by Teresia Smith
Have you ever wondered how it’s so easy to get involved in an abusive relationship and not realize it’s unhealthy and stay? We tend to ask questions such as, “Can’t they see the red flags” and “Why don’t they know this is not okay?” and, “Why don’t they just leave?”
Society romanticizes unhealthy relationships, and people can be persuaded to believe these non-truths.
Stop and think of how many young families you know that are already matching up their children in boyfriend/girlfriend pairs as early as pre-k and kindergarten. How many times do we catch ourselves asking a small child if they have a girlfriend or a boyfriend? When a boy is mean to a girl, we say it’s because he likes you. We are teaching our kids it’s okay to be unkind if you have feelings you don’t know how to handle.
As early as elementary or junior high we are allowing kids who are not emotionally mature enough for a romantic relationship to pair off. Parents get upset when their kids are hurt because preteen break ups are ugly. One week your son may be the girl’s favorite person, the next she’s spreading rumors because he broke her heart. We are teaching our kids it’s okay to hurt someone to make yourself feel better.
What about the music and movies produced? Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of some songs? In 1962, The Crystal’s had a hit called “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”. Some lyrics read “If he didn’t care for me / I could have never made him mad / But he hit me, and I was glad.” Then the Dixie Chick’s song “Goodbye Earl” which follows Mary Anne and Wanda as they “plot the death of Wanda’s abusive husband Earl, who, after Wanda files for divorce, ‘walked right through that restraining order / and put her in intensive care’.” In 1994, Martina McBride wrote a controversial song called “Independence Day” where the lyrics condemn the community that knew the abuse was happening but chose to not intervene. She sings “Some folks whispered, some folks talked / but everybody looked the other way,” Tracy Chapman’s song, “Behind the Wall”, tells a story of bystander intervention. The song tells of someone trying to help a neighbor who is being abused and feeling failed by the system. Part of the lyric is, “Calling the police does nothing, she quickly discovers, as “they always come late, if they come at all,”
There are also movies that also romanticize abusive relationships and influence society’s acceptance. The Twilight series was very popular with teens and adults. And from Twilight, the relationship between Bella and Edward is still glorified as romantic when in reality, it is emotionally abusive. Community member Calsey G. shared, “Watching the movies and reading the books when you’re younger, it’s like he’s so protective and it’s endearing, but growing up is realizing he was a stalker/manipulator who had to have control.” Even before knowing Bella, Edward would sneak into her room to watch her sleep. This is not romantic, this is stalking. Edward also limits where Bella can go and who she is allowed to see. In one scene he keeps her from driving to see Jacob by breaking a part of her car. This behavior is not romantic, it’s controlling.
I hate to even mention “50 Shades of Grey” but the books and movie were insanely popular and many are familiar with them. A lot of the abusive behaviors seen in “Twilight” are also seen in “50 Shades.” Just like Edward, Christian Grey is a wealthy, domineering male who stalks his victim, a naive, inexperienced girl. Caitlin Roper, a blogger for The Huffington Post U.K., describes Christian’s abusive behavior in this way: “The “romantic” lead is Christian Grey, a deeply disturbed individual who immediately begins stalking the naïve and virginal Ana. Christian is jealous, controlling and manipulative and has a penchant for sexual violence (this man just has “catch” written all over him). He even attempts to persuade Ana to sign a contract that allows him complete control over her, from making herself available to him for sex on demand down to dictating what and when she can eat.”
I do think it can be helpful to have movies and songs that show abusive relationships because they are a part of reality for many; however, there’s a fine line between showing the reality and making it seem romantic. It’s time to stop confusing passion with abuse and look at stories like these as more of a warning of what to avoid. It is important to have conversations about these movies and point out the errors in how they are portrayed. Young and vulnerable people may watch these movies and be persuaded that these behaviors are normal.
Healthy relationships have hallmarks that we need to promote. Within that relationship, I should feel safe, valued and supported. My partner should be truthful, understanding, and trusting. I should be able to have friends and my own hobbies and interests, and my partner should respect my relationship with my family. I should feel accepted as I am and be treated as an equal person. These are all qualities of a healthy relationship.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Our trained crisis counselors may be reached in Jackson County at 256.574.5826 or at our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.