Romantic Abuse

Warning: this is the topic I wrote my master’s thesis on, so it may come off as a bit over the top. Shockingly enough, it’s difficult to study domestic violence for three years and not become passionate about preventing it. Read at your own peril.

It would appear that this week, another Twilight movie came out. Not surprisingly, I did not go to see it. I have seen one of these wretched films in the past when my friends dragged me to the dollar theatre. I’m pretty sure I annoyed the fans sitting behind me when I actually started gagging at some of the scenes. It was an involuntary reflex. Seriously.

Thus, this post will contain no direct complaints about my viewing experience, which was blissfully nonexistent. I just want to ask everyone…

…why would it be a good thing for young people (especially young girls) to read/view a series that romanticizes emotional and physical abuse?

Allow me to back up for a moment and talk about the reasons that we, as a civilization, have deemed books and movies to be worthwhile.

  1. They’re good entertainment.
  2. They can be topics for common conversation.
  3. Hopefully, they encourage mental growth.
  4. They may also inspire spiritual growth (as in the case of the Bible, the Quran, or the Talmud).
  5. They presumably convey cultural values, morals, and ethics.
  6. They can directly instruct readers/viewers about ‘good’ and ‘not-good’ behaviour and thus provide role models of sorts (fables, etc.).
  7. Excellent for passing along intergenerational knowledge.
  8. Good for nights that you can’t fall asleep (see: any organic chemistry textbook).

Presumably, there are some reasons why books (and more recently, movies) have been deemed important cultural forces. The literature and films of our times tell a story about who we are, what we value, and why we get up in the morning. The literature and films from the past tell us stories about who we used to be, what we used to care about, and remind us of the threads of humanity connecting us through generations.

Anyway, back to the topic of books/movies (*cough* Twilight *cough*) that romanticize jealousy and relationship violence, I’m really not sure what purpose they serve. Perhaps if they were so clearly satirical that even an impressionable ten-year-old would understand that stalkers behaviour isn’t the same thing as love, it would have an entertainment/mental growth/cultural values purpose. But I think not.

I’m definitely not saying the books or movies should be banned. I’m all for freedom of expression and the individual right to access the media they choose. But giving girls the idea that emotional abuse and physical violence are romantic¬†expressions of affection and have a place in a dating relationship or marriage is frankly sickening to me.

When a person doesn’t leave an abusive relationship, well-meaning friends and relatives will ask in bewilderment, “Why doesn’t she/he just leave?” The answer starts a long time before the relationship begins. It starts when a child begins to construct an idea of “this is a healthy relationship.” That idea is a puzzle, with pieces coming from real life marriages the child has seen, books the child has read, movies the child has watched, and how relationships are talked about in the culture the child grows up with. There’s no way I could trace a correlation between girls who are idolizing the Twilight series now and the women who might grow up to live in abusive relationships, but do we really need empirical evidence to say that abusive behaviour shouldn’t be modeled or promoted to children? Is this something we want to take a chance on?

This isn’t as much an indictment of the Twilight series as a general disgust for the regularity with which abusive relationships are romanticized, jealousy is fetishized, and domestic violence is a topic for jokes. Ha. Ha.

I don’t have an answer for this. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that anything that can be done to prevent abuse before it starts to happen is a step in the right direction – and I think that might start with frank conversations about why abuse is portrayed as romantic in any media.

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