Here’s the question for this week, gang, and it makes me tear out my hair that I should even have to ask it, but: why do we keep romanticising creepiness and abuse?
There is nothing fun about being stalked. Anyone who has had even a breath of the experience can tell you that. We are taught to fear this, taught to be wary of our surroundings, taught to travel in groups at night and be altogether afraid of the wholly negative species that is creepy men. And yet we are also taught, through the media and fiction, that said creepers are a thing we should idolise.
I try not to mention Twilight every time I find a gripe about young adults and the media, but it just seems to be the base example for so many things that are wrong, wrong and wrong with a garnish of wrong. We all know the story to death by now, surely, but if you don’t, let me fill you in on one of the key beginning points of our hero and heroine’s glorious relationship: Edward breaks into Bella’s house and watches her sleep.
His major source of angst throughout the series is also the fact that Bella smells oh so tasty, and he must control his bloodlust when he’s around her. Aww, isn’t that sweet? He’s a biological-fluid-drinking immortal monster, but he’ll restrain his primal urges because he loves her. Admirable on one level, a metaphor for how all men just want to bang every woman they see and those that resist the urge are gentlemen on another, and overall, the basic and rather overlooked principle that he wants to kill and eat his girlfriend.
Now the intelligent thing to do would be to feel horrified and threatened by this. But neither Bella nor her author encourages this. Nor do they encourage any reaction other than simpering sighs of sweetness to Edward insisting on escorting her everywhere even when she refuses him, demanding to know what she’s doing all the time, cutting her off from her family and friends and taking the engine out of her car so she can’t go and see her werewolf buddy.
The list goes on and I won’t waste my word space with it, but the point here is, this is controlling and stalker-y behaviour. He’s protecting her, of course, because she is merely a weak little piece of wobbly-lipped brunette bacon and he, being the ageless being, knows better. This is, again, reasonable on base level, but the lengths that they go to are ridiculous. Sure, there’s romantic appeal in chivalry, but there’s a difference between ‘I will protect you my fair lady’ and ‘I will take control of your life because I clearly know what is good for you’.
And that’s just Edward. The other point on the love triangle turns out to be just as bad, complete with a physically forced and entirely non-consensual kiss that plain old squicks me out. And does Bella fight back against any of this or call these guys out on their creepiness? No, she does not, and that is where the problem lies.
It’s all very well having characters who do horrible things, for it creates drama and plot and tension. But this usually works when said characters are the villains and these horrible things are recognised as villainous or at the very least bad. The problem lies in these behaviours not only going unchecked but being given to the supposed good guys. This is telling us that we should not only put up with them but idolise them.
Lord let us not reflect on Fifty Shades of Grey and the abusive, manipulative and torturous relationship therein, which for some reason has middle-aged women everywhere all a-twitter. Let us not mention how every Cassandra Clare love triangle is a waste of everyone’s emotions and time because you know from the start the boy who acts the most like a total asshole is the one who’s going to get the girl. Let us not weep over the fact that this trend of swooning over male leads who sweat pure dickery goes back literally hundreds of years.
Let’s be frank, this trope has been around for ages: the roguish, broody hero who is terrible to the heroine in the beginning, but then she tames him and makes him a better person. That, and the whole ‘I like you so I’m going to cover up my feelings by being rude’ thing. It’s Mr Darcy through and through. It’s Heathcliff being a cock to Cathy and leaving them both to lament their toxic, inescapable love-hate relationship.
Which is all very well for drama’s sake, but we need to stop encouraging that toxic, emotionally unstable, abusive or controlling relationships are healthy and to be desired. The point of Heathcliff was that he was an ass, it wasn’t intended (as far as I know, because I didn’t come up with the guy) to be swooned over and dreamed of as the ideal man. And that is the message being beamed to the young audience (hell, and the adult one too): there’s nothing wrong with relationships where your privacy is invaded and you’re treated badly. In fact, they’re awesome. This is the kind of man you want, an old-school romantic, someone who will follow you home and watch from the tree by your window to make sure you’re alright, who will swoop in like a gentleman to open doors and make all your decisions for you.
The problem exists with the genderflip as well—as Nicki Minaj so beautifully demonstrated in the above clip, the situation of girls stalking boys is seen as a funny juxtaposition and used as a comedy device, much like women being the controlling, forceful and abusive factor in a relationship. Hurrah for double standards! If a man follows a woman home because he likes her, it’s romantic, if a woman follows a man home because she likes him, she’s clearly pathetic and it’s hilarious for everyone. Neither of these is good because neither points out the glaring fact that oh my God these people are stalkers and that is not healthy, funny, sweet or generally okay.
Again, again, again, it is never just a book, it is an example, and if people see enough of a certain thing idealised and promoted in fiction and media, they will take it to heart subconsciously or otherwise.