'The Bachelorette' Rewards Toxic Masculinity Over and Over Again

Luke P. is the show's most recent example, but the issue has been a part of the franchise for a long time.

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(Image credit: Robert Clark)

As a newbie to The Bachelorette, I was initially entranced by Hannah Brown and her (relatively) empowered journey to find love. But this season has become triggering for me. For anyone hoping that controversial contestant Luke Parker will get eliminated soon: Think again. According to showrunners and previews, we won't be done with him for a while. How did we get here? Why does Hannah—who otherwise seems like a confident, no-shit-taking bachelorette—continue to keep him on? And most importantly, why aren't the producers helping her deal with him, the most “prominent” villain the show’s ever seen?

For starters, reality TV producers seem to love toxic masculinity: It's good for drama and ratings, since we literally can't look away."Bad Chad" Johnson from JoJo's season (who made the other contestants fear for their lives), Bentley Williams (dissing Ashley to every camera and trying to make her cry), and Lee Garrett (he of racist tweets and fights with non-white contestants, but hardly the only toxic guy on poor Rachel's season) are extreme examples. But that's just a few of many.

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Luke P. and Hannah on the first night of her season; the two had such a strong initial connection that she gave him her first impression rose.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This season, especially, has felt like watching a good friend with a bad boyfriend, playing out in painful real time, with the showrunners fanning the flames. Hannah is actively trying to eliminate any BS the contestants give her this season, and is a badass when they do something she doesn't like—firing the "cheater" in episode 1, for example. But lately, the more she scrambles for the truth, the more she gets stuck in lies. Mostly from the—as Jed deemed him—“Luke Ness Monster.”

Luke's behavior isn't love-crazed or passionate: It reads like a toxic relationship. Obviously, we can’t know a person’s true intentions just by watching a show that’s carefully, ruthlessly edited, but we can look at actions. Luke has demonstrated several indicators of an emotionally abusive relationship, as defined by the Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. Many of them are also hallmarks of toxic masculinity.

  • Initial love and attention. Think: climbing on top of a car to roar his attraction to Hannah. Telling her he was falling for her in episode 2.
  • Constant contact/name-calling/isolation. Luke gets upset and angry when Hannah spends time with other guys. He seeks her out when she's told him to back off. He says that going on certain other dates is a "slap in the face."
  • Intense jealousy/picking fights. Luke P. lied his face off about Luke S.’s motives after Luke S. implored him to tell the truth. He's baited and intimidated other contestants.
  • Gaslighting. He bullied Luke S. into leaving the show—and simultaneously advocating for himself as the victim. He threw Hannah's concerns back at her on their one-on-one and saying that he's the one who's mad and upset.
  • Giving orders/requiring permission. Luke refuses to take no for an answer every time Hannah tells him to back off. He walked right back in after she straight up sends him home.
  • Getting angry in a frightening way/threatening harm. He's talked about the show being a "hunt," and screamed in another contestant's face. And who can forget when he bodyslammed Luke S. during the rugby match?
  • Humiliation/monitoring and controlling behavior. The granddaddy of them all. I quote: “Let’s talk about sex, and how the marriage bed should be kept pure. And let’s say you have had sex with one or multiple of these guys, I’d be wanting to go home.” Luke, ladies and gentlemen.

Many contestants willingly go on this show hoping their antics will result in publicity. But a larger problem is born when showrunners cast an aggressive, competitive, threatening man on a highly aggressive, competitive show, then give him compliments and roses and lots of screen time. And the producers aren’t helping Hannah or the other contestants deal with him, choosing instead to roll the cameras and downplay their own part in the drama.

The show's structure allows this kind of behavior to flourish. Toxic contestants can easily rely on the “they said vs. I said” aspect of the show—appealing directly to the bachelorette and the audience through one-on-one time—to lie and manipulate. Another problem with this season: Producers haven't featured the off-camera bonding between Hannah and Luke, which has centered particularly on shared religious beliefs. Host Chris Harrison admits the show doesn’t always know how to tackle religion, but without that context, Hannah looks like a naive person who willfully ignores bad behavior. An unhealthy relationship can feel very strong, particularly because toxic men can initially come across as charming. Not showing their bonding time means the audience can't understand why she excuses his bad behavior.

This kind of edit is also unfair to Luke, making his comments about premarital sex sound random and outrageous, instead of stemming from beliefs he felt Hannah shared (some may still find them outrageous and repressive, but they're more in character when we understand his background). Luke sort of mentioned the show's edits in his awkward Instagram non-apology, referencing what he's done "regardless of what is aired."

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Hannah on a group date with Luke P (in blue). Luke confronted Hannah about her physical interactions with one of the other guys.

(Image credit: Archives)

And Harrison equivocates. When Hannah gets angry at the men's response to Luke in episode 6, Harrison insists, “It’s because they’re crazy about you. But so is Luke. And they see he’s getting your affection, your attention. And it’s driving them crazy...this would be a lot easier for these guys if they didn’t care.” The implication being that emotional manipulation and rage are expressions of love?

Harrison said something very different to Glamour. "People have to understand it’s not like we lay this out or script this out. It's not how I honestly wanted it to go. I don’t want a central figure like Luke to cast such a dark shadow over the entire season like this. It went much further than I wanted it to...I wanted this to come to a resolution, good or bad, and let her move on."

He presented it as though Luke is really Hannah's issue: "The problem here is that Luke P. is a central figure in Hannah’s heart...Their lives and their values align in a lot of ways, from religion to their conservative ways to the way they live their life, and that is what drives her crazy. And it’s gonna drive us crazy a little longer. He’s not going anywhere. She likes this guy."


He also pushes the reactions of the other contestants back on them. "Maybe it's a little immaturity and lack of perspective by some of these young men to realize the more you try and make it about Luke P., the more it becomes about Luke P.," he told ET about the men’s extremely valid responses to dealing with a harmful person.

This isn't new territory for the franchise. Chad caused a similar outcry among fans and critics. "There's no definitive line in the industry with regard to violence," former Bachelor producer Michael Carroll said at the time. "You do want there to be a conflict, but you don't want anyone harmed."

Except the repercussions are harmful. It’s not just unhealthy to reframe Luke's words and actions as harmless; it’s dangerous to reward toxic masculinity—with praise, with screen time, with validation. But the audience is beginning to protest. Some fans are calling out the show for rewarding toxic masculinity, as well as the disruption it's causing (even sharing resources about abuse):

It feels like this should be a defining moment for future seasons of the show. Luke isn't just bad for the bachelorette but for the viewers, too. Casting a toxic contestant no longer works—if it ever did at all.

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Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.