Abuse Is Being Romanticised

I'm sure you've heard of "bad boys." They're the stereotypical anti-heroes who are usually darkly handsome, mysterious, and a little dangerous. It's also those qualities that make them some of the most desired male heroes in YA today.

Today is The International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women. It's appropriate, then,  that I publish this post today. I'm going to share my thoughts on the shocking increase of violence against women in films, books, and TV shows and how that violence - and abuse - is being normalised. It's a topic I feel very passionately about.
Please share your own thoughts in the comments section and let's discuss :)

 "use something (someone) to bad effect or bad purpose; misuse"
 "treat with cruelty or violence"
(Oxford Dictionary)

Trigger Warning: There are frequent mentions of rape and descriptions of abuse in this post.

- Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl) - 
Chuck is Gossip Girl's bad boy turned romantic hero, although he never once loses that dark edge that the writers - and the viewers - apparently thought was sexy. But not only does Chuck stalk and constantly objectify women - sexualizing them in almost every episode, I'm not kidding - but he even attempts to rape both Serena and Jenny in the pilot episode, and never once stops emotionally abusing Blair or manipulating her. Although Blair herself is certainly not innocent either, that doesn't make Chuck's behaviour excusable. He mentions Blair's sexual experience in public to embarrass her, he declares a Fatwa on her that so no one else can date her, and he tries to hand her over to his uncle to get back his hotel. He then tries to make her believe it's her fault. 

The guy is the very definition of abusive. 

There's also the manipulative way the writers have written him. Even when the whole incident - Chuck attempted to rape Jenny - with Jenny was brought up again - 2 SEASONS AFTER IT HAPPENED - she was painted as the bad guy because the writers were too obsessed with keeping Chuck as their romantic male hero and didn't want to jeopardise his story with Blair. And just when it looked like Chuck might be heading towards a bad light in later episodes, they'd victimise him again (like when he gets shot not long after the whole Jenny incident is made public). It's like the writers were terrified the viewers would start hating him again, so they got him mugged and shot and boohoo now we can't help but feel sorry for him again). 

Read more on Chuck's behaviour here and here.  

- Edward Cullen (The Twilight Saga) - 
Thankfully, most people today see Edward for who he really was: a sexist, controlling, possessive, patronising stalker and abusive love interest. He stalked Bella, he controlled who she saw, who she visited, who she was friends with, and he didn't even let her make her own decisions. Apparently, she was his property. 

- Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey) - 
This guy is undoubtedly the worst of the worst. He's misogynistic, controlling, perverted, arrogant, violent, unstable, sadistic, and a stalker and rapist. He doesn't take no for an answer, he controls Ana from her clothes to her physical health to the people she sees to the food she eats, and he gets away with it because he's good looking, wealthy, and a victim of a harsh upbringing. His possessiveness of Ana is simply thought of as protectiveness. He cares, guys. Never mind that she's literally afraid of him, right?

Read more about Fifty Shades and Grey here.

- Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries) - 
I used to love Damon and ship Delena. Granted, it was before I ever watched TVD. When I finally did sit down and watch all eight seasons, I simply couldn't ignore his actions. 

Damon does despicable things and yet no one is allowed to make him face the consequences because he's the swoony anti-hero and primary contender for Elena's affections. His relationship with Elena is toxic (I swear, he literally says so himself in season 6!), he objectifies women and takes delight in making them feel intimidated and uncomfortable (not to mention feeding off them and having sex with them till they're compelled to be complicit), he rapes three women that we know of, rapes and abuses Caroline Forbes (yet Caroline is the one everyone blames; Elena even shames her for sleeping with Damon), and not once is he held responsible for his actions. As soon as he becomes the Good Guy, his past behaviour is forgotten. As soon as he's considered redempable by the other characters, they'll do whatever it takes to give him a second - or third or fourth or fifth or tenth - chance, regardless of the damage left in his wake. It's horrific.  

Read more on Damon's problematic behavior here and here.

- Sexist
I cannot understand why women will swoon over and idealise a guy who undercuts their very value of being a woman. A lot of these abusive relationships have women at the command of the man and make them doormats to his wants and desires, and how can you - as a woman - even consider that is right?! It's an insult to you. Who would want to be the property of another fallible, broken human being?

- Violence against women - 
There is no, no case where violence against women is okay. BSDM is another story and I won't go there, but violence against women should ever be the norm. Sarah J. Maas’ books, for example, have extremely violent sexual scenes where the characters are often left literally bleeding, bruised, and in pain. You could say that that violence is the norm for those characters and that world, but should violence - especially against women - ever be the norm? Those violent relationships are glorified in Maas’ books, and in TV shows, especially, they are sensationalised because they're generally sexual in nature. It's horrifying.

- Love him enough and he'll change - 
Never, never, never should a women be responsible for getting a man to change his ways. The misconception is absurd. It's also why I've never liked the original Beauty and the Beast tale - Belle has no obligation to save him, and yet the story expects it of her. Also take the Joker and Harley Quinn. Harley is constantly being beaten up/tormented by him, and she blames it on herself while the story lets her do it. With that relationship, there's the underlying element that she's there to "help him change". In The Vampire Diaries, Stefan even admits to Elena that she stops Damon from killing people and that she should go back to him because she helps him not to kill people! I mean, excuse me?! How twisted is that?

It is not your job to save him. It is never anyone's responsibility to change his or her abuser. And in this world, God is the only one who can.

- The excuse of the "strong woman" - 
I keep seeing this in YA books. Have a badass heroine - think Feyre from ACOTAR, Aurora from Roar, even Blair from TV's Gossip Girl - and suddenly violence against women is cool and guys are allowed to be jerks. In Roar, Aurora is what most people would probably call a badass, a strong heroine, and yet she's in toxic, abusive relationships where men use her, abuse her, and she doesn't run in the opposite direction. (Read this article for more on Roar)
Even Harley Quinn is supposed to be this cool, awesome, slightly weird superhero, but then we have her and Joker's incredibly toxic and abusive relationship. The characters might be well written - to a degree - but the abuse inflicted on Harley should not be acceptable. (Read more on their relationship here). It's like saying "it's okay if you're being abused because you're giving back as hard as you get." It's sick!

Having a female character implicitly say "I can handle it" does not make the abuse inflicted upon her okay. The guy should still not be doing those things, however badass and supposedly independent the woman is.

- Past doesn't matter - 
Oh my word this happens so much, especially in TV shows and films. In the pilot episode of Gossip Girl, Chuck Bass attempts to rape two of the main female characters. One of the incidents was actually addressed (although it was handled so badly and deserves to have another whole blog post written on it)  but the other was never mentioned again. That incident was even "more of a thing" than the other incident, and more explicit in the scene itself. But it is apparently forgotten - swept under the rug by the writers.
Again, this happens in the Vampire Diaries where in season one Damon Salvatore abuses Caroline Forbes. But when Damon becomes a "good guy" the incident is forgotten. Not once does he even admit or apologize for his actions - even when Caroline eventually marries his brother.

People can change. But they need to be held accountable for their actions and face justice. When their behaviour is swept under the rug and ignored, the effects are horrific. There's a quote from American Horror Story that makes a strong point: "Sorrys are easy. What about taking responsibility for the things you've done?"
To that I say: Amen.

- Violence against women makes a story - 
So often, I think violence against women is used a plot device. It's like writers and producers think they have a story if at least one woman gets beaten around.
Violence against women is extremely real, but don't glamorise it in your TV show and then fail to show it for what it is.
I think Game of Thrones is frequently guilty for graphically depicting rape and then failing to provide proper sensitivity in the aftermath. It's glossed over. It's a "plot device" or a means to an end for a male character's story, when it's actually a woman who suffered the assault. It' also sensationalised, and the violence against women is often there to elicit a sexual response from the viewer and/or sexually portray the female character getting abused. There's a sick, messed up reason why it's typically the female characters who are kidnapped, held hostage, and all-around levaged. The writers and/or producers see them as sexual beings.

 - If he's hot, then it's okay - 
If Christian Grey from Fifty Shades or Tamlin from ACOTAR were old, ugly men with no money to their name, would fans still swoon? No. And they'd probably call out the abuse and perversion for what it is, I'm sure. There's a quote from Catherine Steadman's book Something in the Water that makes a good point about this issue: "I suppose, at the end of the day, if you're not good-looking, you don't get away with being a bad boy. You just get called a thug."
How true is that?!

But unfortunately, writers and producers know this so well that they've become experts at disguising abusive behaviour and sexism under good looks, lots of money, and swoony one-liners. It's terrifying, because so many times - like with Damon or Chuck - I've felt myself subconsciously ignoring their bad deeds and falling under their spell. Isn't it horrifying that writers can manipulate us like that?

We have a duty to be more vigilant.

"It's just a book!" 

"It's just a film!" 

The thing is, it's not. It's something that happens in real life way too often, and what these shows and books are doing is romanticising that very real abuse. Fifty Shades, The Vampire Diaries etc etc, have huge, cult-like fandoms where the behaviour of good looking men like Grey or Damon is idealised by swooning teenage girls. It's affecting real life because the abuse in these shows or books is glamorised so much so that women in real life might be dragged into toxic relationships because they don't recognise them for what they are until it's too late. Or because they're told it's worth staying in a volatile relationship because it's the right thing to do for their partner. Or because him not letting you go outside is him protecting you because he cares about you.

It's sick. It's dangerous. It scares me because while we live in a society where women are objectified and abused daily, media and literature glamorise these behaviours by favouring men and men's stories. Books and films have a huge influence on us, and when they tell teenage girls that violence in relationships is "sexy", the results have a domino effect. We need to see and appreciate healthy, romantic relationships, and women need to be shown that they are worth so much more than what men think of them. 

We also need a response. I think we need more books and films and TV shows where the "good guys" are just as complex and well fleshed-out as the bad boys. Where relationships with them are just as attractive and appealing as the ones the girls think they crave with the bad boys. Everyone has flaws, obviously - that's what makes them human - but flaws have consequences. And there is something seriously wrong when violence and abuse are not shown to be the evil they are.

Other Sources: 
- When Violence is Romantic: How the Media Portrays Abusive Relationships
- Why Do We Idolize Abusive Relationships in the Media
It's Not Romantic to Romanticise Abusive Relationships

So! That was an exhausting post to write, and if you've stuck with me till the end, kudos to you ;) 

Let's discuss.

 Are their any other characters you can think of whose abusiveness is romanticised? Do you agree that bad boys often cross the line? Do you wish that more people noticed this and stood against it?