Saturday, 25 November 2017

Abuse is being Romanticised

I'm sure you've heard the phrase: "Girls like Bad Boys." After all, those kinds of guys are sexy, brooding, dangerous, unpredictable, and interesting - what's not to like?

Today is The International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women. It's appropriate, then,  that I post this post today, sharing my thoughts on the shocking increase of violence against women in films, books, and TV shows - always geared towards teen audiences - and how that violence, and abuse, is being normalised. Today I want to talk about that topic - one I feel very passionately about.
Please share your own thoughts in the comments section and feel free to discuss :)

Abuse is defined as: 
- "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. Not only does Chuck stalk and constantly objectify women - sexualizing them in almost every episode - 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 behavior excusable. He mentions her sexual encounters in public to embarrass her, he declares a Fatwa on her so no one else can date her, and he trades her to his uncle for his hotel and then tries to make her believe it's her fault. The guy is the very definition of abusive. 
And then there's the manipulative way the writers have written him. Even when the whole incident 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 evil, they'd victimise him again (like when he gets shot not long after the whole Jenny incident is made public. It's like they 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. 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. 

- Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey) - This guy is undoubtedly the worst of the worst. He's misogynistic, sexist, controlling, perverted, arrogant, violent, unstable, sadistic, and a stalker and rapist. He doesn't take no for an answer, he controls who Ana sees, what she eats, how she dresses, and he gets away with it because he's good looking, wealthy, and a victim of a harsh upbringing. 

- Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries) - I admit, I used to love this guy. I certainly loved Delena - their chemistry, their looks, their kiss in the rain...
But Damon does despicable things, doesn't apologize for them, and his relationship with Elena is toxic, unhealthy, manipulative, and possessive. It was hard for me to admit that to myself because on the surface I liked what I saw of them; I was shoving the questionable things to the back of my mind. 

But no. Damon controls Elena, manipulates countless women, rapes and abuses Caroline Forbes, and so much for a redeemable arc; the guy never once owns up to the sins of his past or faces consequences. 
(Read more on Damon's toxic behavior here and here).

- Sexist
I cannot - for the life of me - 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 his wants and desires, and how can you - as a woman - even consider that is right?! It's an insult to you.

- Violence against women - 
Violence is wrong. There is no, no case where violence against women is okay. BSDM is another story and I won't go there, but I just don't think 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 I don't think that's right.

- Love him enough and he'll change - 
This misconception is absurd. Never, never, never should a women be responsible for getting a man to change his ways. That's 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 and tormented by him, and the worst thing is she blames it on herself and the story lets her do it. With that relationship, I also think there's the underlying element that she's there to "help him change". It is not your job to save him - and in this world, God is the only one who can.

- The excuse of the "strong woman" - 
I am seeing this more and more 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).

Having a female character say - never outright, but it's implied - "I can handle it" does not make it 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 and obvious. But it goes forgotten - swept under the rug by the writers.
Again, this happens in the Vampire Diaries where in season one Damon Salvatore rapes, drugs, and 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 marries his brother, and it should definitely have come up then, if not right at the beginning of the series.

People change. Definitely. But they need to be held accountable for their actions and face justice. When their behavior is swept under the rug and ignored, the effects are horrific.

- 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.

 - 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 call out the abuse and perversion for what it is, I'm sure. But writers and producers know this so well that they've become experts at disguising abusive behavior 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!" 

But the thing is, it's not. It's a way of life - or a life that many girls seek as the ideal; the attractive, dangerous fantasy. Fifty Shades, Vampire Diaries etc etc, have huge, cult-like fandoms where the behaviour of good looking men like Grey or Damon is idealised and romanticised. 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.

It's sick. It's dangerous. It scares me because while we live in a society where women are objectified and abused daily, the media, literature, and TV shows glamorise these behaviours by favouring men and men's stories. Books and films have a huge influence on us, and when they show 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 as the bad boys, and where relationships with them are just as attractive and appealing as the ones the girls 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 is not shown to be the evil it is.

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? 

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