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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

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