What do The Bachelorette, purity culture, and sexism have in common?
Almost ten years ago, I started blogging about the psychology of The Bachelor. And years later, it’s just as relevant to the themes that are most important to me now and the focus of my blog: psychology, culture, and Christianity.
Purity Culture & the Bachelorette
If you read my previous blog post, you learned my article “5 Purity Culture Myths”, won a writing contest for CBE.
Several of those myths and damaging messages I wrote about are evident in this season of The Bachelorette with the contestant Luke P. who was finally sent home this week after a train wreck of a dinner conversation between him and Hannah, the bachelorette.
First we see Myth #1, The Spiritual Barometer Myth, which states that you are a better Christian if you are a virgin, and what matters most about you is your virginity. On the show, Luke implies that he is a better Christian than Hannah is because he is a “born again virgin” who is abstaining from sex.
“I have had sex… And Jesus still loves me.”-Hannah to Luke P.
We also see Myth #4, The Damaged Goods Myth. This myth says we‘re soiled and damaged goods if we do have premarital sex—especially women. Luke makes Hannah feel that if she has had sex with the other men, she is not good enough for him. He has made her out to be his perfect wife and when she doesn’t fit his image (when she was “damaged goods”), he is ready to “remove himself from the relationship”. He is looking for a “virtuous woman”, and Hannah does not meet his standards.
It’s safe to say Luke has been the villain this season. And that’s unfortunate, given that he is the only outspoken, professed Christian on the show. But there’s a lot of dangerous sexism in what Luke says, which seems steeped in patriarchal gender roles and complementarianism.
Benevolent sexism is a form of sexism that may seem harmless, but is actually damaging to women and to male-female relationships. It often sounds appealing because it includes beliefs that women should be protected, women are delicate and virtuous, and that men are their “knights in shining armor”. Luke even uses some of these statements when he says he is “fighting for Hannah”, that he is “on a rescue mission for Hannah”, and that he is “someone who was going to be good for her”. At one point in Monday’s show, he tells the host Chris Harrison that, “A man is supposed to lead and guide a women in a relationship.”
Whereas our culture calls this toxic masculinity, Christians recognize these beliefs as complementarianism, and unfortunately it is all too common in traditional Christian circles. This is one way that Christianity gets a bad reputation in our culture as misogynistic and demeaning of women. And it is NOT representative of all Christians or a proper interpretation of the Bible’s high value of women and the equality of men and women.
“You don’t own me, you can’t tell me what I can and cannot do.”-Hannah to Luke P.
This complementarian belief that men are the leaders and women need to be rescued, put into the hands of someone with pride and control issues, becomes very dangerous. Luke wants a woman he can control to feel better about himself, not an independent, strong woman. His whole attitude conveys the message that “I’m going to convince you, coerce you, and manipulate you to do what I want. I don’t respect your own feelings or experience. You should listen and follow me instead of trusting your own intuition and judgment.”
Luke is young, and seems very immature and inexperienced in his faith. He admits that he made bad choices in the past and lived a sinful lifestyle. But what might be his genuine effort to live out his “born again” lifestyle comes across as arrogant and self-focused. His speech is full of narcissistic pride and legalistic sexism. He would be a controlling, manipulative husband whose “box” for an “acceptable wife” would be so stifling and confining to any woman that she would eventually suffocate and/or leave him.
At this point in any relationship, in which a couple is discussing marriage and considering future life plans, it is normal and right for them to ask each other tough questions and be honest about their values and character. You want your beliefs to be in line and your faith to mesh well enough that you can envision building a life and marriage on this foundation. But the host Chris identifies Hannah and Luke’s faith as the most contentious part of their relationship, not a shared foundation. This discrepancy ultimately leads to their downfall.
Luke seems to ask questions about Hannah’s sexual behavior not out of wise discernment, but out of pride and arrogance. He doesn’t want Hannah to have sex with one or more of the other guys and not him (pride) and he wants to make sure she meets his standards of the wife he deserves (arrogance).
The Biblical Example
The story Hannah brings up in her conversation with Luke is the adulteress woman in John 8:1-11. The religious leaders and teachers of the day gather, ready to stone the woman to death for her sins. They try to trap Jesus by asking him, “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
“He who is without sin cast the first stone.”
One by one, everyone sets down their stones and leaves. They realize that they are just as sinful as this woman who was caught in adultery.
After everyone leaves, Jesus approaches the woman and asks, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” The woman replies, “No, no one.” He responds:
“Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and sin no more.”
This is probably one of my favorite answers Jesus gives when people are trying to trick him. In these few words, Jesus embodies the balance of grace and trust that all Christians are called to. No condemnation. No casting stones. And sin no more.
So, is Hannah “damaged goods”, unworthy of love because of her choice to have sex in the fantasy suite? Absolutely not. Hannah does not deserve to be judged, condemned, or “slut-shamed”. She is loved, forgiven, and as a Christian, is redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.
And yet, with the public platform she has been given, and her outspokenness about her faith, she has a unique opportunity to be a Christian witness. She can show viewers that Christians do not have to be judgmental and condemning like Luke. But she can also show integrity to Christian morals and values in how she conducts herself on the show, and in her life afterwards. I hope she will take this opportunity to set an example of love and integrity.