Is the Bachelor Universe Slouching Towards Sex-Positivity?

the bachelorette july 15 2019 man repeller

Monday night’s The Bachelorette episode can be broken down into four parts: softcore porn, regular porn, “I don’t know what she sees in Jed,” and Bible study (referring to Peter, Tyler, Jed, and Luke’s dates, respectively). And while we all watched, wide-eyed, when Peter the pilot stumbled through his “I love you” speech and salivated while Tyler, in all his shirtless glory, massaged and then climbed on top of Hannah Brown, the episode really began on the fourth and final date in Crete, Greece.

Luke Parker was always going to be this season’s villain. He lacks even one iota of self-awareness and told Hannah he was falling in love on the first group date—a classic villain move. He was the least popular housemate within two episodes and became relentlessly chastised when his prideful demeanor began to interfere with cocktail parties and group dates, effectively taking time away from the other men. Less expected, however, were the positive strides the franchise would be able to make at Luke’s expense.

In the seventh episode of the season, the negative feelings floating around Luke, not only among other contestants but also on Twitter, crystallized and turned to a sharp and pointed hatred. Luke had been widely disliked, but when he slut-shamed Hannah after a date that involved naked bungee-jumping, the distaste in America’s mouth suddenly turned to poison. Simultaneously, Hannah’s sex-positivity was the much-needed antidote.

Luke, on the other hand, was this season’s villain far before his regressive views on intimacy were exposed.

There have been sex-positive Bachelorettes and Bachelor contestants in the past. Their narratives, however, have consistently been spun into webs of shameful apologies and disappointed men, which force them to deem their actions “mistakes” on camera (sentiments they often later dispute). Consider when Clare Crawley infamously had sex with Bachelor Juan Pablo in the ocean. The following day, Juan Pablo told her that he felt “weird,” citing his daughter and lifting any blame from his own shoulders while in turn humiliating Clare. When Bachelorette Kaitlin Bristowe had sex with Nick Viall before the Fantasy Suite (at which point sex is producer-sanctioned), she decided to be honest with another frontrunner, Shawn Boothe. During the confession scene, however, she uncharacteristically stumbles over her words, stating that things “had gone too far.” “Do you regret it?” he asks, to which she replies: “I felt guilt.”

In both of these scenarios, the men questioning these women were generally well-regarded. Juan Pablo, of course, was later revealed to be something of a scumbag, but producers were obviously pushing for his likability at the time. Luke, on the other hand, was this season’s villain far before his regressive views on intimacy were exposed. So when he began berating Hannah for exploring her own sexual agency—for the naked bungee and later for sleeping with other contestants—his sex-negative views were quickly, easily, and rightfully villainized.

When we reach the breakup scene in the most recent episode, the audience feels emotionally atrophied by Luke’s constant gaslighting. By all the times he made a point that Hannah disputed, only to reply that she simply misunderstood. Or the times he told the men in the house that he wouldn’t discuss them with Hannah, only to turn around and bring each housemate up by name. Or the time he told her she made “a bone-headed mistake,” but added that he loved her despite her flaws, employing classic emotionally abusive and manipulative behavior. The list goes on. And so in the final moments of episode 10, we are primed for Hannah’s epic speech. If Luke had been more self-aware and delivered his views (which are commonly held within the Evangelical community) in a gentler manner, we may not have come to this point. If the most compelling storyline hadn’t been Luke vs. America, we may not have come to this point. Everything has lined up for feminism to shine a bright, albeit brief, beacon of hope for future seasons.

Hannah ends the conversation with a mic-drop, telling Luke that she “fucked in a windmill” this week as she pushes him into a limo and out of her life.

After a glorious day of smooching and discussing Jesus, the couple makes it to the dinner portion of the date, where Luke launches the hollow threat that he will remove himself from the competition if Hannah has had sex with other contestants (which she has). Understandably, she gets angry. Luke, in classic Luke fashion, backtracks and says he’s “willing to work through it” if she’s slipped up. Hannah calls bullshit on his flip-flopping and double standard.

“You’re holding other people to a standard that you don’t even live by,” she says, noting that pride is as much a sin as sex. Finally, the words we’ve heard in previews and trailers for the past five weeks come out of our televisions: “I do not want you to be my husband.” And with that, all of America breathes a sigh of relief. Hannah ends the conversation with a mic-drop, telling Luke that she “fucked in a windmill” this week as she pushes him into a limo and out of her life.

And herein lies the silver lining of all this toxic masculinity. The casting process has failed us in the past, with assault convicts and racists and too much whiteness. Many agreed that Luke was another symptom of the process. But without him we would never have bore witness to this pageant queen, at once celebrating her faith and her sexuality, and condemning anyone who got in her way. I imagine, for many a Bachelor fan, Hannah’s entire speech felt much like America’s recent World Cup win—a single, victorious moment for women that could very likely change the course of history. Or at least cable TV.

Photo via ABC. 

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