Romanticised Abuse: THE KISSING BOOTH (film)

Our goal is to raise awareness and draw attention to romanticised abuse in films, books, etc, in order to fight it
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- Share examples of romanticised abuse you've seen in books or films - doesn't even have to be a whole book or film; simply one scene is enough, if there's an instance of romanticised abuse in it.
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- This is not only about romanticised abusive relationships. It is also about romanticised sexual assault, rape, and harassment.
- Please consider the following statement a trigger warning: this blog series explores and draws attention to themes of abuse in fiction. I will discuss sexual assault, abusive relationships, and rape. I will infrequently explore those topics in depth as the fictional example requires it. Please read on with care. These subjects could be triggering.

The Kissing Booth is a Netflix film, a supposedly fluffy contemporary based off of a Wattpad novel, and it's been getting a lot of buzz recently. I'm not a big rom-com fan so I wasn't planning to watch it, but after seeing tweets posted by author Susan Dennard, I decided to give it a try.


Elle and Lee have been best friends since they were kids. When they were six years-old, they made up a set of rules - a friendship pact.
Years later, they’re teenagers, and Elle finds herself crushing on Lee’s older brother. Thing is, she’s in danger of breaking Rule #9: "Relatives are off-limits.” How can Elle follow her heart if by doing so she risks losing both boys?

Sexism/Objectification Of Women:

This movie is sexist. The writers take every single opportunity to depict the female characters as sexual objects, mention their breasts, or slut shame. Guys are running around shirtless, sure, and Noah gets his two moments of slow-mo, but when a female character (in this case, Elle) takes off her shirt and shows her underwear, it's an event. She's the one who gets most of the slow motion and graphic camera angles; she's the one whose body gets the most emphasis. Basically, the female characters' bodies are objectified way more than any of the guys'. Elle gets opportunity after opportunity to strip off her shirt and parade around in her bra, be it because she's covered in paint, at the beach, or drunk at a party. And whether it's a male character slapping her butt, telling her "since when did you get boobs?", or another male character telling her that "no boobs are worth this" {referring to another male character's threats if anyone dates her), the perspective is leeringly male. Dare we forget women have boobs we can gawk at because hey, that's what they're there for right? It’s perverse.

The plot begins when at the start of the film, Elle walks into school wearing a tiny skirt (her school pants ripped, and apparently – and conveniently for the story – the skirt is her only alternative). Not only does this situation scream PLOT DEVICE and FEMALE OBJECTIFICATION, but it’s just one of many scenes where Elle’s body is on display for no reason other than to get a rise out of the male characters. When she walks into school in the skirt, she receives catcalls from every guy around her; in another scene, when she accidentally stumbles into the guys' bathroom wearing only shorts and a bra, the response is perverted hoots, not to mention an altercation with her love interest (Noah) whereas he demands she leave (not a bad call) and instead she struts provocatively around the boys in her underwear solely to annoy Noah; when in a later scene she gets drunk at a party and proceeds to take off her shirt, we see the male characters ' responses and they barely know how to control their lust.

According to this film, boys are unable to do anything but drool and catcall when a girl’s showing skin. It’s the old “boys will be boys” - we ladies are just expected to deal. Not only is it offensive to the decent guys out there, but it's cold hard objectification of female bodies. How many times do we need to scream "WOMEN AREN'T SEXUAL BEINGS THERE FOR MALE GRATIFICATION" before the perspective changes?

Control of the heroine: 

There is so much alpha male possessiveness in this story. You could even say that the film entirely revolves around two boys controlling Elle. Noah’s her love interest, Lee’s her best friend, and the main conflict is Elle feeling guilty over the fact she’s breaking a rule she made with Lee when they were six years-old: “Relatives are off-limits”. Essentially, she can’t fall for his older brother. But considering that Elle’s own little sibling is about five years-old himself and Lee’s happily dating someone else, it’s hard to imagine why the rule even exists other than for Lee to keep Elle for himself. It’s selfish. It’s also rather twisted.

Halfway through the film, we finally get to the Kissing Booth scene. Stuff happens, blah blah blah, and Elle ends up kissing Noah (bet you didn’t see that one coming...). Elle is mortified – and turned on, let’s be honest – and she proceeds to tell Lee that she kissed his brother. He crudely remarks, "Just don't end up grinding coochies with my brother or I'll literally never talk to you again." But again, considering that Lee is not in love with Elle himself (although that reason wouldn't be valid, either, at least it would make some sense) why does this rule even exist?! Why the fuss? Lee might as well admit: “I don’t want my brother to have you. You’re mine.”

Naturally, the film’s conflict comes to a head when Lee discovers that his brother and Elle are dating. He hits the roof. He tells Elle: "You know, my whole life Noah has gotten everything that he has ever wanted. The only thing that I had that he didn't was you. And now he has that too."
Possessive much? She's not his! She's not an object! But apparently Lee thinks so, and the film okays that.

Much like Noah (who I'll discuss in a moment) Lee treats Elle like property he believes he has a right to.

Sexual Assault:

In one of the initial scenes of the film, Elle and Lee arrive at their school. Elle is wearing a short skirt because her school pants ripped and she has nothing else to wear, and one of the school boys (Tuppen) slaps her butt.

That's sexual assault. Sexual. Assault.

Except no one takes it seriously. It’s merely a plot device. Lee and Noah both try to defend Elle and of course there are fisticuffs, but the emphasis here is not that Elle’s been assaulted, it’s that Noah has come to her rescue and is beating the guy up.
Next come a sequence of scenes between the students and the principle (summary: the issue isn't properly resolved, and Elle is basically blamed for wearing the skirt - forget the guy who touched her, it's the girl's fault you guys) and the teens get detention. In detention, Elle warms up to Tuppen and accepts his offer for a date after he delivers a pathetic apology. Noah watches on angrily. The whole incident then becomes a standing joke as the guy puts on a short skirt himself and Elle joins in the laughter. It’s also worth noticing that she’s agreeing to go on a date with the guy who assaulted her. SAY WUT???

Sexual assault serves two purposes in this story, and neither are remotely appropriate: 1) It's a plot device to get two characters romantically involved - Noah "defends Elle's honour" and gets into a fight because he's oh so protective of her and now we're supposed to love him for it, and 2) It's a treated like a joke - there are no serious consequences, and it's literally laughed off.

Contrary to what this film will have us believe, sexual assault is not a joke. Neither is it an opportunity for the hero to get a pat on the back for 'saving' the heroine.

Abusive Relationship:

Noah and Elle are the star-crossed lovers we're supposed to ship here. Unfortunately, their relationship is anything but romantic.

Anger issues: Noah has anger issues. Right from the start of the film, Elle mentions how he's constantly getting into fights, and throughout the movie, time and time again, Noah ends up punching someone. Elle getting hit-on becomes an excuse for Noah to pummel her attacker. Yet, time and time again, we're supposed to think it's hot because he's only doing it to protect Elle. He's coming to her rescue. He's justified in beating up a guy, right?
I don't think so. While the seriousness of Noah's fits of fury is disguised behind him constantly coming to Elle's rescue, it doesn't alleviate how wrong - and frightening - his actions are. Noah even attacks his own brother out of rage, and completely ignores Elle when she screams at him to stop. The same happens in the school parking lot when he attacks the guy who touched her butt, and she screams repeatedly for him to stop. But of course he doesn’t. His anger is all he can think about and he doesn’t care for her opinion. When he and Elle are leaving the beach later on in the movie and she's refusing to go with him because she's angry at him, Noah slams his fist down on the car and shouts at her - twice - to "Just get in the car!"
It's frightening. It's classic abusive behaviour. And when Elle should just keep walking away, she turns around and gets in the car.

It gets worse. Towards the end of the movie, Lee walks in on Noah and Elle and sees the cut on Elle's face that she sustained during a fall in the garage. He immediately accuses his brother of hitting her. Noah is outraged, asks Lee how he can think that, and Lee responds: "I wouldn't put it past you!"
Let. That. Sink. In. Noah's own brother thinks him capable of hitting a woman. Not only is that pretty hectic for a rom-com, but it's just another red flag in this unhealthy relationship. It’s incredibly disturbing, especially coming from Lee.

There's anger, and there's constantly getting into physical fights because of your anger. Noah needs therapy, and Elle should stay the heck away. Instead, the movie repeatedly makes excuses for Noah's actions.

Manipulation/Victim-blaming: Noah takes every opportunity to blame Elle for the situations she gets into. It's always her fault; Noah always takes the moral high-ground. When Elle wakes up after a party and remembers how she made a spectacle of herself, Noah tells her "I told you not to come to the party." When she stumbles into the guys' bathroom at school in only shorts and a bra, Noah says "This is exactly what I was talking about." He follows up with: "Put your shirt on and get out." And then: "I told you to stop messing around." Apparently, he thinks Elle is an irresponsible kid who can't handle herself. He's relentlessly condescending. It's extremely insulting to Elle's character, and all of Elle's tepid "You're not the boss of me!" speeches have no real effect because Noah simply dismisses them. After all, he's older, he's a guy, and he knows better. Riiiiiight...

Another example of Noah’s messed up attitude is when he refers to Elle as “woman”. I honestly couldn’t believe my ears when I heard it. But sure enough, twice in the film, Noah actually calls Elle “woman”. The first time is when he lends her his shirt, demands for it back, and when she starts to take it off, he says "- woman I was kidding!" When later on in the movie Elle's driving recklessly, Noah yells "- woman pull the car over!" Now if that had been me in Elle's place (heaven forbid) I would've socked him in the jaw. Don’t you dare call me “woman”. I'm sure you ladies know what I'm talking about, too. When a guy calls you "woman", it's rarely - if ever - a compliment. It’s just wrong.

Possessiveness/Control: Noah, much like his brother Lee, wants to control Elle. He makes no secret of it. At first we have this predictable push and pull where she repeatedly tells him "you can't tell me what to do! Stop controlling me!" and while that's all nice and well had she then walked away and forgot about him, the movie romanticises Noah's behaviour and gets Elle to soften and let him in. All her rebelliousness is mere cute feistiness that Noah eventually smothers with his good looks and charm.

The controlling is horrific. When Elle is stood-up on a date, the guy who stood her up comes to tell her that he was forced to stand her up because Noah had threatened him and every other guy who was interested in her and warned them not to date her. Noah did that because he believes he knows better. Elle is rightly outraged, but when she confronts Noah and tells him that this is the end of him controlling her, he replies: "We'll see about that", and smirks. Later on in the film, when Elle tells him – again - to stop the controlling, he retorts "You're cute when you're bossy."
It keeps getting worse.
There’s a party at Noah and Lee’s house towards the start of the movie, and Noah tells Elle that she can't go (I can’t remember his reason). She still goes, obviously, but gets really, really drunk and takes her dress off – embarrassing herself. Noah ends up taking her back to his house after she passes out, and lies her down in his bed. Come morning, Elle wakes up in a panic, thinking they've slept together. She's relieved to still be in her underwear, although she's wearing Noah's shirt. Then Noah walks into the bedroom, wearing only a towel.
Red flags abound. Firstly, he took her back to his house - why not her own?! Screw her dad finding out she'd been drinking; Noah should've taken her to her home. Taking her back to his house was certainly not his call. It's completely inexcusable. Secondly, why the heck is she even in his bed?! Even if he did sleep somewhere else (he did) taking her to his house and putting her in his own bed in his bedroom while she’s unconscious is so, so, so, so wildly inappropriate!

There's a difference between protectiveness and possessiveness and Noah crosses the line.

The Kissing Booth is filmed through a grotesque misogynistic lens and romanticises not only sexual assault, but the toxic relationships between two teenage boys and a girl. It’s not a fun, fluffy rom-com – it’s a deeply disturbing story of abuse. And keeping that in mind, when Netflix's Ted Sarandos calls it "one of the most watched movies in the US and maybe even in the world", we should be even more alarmed.

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