TV

“Bachelor” Peter Weber Shows Us How to Be a “Real Man”

Pilot Pete must throw an ax and pray to Jesus—all in the name of masculine bullsh*t.

“I’m going to make a real man out of you.”

That’s what Bachelor finalist Hannah Ann tells Peter Weber before taking him out for an evening of axe-throwing and lumber-chopping in Knoxville, Tennessee—the first of four hometown dates on Monday night’s episode of ABC’s heterosexual dating show. Apparently, by having Peter split a log, Hannah hopes she can show her dad, who works in the lumber industry, that a “California boy” like Pilot Pete can actually be “tough.”

Why would Peter, a gainfully employed commercial airline pilot, need to be able to chop wood by hand? Would he be a “fake man” if he could not? What, exactly, is a “real man” anyway? These are the kinds of questions I can’t help but ask as a queer ex-academic whose Ph.D. in gender studies is now only useful for writing reality TV recaps like this one. But I think they’re also important questions to consider, given The Bachelor’s place in our collective cultural consciousness.

ABC/Francisco Roman
Peter Weber in The Bachelor.

Yes, on one level, The Bachelor is just a silly show about a straight guy simultaneously dating dozens of beautiful women, most of whom only come on the show so they can sell things on Instagram afterward. But it’s also a show about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman —an unadulterated glimpse into America’s still deeply traditional gender politics. And it was by viewing the show through that more serious lens this week that I found myself feeling something new: Sympathy for Pilot Pete, who, up to this point, has mostly annoyed me again and again.

I felt sorry for Peter this week because he has to try to be three different kinds of men on three different hometown dates in the same week. In front of Hannah Ann and her dad in Knoxville, he plays the part of the flannel-wearing lumberjack, bragging about his exploits at the axe-throwing bar. Days later in Iowa, among Kelsey’s more upper-class family, Peter must act like the perfect wine-sipping gentleman, complimenting his hosts on their crab rangoon puffs. Finally in Auburn, Alabama, Peter meets Madison’s God-fearing father who grills him about his faith, to which Peter responds that he’s ready to “put the work in to be the man that she deserves.”

Three dates, three families, three different Peters: a burly woodcutter, a genteel sophisticate, a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. And to be honest, none of these personae seem anything like the Peter that we have come to know: an affable and only moderately religious pilot who loves airplanes, women, and his parents, likely in that order. This is heteronormativity at work, taking a goofy guy who just wants to fly jets in between make-out sessions and requiring him to prove that he can live up to various masculine archetypes. If gender is a kind of drag, Pete has to do some quick changes.

ABC/John Fleenor
Hannah Ann and Peter Weber in The Bachelor.

The queer theorist Judith Butler famously wrote in her 1990 book Gender Trouble that gender can never be “real” in the sense that it is some sort of innate feature of our personhood but rather that it is a sort of “effect” produced by the “stylization of the body” and the “stylized repetition of acts.” To be seen as a man or as a woman requires us to put on a “performance that is repeated,” Butler wrote. Despite all these five-dollar words, Butler’s basic premise is simple: We all perform gender, day in and day out, through the way we groom ourselves and the actions we take.

In a funny way, Hannah Ann tacitly understands this principle when she promises to “make a real man” out of Peter: He can’t innately be a “real man”—no one can—but maybe if he can swing an ax, he can be perceived as a “real man,” which is honestly the best that anyone can hope for. Butler has said that “becoming gendered involves impersonating an ideal that nobody actually inhabits,” and it’s true! Paul Bunyan is a myth: Peter Weber can’t be him, nor can Hannah Ann’s Dad. The most Peter can do is try again and again to be the “real man” Hannah only half-jokingly wants him to be.

ABC/Jason A LaVeris
Peter Weber in The Bachelor.

Look, maybe that’s overanalyzing a bit of mindless Monday night entertainment, but I think it puts a point on why I’m finding it hard to root for anyone this season. Of course, Peter brought much of this mess on himself by choosing women who want him to be different versions of a man that he’s not. (He has also, against all odds, kept Victoria F. around—a decision that backfires spectacular when he learns, mid-hometown date in Virginia Beach, that she has allegedly “broken up” other people’s relationships around town. Peter eliminates her when Victoria F. refuses to address the rumors, then she comes back, and he ends up picking her over Kelsey).

But even though Peter has made some truly baffling decisions this season, the remaining women are using their platforms as finalists to prop up norms that no one can ever really embody. Madison wants Peter to be the perfect Christian patriarch, just like she imagines her father to be. Hannah wants him to be “tough,” just how she pictures her dad. Only Kelsey seems to have a healthy regard for Peter’s individuality and his gentleness, but, of course, Peter eliminates her because he doesn’t seem to know what’s best for his own happiness. The way things are going now, it looks like Peter is going to try to be a “real man” for one of these remaining women—and I suspect he’ll learn the hard way that there’s no such thing.

Samantha Allen is the author of "Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States" and a GLAAD Award-winning LGBTQ journalist.
@SLAWrites