Teenage fiction normalizes abusive relationships

Photo Courtesy: Capital EAP

“You’re nothing but a slut, we’re leaving,” he snapped at her. Alexa fell silent.

Alexa is a freshman in high school – the idea of love is new to her. The world of dating is filled with the unknown. Every second not spent with him, her heart aches.

Kody is kind-hearted, and loving. And although this never changed, a new side of him would rise to the surface.

At age 15 Alexa — young enough to be naive, but old enough to impress — made her way on a Friday evening to an Anything But Clothes Party wearing an outfit made out of caution tape that barely covered her naughty bits.

As she arrived, Kody greeted her with a drink as they danced into the night.

Alexa kept on drinking, having the best time until… she kissed a girlfriend as a joke.

As Alexa pulled away, out of the corner of her eye she saw Kody peering from the kitchen doorway. That’s when he called her a slut.

Eager to please and desperate to keep the relationship alive, Alexa found herself where many young women do – in an abusive relationship.

Putting up with abuse

Hardly a rare or isolated experience, the abusive relationship is reinforced and even normalized both in real life and in fiction.

Western culture’s dominant gender narrative has men socialized from a young age to be hyper masculine, strong and aggressive – with a callous attitude towards women.

Meanwhile, women are cast as forgiving and loyal, said Laurel O’Goreman, Women’s Studies Professor at Laurentian University.

O’Goreman says often young women don’t recognize the relationship as being abusive.

Isolation and control

I honestly never thought about it at the time.” Alexa explained. “I was in my own little world and I thought that this is how relationships were.”

Alexa recalls giving up part of her high school experience just to keep Kody in her life. “I loved him,” she said.

For Alexa love came at a cost.

“I missed out on going to parties, talking to my guy friends, and hanging out with my girlfriends. He kept me to himself, and I let him. That was how he wanted it, just him and I,” she said. “He had complete control over my social life.”

She remembers him constantly going through her phone, checking her messages, and erasing her guy friends out of her contact list and from her social media sites.

With Alexa feeling as if she only had Kody to turn to – isolated and alone she became more vulnerable.

From Kody’s controlling rage, mind games, to his offensive name-calling – Alexa’s self-confidence slowly slipped away.

 Alexa thought she had a longing, every lasting love – the kind you see in teenage fairytales like Twilight.

(L-R) KRISTEN STEWART and ROBERT PATTINSON star in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN-PART 2 Ph: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo Courtesy: Twilight Wiki

This is a trend within teenage fairytales and fantasy stories, where the abusive relationships become romanticized – normalizing abuse.

Explaining abuse away

A study conducted by O’Goreman found that in, “63 per cent of these fairytales teens indulge in, there is an abuse that is explained away.” It is the whole idea of Edward wanting to kill Bella – but it is not his fault because he is a vampire.

This is similar to real life situations, where the abuse is explained away as not being the fault of the abusive partner.

“I adored Kody, and continually rationalized his erratic actions and temper on the death of his brother. I could never have imagined what it would be like to lose a sibling, so I just let it be okay, said Alexa.

O’Goreman’s study indicated in 65 per cent of the popular fiction examined, the female protagonist ends up choosing the abusive partner in the end and they live happily ever after.

“The idea that surrounds the fairytale narrative is that if you try hard enough you can change him – that things will work themselves out, and you can get the happily ever after despite what is happening in the relationship right now,” said O’Goreman.

This narrative ultimately sends a damaging message to young women and men within our culture.

Four years out of the relationship, Alexa has not had a single desire to get close to any male partner.

“It’s not like I never think about being in love again, because I would be lying if I said no, but I am scared of the unknown when it comes to how they will treat me,” Alexa explained.

Day after day – night after night she wonders if she will ever let herself be vulnerable again.


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