Romanticised Abuse

A "bad boy" is possibly one of the most popular male stereotypes in fiction today. They're the anti-heroes who are usually handsome, mysterious, and dangerous. It's also those qualities that make them the desired male characters they are.

Today, on The International Day of Elimination of Violence against WomenI've decided to write this post to draw attention to the shocking increase of violence against women in films, books, and TV shows. I'll also be discussing how that violence - and abuse - is being normalised. It's a topic I feel very passionately about, and I encourage you to comment below and share your own thoughts, as well.

Trigger Warning: This post contains descriptions/mentions of rape and abuse.

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

- 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 - sexualising them in almost every episode - but he even attempts to rape both Serena and Jenny in the pilot episode, and not once stops emotionally abusing Blair or manipulating her. He mentions Blair's sexual activities in public to embarrass her, he spitefully declares a Fatwa on her so that no one else can date her when he's unable to, and he even tries to trade her over to his uncle to get back his hotel. He then tries to make her believe it's her fault! 

There is also the manipulative way the writers have written him. When the whole incident - Chuck's attempted rape of 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 storyline with Blair. Jenny's own family shipped her off to live with her mom in another city, and she promptly left the show. If we can't see her, apparently we can't care about her. And apparently, we must forget she even existed. 

The writers' love for Chuck knows no bounds. Just when it looks like he might be cast in a bad light,  the writers will victimise him again (like when he gets shot not long after the whole Jenny incident is made public), and it's as if they're redeeming him. It's like the writers are terrified that the viewers will hate Chuck again, so they get him mugged and shot and now we can't help but feel sorry for him again. It's revolting. 

You can read more about Chuck's behaviour here and here.  

- Edward Cullen (The Twilight Saga) 

Most people today see Edward Cullen for who he really was: a sexist, controlling, possessive, 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. Bella is nothing if not with Edward; she has no life outside of him, and I shouldn't have to point out the red flags in such a dynamic. 

- Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey

Christian Grey is the worst of the worst. He's misogynistic, controlling, perverted, violent, unstable, sadistic, and a narcissistic stalker and abuser. 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. Never mind that she's literally afraid of him, right? 

And don't get me started on E.L. James' portrayal of what is supposedly BDSM. Long story short: It's not. It's abuse. Consent doesn't play a part in Christian and Ana's relationship. 

Read more about Fifty Shades and Christian Grey here.

- Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries

I used to love Damon and ship Delena. Granted, it was before I ever watched TVD, but they looked like a hot couple. Only when I finally sat down and watched all eight seasons of the show, I couldn't ignore his actions. 

Damon Salvatore does despicable things and yet no one is allowed to make him face the consequences because he's the swoony anti-hero and #Delena is canon. His relationship with Elena is toxic (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 of them and having sex with them while 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 redeemable 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 behaviour here and here. I also wrote a separate post on Damon's treatment of Caroline here.

I cannot understand why women will swoon over and idealise a guy who undercuts their value and rights as a human being. It's the very opposite of feminism; and it's insulting and offensive to women. Who would want to be the property of another fallible, broken human being? Who would want to be afraid of their partner, or to have him take away her right to choose?

And please. This is 2018. I've lost track of the times a woman has been kidnapped, or raped, or beaten around on screen to further a man's story. Writers, do better.  Please. 

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 and consent should always play a big role in the situation. 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 called sexy in Maas’ books. That doesn't sit right with me.

There's also the fact that violence against women is almost always sexual in nature when it's shown in TV shows, and sensationalised way more than violence against men. It's horrifying to watch. Violence against women in TV shows can so easily be dubbed entertainment, and it makes me sick.

Love him enough and he'll change
A women should never be responsible for getting a man to change his ways. The misconception is utterly absurd. It's also why I've never liked the Beauty and the Beast fairytale - Belle has no obligation to save him, and yet the story expects it of her. Also consider 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, too, there is 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?!

Women are not rehabilitation centres for men. Stop ordering us to stick with someone who treats us like trash and then claim that love can excuse all wrongs.

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

The excuse of the "strong woman"
I see this in YA books all the time. Have a badass heroine - think Feyre from ACOTAR, Aurora from Roar, or 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 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 strong, awesome, quirky superhero, but then we have her and Joker's incredibly toxic and abusive relationship. The characters might be well written, but the abuse inflicted on Harley should not be acceptable just because she can return the Joker's punches. (Read more on their relationship here). It's like saying "it's okay if you're being abused because you're returning the abuse." It's twisted, to say the least.

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 
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 second incident was never mentioned again. That incident was even more explicit than the incident that was actually brought up. Apparently, the male character's bad behaviour was excusable, his story arc more important, and the female characters' pain dismissible.

Again, this happens in the Vampire Diaries where in season one Damon Salvatore rapes and abuses Caroline Forbes. When Damon becomes a "good guy", the incident is forgotten. Not once does he even admit or apologise for his actions - even when Caroline eventually marries his brother. The story chooses to favour his character, sweep under the rug his crimes, and bypass Caroline's suffering completely.

People can change. It is possible. But I strongly believe that they still 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's also sensationalised, the violence against women often there to elicit an arousal from the viewer. There's a sick, messed up reason why it's typically the female characters who are kidnapped, held hostage, and are used as liabilities: the writers see violence against women as entertainment.

 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 painfully true is that?

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 found 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 on a daily basis, 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 because the violence is shown to be sexy. It's affecting real life, too, because the abuse in these stories is so heavily glamorised that women often don't recognise the signs of an toxic relationship until it's too late. Or they're told that staying in a volatile relationship is the right thing to do for their partner. Or that their partner not letting them go outside is simply loving protectiveness. Or that they are worth nothing but the opinion and influence of the men in their lives.

It's sick cycle. It's dangerous. It scares me, because while we live in a society where women are objectified and abused daily, media and literature call that abuse romantic. They favour male characters, men's stories, and romanticise misogynistic behaviour. It's a domino effect that perpetrates real life.

Thus, I think we need a response. Not because this content is new, or because #MeToo is finally a thing, but because it's getting excused in media. It shouldn't be hard to call out romanticised abuse for what it is and rid our screens and books of such messages - at least, not if enough people do so. We need to cleanse our influences; we need to see and appreciate healthy, respectful relationships; women need to be told that they are worth so much more than how their man treats them; we need to see a man get punished when he rapes a woman, not redeemed.

Abuse is, tragically, a part of our lives. But there is something seriously wrong when it gets romanticised.

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

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?