Romanticised Abuse: F.R.I.E.N.D.S


Our goal is to raise awareness and draw attention to romanticised abuse in films, book, etc, in order to fight it
- Join us! Design your own header (or use mine)  and start posting - once a week, two times a week, whenever
- Share examples of romanticised abuse you've seen in books or films - doesn't even have to be a whole book or film; simple one scene is enough, if there's an instance of romanticised abuse in it
- Keep the post short. Just a few paragraphs.

This is not just about romanticised abusive relationships. It is about romanticised sexual assault and harassment, as well. 
- Please link to my blog as the original creator.




F.R.I.E.N.D.S is a very dated show. Y'all know that. It definitely has its issues, and unfortunately for the era it was made in, those issues wouldn't really have been issues when it was made. Does that make it OK?
Nope. Because frankly everyone should know better.

My post today is about a drawn out incident of sexual assault on the show. While thankfully the other characters never like this guy and generally consider him to be a jerk, the show and the characters do not handle and respond to his inappropriate actions appropriately. The sexual assault is extremely downplayed. It is inexcusable.


The incident goes like this: Phoebe, one of the FRIENDS, is a masseuse. One day, Paolo, who is the boyfriend of Phoebe's friend Rachel, comes in for a massage and she proceeds to give him one. But it doesn't go as planned. Suddenly, Paolo begins groping Phoebe, specifically her butt, and runs his hands over her thighs and legs. It is completely inappropriate. Phoebe is disturbed by the incident, and so tells Rachel what he did. Thankfully, Rachel sees Paolo's actions as horrific, and she breaks up with him. Later in the series, in episode 1 (I think?) of series 2, Rachel hooks up with Paolo again and they have a one-night-stand, which she admittedly regrets. In the scene afterwards where all their friends are gathered in the lounge/kitchen, Paolo goes up to Phoebe and touches her butt again. Phoebe says "stop touching my ass!" and the laugh tracks come on as she hastily moves away from him. Rachel then makes Paolo leave because she realises the one-night-stand was a mistake.

So far (I'm only on series 2) Paolo hasn't shown up again. Yay.
But the show's handling of the sexual assault on Phoebe highlights four troubling points.

1: The focus is on Rachel - Forget how Phoebe's feeling; Rachel is the one the writers and everyone else cares about. Sure, learning that your boyfriend hit on someone else (the show says hit-on, but it was so much more than hit-on - he violently groped a woman's body) is obviously going to be a shock, but it is not worse than what the assault victim/survivor is feeling. The attention should be on Phoebe, but instead the writers focus on Rachel, who, to put it blatantly, is actually more concerned about how she's been betrayed rather than what her good friend has had happen to her.
The assault should be about Paolo and Phoebe. Phoebe's feelings should be paid attention to, and Paolo's actions - not for cheating on Rachel, but for touching Phoebe - should be the sole concern, rightly addressed and reprimanded. By the time I'd watched these disgusting scenes, I honestly did not care about Rachel. It was Phoebe I felt for. It was Phoebe I believe the writers should've treated better. And it was Paolo they needed to be harder on.

2: Sexual assault is there for laughs - Paolo gropes Phoebe twice and guess what we hear? Laugh tracks. Because obviously, we're supposed to laugh here. It's supposed to be funny and we should be saying "oh look!! Paolo's dating Rachel's and yet he's groping Phoebe HAHAHAHA".
That. Makes. Me. Sick. Sexual assault is not a joke, and if you're writing it into a comedy and throwing laughs at it, what the hell - excuse my language - are you thinking? Is sexually assaulting a woman funny to you? Is a guy pawing at a girl's butt without her consent funny to you? That is exactly the kind of toxic, misogynistic idea we have thrown in our faces every day, and that is rape culture.

3: It's a plot device - The whole incident of Paolo touching Phoebe without her consent is there because 1) it's supposed provide humour and 2) It gives Rachel a valid reason to stop dating him and be single again, which aids her relationship subplot with Ross (another character on the show). The sexual assault is not there because the writers want to draw attention to its horror, show the progression of Phoebe's emotional response to it, and get Paolo the punishment he deserves - no. It's there because it serves as a device to help the story along - specifically Rachel's story. And that kind of writing is disgusting.

4: Normalisation of sexual assault - By dismissing the incident and focusing on Rachel and the apparent "humour" of the situation, the show is essentially saying "He touched her without her consent but let's not call it sexual assault and hey, guys touching girls without their content happens everyday so let's move on. No biggie." That idea is revolting. Sexual assault can and does happen everyday, but that does not mean that its wrongness should ever become......well, less wrong. Just because a serial killer kills ten people and not one, should the horror of the killings lose its impact? Of course not! We should be as disgusted and angered by it as we are the first time it happens. I can promise you that even if F.R.I.E.N.D.S included a hundred incidents of seuxal assault I would still hate every single one with the same vehemence (and yes, I'd stop watching the show too).
In this case, the writers are dismissing Phoebe and Paolo's situation and moving on without so much as a nod to Phoebe's state and admitting that Paolo's behaviour needs to be dealt with (preferably in a courtroom). They are normalising the whole incident. It's shocking.


F.R.I.E.N.D.S is a comedy. It's supposed to be a feel-good, lighthearted comedy. But writing in scenes of sexual assault for laughs, with no intention of focusing on the victim's response and how she's affected by it, and missing the whole point of what the attacker did by instead focusing on his relationship with someone other than the woman he assaulted, is horrifying.
That is not comedy. That is not good writing. That is romanticised sexual assault. That is normalisation of sexual assault.


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