Making Relationship Violence Sexy

The blogosphere was abuzz last week with talk of TV’s Gossip Girl where antihero, Chuck Bass, humiliated ex-girlfriend, Blair Waldorf, by tattling on her sexual past in front of her new boyfriend’s mother. He followed up by telling Blair she couldn’t be with anyone else because, “You’re mine.” Enraged, he wrestled her onto a sofa before hurling his fist through a window, a shard of glass cutting Blair’s face.

A reporter from E! Entertainment called the cut, “the most perfect, beautiful, dainty injury.”

Are Chuck’s violence and controlling ways meant to be seen as “perfect” and “beautiful,” as well, set within the passion of unrequited love?

As the story goes along, it appears that Blair isn’t the one who’s hurt. Chuck is. He loves Blair too much for his own good, according to the show’s producers and this week’s episode.

Unfortunately, sexualized violence is hardly a new story. Popular romance novels are commonly called “bodice rippers.” The hero fears his love of the heroine and the vulnerability his affection might bring. He must stay strong and resist, in part by treating the object of his desire poorly. Finally he gives in in a torrent of ripped clothing.

In these stories the heroine reforms the rouge and wins in the end.

What message do young women get while watching abusive lovers in Gossip Girl or reading romance? That a lover’s harm exposes his love? That she will ultimately transform him? That it’s all so romantic? That it’s all so normal?

Maybe. Along these lines it’s interesting that one-third of abused women expect to marry their abuser. Why? First, they take the jealous rage as a sign of deep love and passion. Second, they believe that marriage will end his abuse-causing insecurity. Yet after marriage, violence escalates.

Signs of an abusive lover include controlling behavior, pushing for quick involvement, persistent jealousy (especially jealousy that leads to verbal or physical attacks), constantly checking up, isolation (cutting off family and friends), blaming others for his problems, insulting yet easily insulted, unrealistic expectations (you must be perfect and meet his every need), and rigid gender roles.

Should you choose to leave an abuser, contact a shelter or hotline to form a plan of action. Do not tell the abuser you plan to leave, as this is the most dangerous time. Knowing he’s lost control, he may seek to take ultimate control: your life. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800 799-7233.

Helping friends who are in abusive relationships can be difficult, for victims are often in denial about how bad the situation is, or about their ability to leave. Experts say that it helps if friends “continually counter with messages like ‘It’s not you. You didn’t cause this. This is not a normal relationship.’”

One battered woman who eventually left credited her friends, saying, “They saw the signs from the beginning. They would tell me I would go missing and my picture would end up on a milk carton. Over time, it slowly sank in.”

Of course, it might be a good idea to stop romanticizing and normalizing violent relationships in the first place.

Georgia Platts

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men
What Happens When You Beat A Sex Object?
Rape Epidemic in South Africa. Why?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on May 11, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I heard there’s a cycle in domestic violence: Calm–>tension building–>incident–>making-up–>calm. . . I think a lot of women mistake the making-up phase for true repentance, b/c the man is characteristically sweet, promises it won’t happen again, and minimizes the impact of the abusive episode. Given the cycle, I think the best idea for abused women is give up entirely on the abuser, get out of the situation, and fix her self-esteem and enabling issues that attracted her to that type of guy in the first place. I’m not certain how often those guys are actually reformed–any stats?

    As a side-note, I thought “Enough” starring J-Lo surprisingly enough, was a decent portrayal of domestic violence.

    • Yes, that cycle does exist. Problem is getting women to move out of a state of denial that tells them either “it’s not that bad” or “I can’t leave.”

  2. Hannah Ervin

    Since Gossip Girl is a fairly popular TV show, many young girls watch the romantic, violent, and complicated relationships that the show portrays. Shows like this one in a way tell young couples that violence is sexy and is all right if the couple really loves each other, because it is violence out of passion. Because of shows like this one we see young couples arguing and experiencing abuse. Abusive relationships equal power. The abuser of the relationship has a power trip and tests her/his significant other to see if they will “obey” and do what they want them to do. Abusive relationships, like you said, only get worse with marriage and continuing to stay with that person. The deeper the relationship the harder to get out of one and the harder it is for the abused to admit and realize she/he is in a bad situation.

  3. Jennifer Barry

    I’ve always wondered why women stay in verbally or physically abusive relationships. Some people think that these victims are “stupid”, “weak”, or truly in love with their abuser. It’s easy for someone to say these things if they have never been abused. I think women stay in abusive relationships for several different reasons. There are some cultures that raise their females to be submissive to men, especially husbands. I have seen that, and these poor women are told by their own mother’s that it’s all part of marriage. I have also seen young females get into abusive relationships when they are in their teens. They are young and inexperienced in relationships, and really don’t know how to handle the abuse. In my opinion, we (when we are growing up) form our ideas of what relationships are, and how they are suppose to work, based on our parent’s relationship and other close family members. Also, we learn by reading and watching t.v. So I do think that these portrayals of men over-powering women because their “love” makes them crazy can definately have an impact on both young males and females. I can remember reading romance novels when I was 15 or 16, and thinking it was so romantic and exciting when the female was captured by a handsome pirate only later to succumb to his lustful appetite. Yikes! What was I thinking? There is a lot to be said on this subject, and I couldn’t possibly express everything I feel about it in a few paragraphs. I think several factors contribute to why a female stays in an abusive relationship.

  4. I think the biggest problem is that women think they can change abusive men, which is why they continue to stick around. Whether it’s physical or verbal abuse, or it’s a man that is seen as some sort of “rebel” or “bad boy, women who have relationships with these men want to think that they are the only “special” one that can change this behavior. It’s been seen so many times in film and television so I’m assuming that is where they get the idea that it’s possible. I’ve had friends in abusive relationships and the first time there is an incident, they seem strong and act like they won’t go back, but it’s only a matter of time before they start to feel sorry for their abuser, as if he is some lost soul and she is the only one he can turn to, as if they were going to feel guilty for leaving. I personally have tried to understand how on earth they could think that it is a good idea to go back and withstand the abuse, but I’m pretty sure of myself and I could never put myself in that situation.

  5. From my previous experiences plus observations, I found that men tend to keep troubles to themselves and away from the women they love. They often keep their mouth shut and not letting the women know about the trouble they encounter. Often time, they do not realize what they are doing actually hurts women’s feeling by making women feel powerless. When negative energy adds up in men’s body, they become violence and try to release it. At this very moment, the women nearby who is supporting him become vulnerable. Hence, sexualized violence begins.
    There is an old say in the Chinese culture that “The one who hurt most, love most.” Hitting is a way to express love in the old times. Perhaps this is the way it is? The more you care, the easier you lose control? What I believe is that if you are truly in love, you would not think about violence even him/her drives you crazy.

  6. Santosh Kalidindi

    From my personal observations, I believe that one possible reason that women remain in abusive relationships is because they don’t recognize it for what it is until it is too late. Women often believe that their version of “abuse” is just an innocent act by their partner in order to show their love or that it is just a phase in the relationship. As other posters have pointed out, society portrays women as individuals drawn to the “bad boy” image. As a result, women follow along and get into relationships with such partners believing that they can tame them. However, as the relationship goes on, the women slowly dies in spirit as she’s in that abusive relationship. By the time she does realize it, her self-confidence and self-worth are potentially severely damaged due to the abuse. Therefore, she might feel like there is nowhere to go or that no one will have her. Additionally, during the period that the women was unaware of the abuse, each abusive act by the partner in the relationship serves to encourage him to keep going as there is no sign of resistance.

  7. Like many women, I have been a victim of domestic violence. Three months ago I left the father of my children and now can not believe what I put myself through. Pleases do not misunderstand me HE was the abuser but I contributed to my abuse by sticking around for five and a half years. The few people that know the whole story of my break up often ask ‘why did you put up with it’ for which I could give a laundry list of reasons but the bottom line was I stuck around because of hope. I kept hoping he would change while being fully aware that abusers do not change. Our society engrains in us that people can AND do change and that is what women like me hold onto. If you know someone in an abusive situation give them support without chastizing them. Trust me she already feels bad enough.

  8. I have to confess that I was a sucker for the bad bay image often portrayed in my favorite romance novels and romantic movies. I wanted the cool, tall, dark and mysterious man on the motorcycle who could drive me wild. I eventually found that very guy and ended up putting myself through an emotional roller coaster. Though he did not hurt me physically, he was verbally abusive and controlling. Though I was always there for him, he was never there for me emotionally. In fact, he was basically emotionally unavailable. Like many girls, I stuck around hoping that he would eventually love me the way I loved him.

    Since I was able to move on from him, I realized I had to rise above this romantic schema that I had poisoned my mind with. I started paying more attention to the nice guys who had a better appreciation for a woman’s worth. I guess our society just needs to stop idealizing the bad boy image in the media so less young girls would find themselves in abusive relationships in the future. Either that or we need to teach girls that this image is merely just a fantasy far removed from how things are in the real world.

  9. Being an avid Gossip Girl watching I know exactly what the author is talking about in the beginning of the article. It’s ironic because I had been thinking about the exact same concept myself. Love is known to be more passionate and intense when emotions are shown to the extremes, however physical abuse should never be mixed up with love and considered a way of showing affection. Love can do crazy things to people and one of the side effects can be letting our guards down and allowing the people we love to hurt us. It seems as if this is recent trend in TV shows and movies because besides a few exceptions I generally only see violence in relationships and physical abuse portrayed negatively. However, now it’s beginning to turn into some sort of trend where violence is depicted as passion which then leads back to the main basis of love. I think the difference between love and abuse should be made very clear, no matter how passionate people are for one another; hurting the person you love whether physically or emotionally should not be considered socially acceptable.

  10. Jessica Ayala

    From my own personal experiences the reason I stayed in a relationship that was verbally and mentally abusive is because the men beat you down into believing that you can’t do any better than them and that you are nothing without them. In the beginning things are great and you can’t believe that you have found someone that is so into you and loves you so much, but the reality is that love doesn’t have to be that way. You end up cutting out all of your friends and family until you are only left with them, and by that point you are so afraid to leave because you have nowhere to go. My high school boyfriend did exactly that to me I gave up college scholarship[s because “he wouldn’t wait for me” and I became someone I didn’t even know anymore. Finally one day I just had enough of feeling like I didn’t matter to anyone much less myself, after 7 years I finally left and the woman I am today is not the same person back then. I think that televisions shows that glamorize this kind of behavior is appalling to me, it shows weak women unable to leave and that is just not the case. If you want out there is always a way to find it, you are never truly alone, someone will always be there.

  11. violence is not the way ever. jealousy can not be a sign of an abusive partner because everyone gets jealous no? seeing violence as romantic? only in fantasies. If i punch a glass window and gave my ex a cut from it. i would not be writing this comment because i’ll most likely be in jail. Jail is not the only reason why i wouldn’t be violence. To convince an ex lover that you still have the deepest truest feeling for her is not going to happen through violence or deception. i hated myself when she left me, but i never wanted to hurt her, i put myself at risks and felt numb. I worry that the next person will not treat her right, but retaliating back so she is as heartbroken as i was!?! that is not an option.

    • You’re right, jealousy isn’t a sign of an abuser in itself, persistent jealousy and especially jealousy that sparks abuse, is. I’ll update the post.

  12. It is so sad when people tie domination, abuse, and causing someone pain with intimacy. It does not seem pleasurable. I was watching the music videos for Love the Way You Lie- Eminem featuring Rhianna and S&M- Rhianna. I was mortified and disgusted by the fact that this is what music is reduced to today and that this (violence) goes on all over the world. I do not understand why people think it is okay. Rhianna used to sing songs with the traditional upbeat reggae Trinidad beats. They were usually something you could dance to. I’m not sure if she does it for attention or what but we need to have people out there that people can look up to. Her songs are catchy but they should have positive messages in them. I guess it’s good that they play the videos to make people aware that violence is not okay and that you should never put your hands on anyone. Insecurity may be a sign of an abuser. I wouldn’t hate myself if someone left me. I might question if I did something wrong. If you love a person the best thing to do is just let them go. Sometimes it might not even be your fault. It could be them or both partners. Whatever it is you either work through it or let the relationship run its course and then move on.

  13. Smeeta Maharaj

    I think this is definitely true about most women. I myself was in a year long verbally abusive relationship. I thought the more we fought the more we were getting to know each other and its normal. He disrespected me and lowered my self esteem to the point where i didn’t think anyone else would want me and i was scared to be alone. I even begged him not to leave because i had become so vulnerable and felt in order to be happy i needed him in my life. Finally after the constant back and forth and thinking i could “change” him, i let the so called “relationship” go and tried to find happiness a better way. It sucks that i had to learn such a painful way and i think that if it wasn’t broad casted everywhere in the media so regularly i wouldn’t of stuck around so long thinking the relationship was normal. Ive grown a lot from that experience however and i don’t regret it i just learned from it and now i’m moving on.

  14. Now violence in relationships is never the answer. It is never good. I’m not sure if there was ever an article/blog about not being a victim when being attacked..or how to stop an attacker and what not but I thought it might be important. I mean I know no one is planning on being attacked at any point in their life but that’s just it. These things aren’t planned at least not for the victim. So it is better to be safe than sorry. Although I don’t like seeing the violence and what not shown in music videos I watch them because I know it is happening all over the world. The videos, media, television, internet, and etc show me that though people feel ashamed if they are attacked or something else really bad happens to them it is nothing to be ashamed about. Yes it happened. But you feel a sense of empowerment once you’ve told others your story because it has happened to many people. Some people just hide it instead of informing others and telling them to protect themselves. There should be groups that talk about these issues so that people are informed and know how to take better care of themselves so it doesn’t end up happening again. I learned in class that if you fight off your attacker you are more likely not going to end up a victim. True you might be really scratched up and might end up with more bruises but you will feel a sense of empowerment because you did not back down and got away. It is a good idea to take a lot of self defense and what not or get people to show you how to throw some good punches and kicks. You can use your elbows, palms, and pretty much your whole body as a weapon if you have to. I’ve learned if you’re ever getting attacked, it is best to leave the attacker immobilized so he can’t strike again. Claw their eyes out..kick..scratch..punch..just keep them down. I do not condone violence but when your life is at stake all of that goes out the window. It’s a no mercy thing because think about it..Is your attacker going to show you any mercy? Probably not. I’ve also heard that Wasp Spray is a lot better than Mace. I think what I said is not in order but it all fits.

  15. Yes that cycle is deadly. First it starts off innocent enough like you said. There is calm..then comes the tension..next is the incident..after that buying the person off with a sweet gesture or a gift. Then the cycle continues until finally the attacker stops being calm and stops being nice. He/she believes their partner will not leave them. So they push you and see how far they can go. They constantly check up on you like where you’re going, who you’re hanging out with, who you talk to on the phone and for how long. They sever ties with your family and friends. I saw Medea’s Family Reunion and Madea was telling her nieces that you can try to help a person who is being abused all you want but if they don’t want out then it is not going to happen. She let them know that when you get sick and tired of someone beating on you, you cook them breakfast. When the grits are nice and hot you throw the pot on the person. Then you take a skillet and start beating them with it. She called it ‘Gritball’. She called the pot and skillet Venus and Serena. I think the stuff Madea comes up with is hilarious. I’m not saying violence is the right way to go but if you’re being attacked you’re not just going to stand there and let the person take your life or dominate you. You’re going to fight. I really don’t think that the attacker is going to go all civil disobedience on you or compromise like you might do. Anyway one of the girls was being abused by her fiance and her mother would ask her what are you doing to make him so angry? You need to stop. I was horrified! He needs to stop putting his hands on her. She just needed to get out of that relationship period. End of discussion. For the romance novels, both partners should know exactly what they want. They should both decide to take the next steps together without violence!!! I don’t know if I’ve ever read any violent romance novels but I would not read them and don’t think I could.

  16. Demi Battaglia

    I have always wondered why men and woman stay in verbal and physically abusive relationships. I believe it is very difficult to understand unless you have been in or are in one yourself. People can tell you over and over again that the relationship is unhealthy and you should end it. However, only you can decide when it is truly over. There are so many raw emotions that sometimes It is extremely difficult to express your feelings in any other way besides yelling or getting violent, but it does not make it right. People can come up with countless reasons why they can’t leave their abusive partner and make it seem okay in their heads. My mother has been in so many physically and verbally abusive relationships that I can’t even keep count anymore. Its almost like she doesn’t know how to have a normal relationship. I hope in the near future my mother and all woman/men will choose to find someone that respects them and tries to make it work for themselves instead of going back to their unhealthy old ways.

  17. I’ve definitely seen where women have returned to their abuser because that’s all they’ve gotten used to, or all that they’ve known. Which creates an unhealthy psychological problems for these abused women.
    Recently I saw the trailer to the upcoming film “A Dangerous Method” about two early dated masterminds, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who start psychoanalysis on a Russian woman, Sabina Spielrein. And how Freud gets involved with their patient, Spielrein. Here’s the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=664eq7BXQcM. In this trailer it showed that Spielrein is psychologically damaged from past abuse by her father. When they asked her about it she said it made her feel excited and later when she got involved with Freud, she asks him to “punish” her.

    Another incident was actually a family relative of mine. She is married to her husband who is an abuser. Our family found out about it about 4 or 5 years ago when she came to live with my mom and I, when she finally reached out for help to leave him. We all thought we were on the road of getting her out of this abusive relationship that’s obviously damaged her physically and mentally. But after months of trying to get away, she went back to him with only a short explanation to us. “He said he changed.” We haven’t seen or heard from her since. I really pray and hope she’s okay.

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