullying, but relishes his opportunity to be a bully himself. It's a vicious cycle of abuse.
The common denominator between these three is that they have rigid ideas about how men should act, and will do what they can to force others to conform to those ideas.
Except, and this is the key point: their ideas are bad.
None of these guys are presented exactly heroically by The Bachelorette, but they're not discouraged, either. Chad's been eliminated from The Bachelorette, but he's going to be on Bachelor In Paradise. Alex and Evan are still in competition on The Bachelorette as of this writing.
All of this adds up to the franchise not-so-tacitly endorsing terrible male behavior, from the innocuous (encouraging rudeness), to silent agreement (welcoming in someone repeatedly accused of assault), to the actually harmful (allowing a potentially violent person to remain in the house).
You might say, "so what? These men are all cretins and no sensible person would think their behavior means anything." Well, I say that the endorsement of behavior like this, the fact that we find behavior like this entertaining, the fact that these men are given TV airtime, all contributes to perpetuating the existence of toxic masculinity. It teaches men that behavior like this is rewarded. Maybe not by getting the girl in the end, but with fame and money and power.
And if you think that it has no real-world significance, may I remind you of the striking similarities between Chad and a certain aggressive and offensive Presidential candidate?
Unfortunately, the toxic masculinity problem would be a difficult one for The Bachelorette to solve, should it decide it wants to do so. Since the most entertaining parts of The Bachelorette are fueled by interpersonal drama, the show needs strong personalities who will create conflict in order for it to be interesting.
That might mean casting more men like Evan, who will create conflict that doesn't have the risk of escalating into violence and who aren't as antisocial as Chad. The beefcake quotient might suffer, but the show would become wittier; albeit without solving the essentially problem.
At the very least, The Bachelorette needs to stop casting men like Chad. Anyone who says the person they admire most is, "myself in ten years, alright alright alright" should not make it past the first audition. The Chads of the world don't need any more attention, let alone the reaffirming reward of national exposure. And it would be a huge step in stopping the poisonous spread of toxic masculinity... At least on TV.