Bachelorette & Bodily Autonomy: Q & A with JWI's Ariella Neckritz

By Allie Lerner

As the fifteenth season of The Bachelorette gets closer to the final rose, I cannot help but admit my admiration for blonde-haired, Alabama-raised Hannah Brown. As a committed fan, I live for the tears, fights, and the drama (that does appear more intense in the previews). But this season I’ve noticed a new sense of power and respect from Hannah — I, along with the rest of Bachelor Nation, am living for it. Although in past seasons the reality show gives off the impression that producers and our beloved Chris Harrison are secretly running the show and keeping certain men on for “drama”, this season it’s obvious that Hannah is calling all the shots.

After last week’s episode, there was a lot of backlash in Bachelor Nation and within our office. Because JWI advocates for the rights of women and girls, especially promoting healthy relationships and bodily autonomy, I decided to interview one of our very own Ariella Neckritz, Manager of Prevention and Training Programs, to discuss her thoughts on last week’s episode.

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What was the significance of Hannah’s bungee jumping one-on-one date with Garrett?

Looking at the history around television and women’s sexuality, I think back to shows like I Love Lucy and where Lucy and Ricky Ricardo shared separate beds. For a long time women weren’t allowed to be overt in expressing desire nor displaying physical intimacy. The media wasn’t showing representation of women taking ownership of their bodies and expressing their sexuality. Hannah’s naked bungee-jumping one-on-one date is significant because it showed a woman making her own choices about her body. She decided to take her bra off, not because of pressure from a partner. A woman using her agency is powerful to see in Bachelor Nation.

 What do you think of the other men’s reactions?

Jealousy can be a natural response in relationships especially on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette where more than twenty contestants are competing for one person’s heart. However, Luke P.’s response showed the harmful impact of jealousy. Even if someone is your committed partner, they don’t get to decide what you do and don’t do with your body. Luke P. shaming Hannah for naked bungee-jumping with another man was disappointing. It showed a lack of respect for her choices in determining what she needed and wanted in her Bachelorette journey.

On the flip side, we saw Tyler affirming and validating her agency. It was exciting to see a man amplifying a woman’s autonomy: it’s her journey, it’s her process, and it’s her body. She should be the only one making decisions for herself. I hope to see more contestants use their voices to advocate and support her choices.

 What did you notice about Luke P.’s response?

When Hannah pulls him away later in the episode to re-discuss their previous conversation, he gaslighted her. Gaslighting, as we’ve watched before on BIP, is a type of emotional abuse in which someone makes a victim doubt their own memory, perception, feelings, and sanity. We see Luke P. do this by denying saying the things he did and making Hannah feel that she mis-remembered the situation. Instead he should have taken ownership and accountability, recognizing the fault in his logic and harm in his statements. By pushing the blame onto Hannah and discounting her lived experience, he exhibits a tactic often seen in toxic relationships to control partners.

 What was powerful about Hannah’s reaction to Luke P.?

Many women feel shame for asserting their sexual agency, so it was powerful to see Hannah practice bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that you, and only you, make decisions around what does and doesn’t happen to your body. It was an important moment for national television to see a woman asserting her own agency.

Hannah mentions to Luke P. that the naked bungee-jumping wasn’t sexual, but even if it was it shouldn’t matter. Even if it was Hannah choosing to build a stronger romantic connection with Garrett there is nothing wrong with how a woman explores connections on a dating show.

 How does this apply to current issues?

From Alabama to Georgia we’re seeing troubling restrictive abortion bans making it incredibly difficult for people to access reproductive and sexual health services. The national political landscape has been dominated by men legislating women’s bodies and choices. Hannah’s proclamation, “You don't own my body. You don't own me. It's my body.” is impactful and important for women and girls nationwide to hear especially at this moment.

Hannah states to Luke P: “you’re not my husband, you don’t decide what I get to do.” While we loved Hannah stepping up, advocating for herself, and calling out Luke P.’s problematic comments, it doesn’t matter if he is her husband or not. Regardless of your relationship with someone, they don’t get to dictate or decide what does or doesn’t happen with your body. That will always be a decision that you and only you get to make.

The Bachelorette is very popular among middle school, high school and college girls. Hannah showed them that only you get to determine and give consent for your body. Hannah’s setting an example for young women and girls to advocate for their needs, make their own choices, and not feel ashamed.

 What are you hoping to see in future episodes?

As we head towards the final rose, I’m hoping to see more discussion and practicing of consent. I’ve noticed in some of the group dates and one-on-ones there is no acknowledgement of consent with physical touch. In one episode Hannah shared how she felt uncomfortable when contestants didn’t read her body language and gave unwanted kisses. I hope to see more verbal communication around consent and more discussion about why boundaries are important.