Saturday, July 21, 2018

Romanticized Abuse in YA - Guest Post by Amy Nikita

Thank you so much to the Rebellious Writing team for inviting me here today! I’m honoured. Romanticised abuse is a topic I feel strongly about, and I feel like it’s becoming more and more relevant. We all know abuse (be it physical, emotional, or sexual) is wrong, but somehow writers still get away with glamorising it.

In my mind, there are two types of romanticised abuse:

1. It’s Perceived as Romance

This type is extremely popular in YA at the moment. You just need to read a Sarah J. Maas book to find toxic dynamics between men and women, violence against women, and violent sexual relationships. But it’s supposedly okay, because it’s “just who the couple are”, or it’s “how the fantasy world works”. Violence becomes normalised in these relationships. It’s even thought of as sexy and hot. Think of Rhys and Feyre in the ACOTAR series, or Christian and Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey, or Chuck and Blair in Gossip Girl, or Edward and Bella in Twilight, or Damon and Elena in The Vampire Diaries, or any movie or TV show where there’s a “bad boy”. 

It’s supposedly okay if bad boys stalk the heroine, treat her like she belongs to him, and even get violent with her because he’s a bad boy – it’s what he does. It’s okay to be possessive – he just cares a lot. He comes from a rough childhood – you have to sympathise with him. It’s okay if he bites her – he’s Fae, it’s what they do. 

And writers can be sly about it, too. They’ll make their hero handsome, wealthy – do whatever they can to disguise his problematic behaviour. But when you strip away good looks and status, there’s a monster underneath. We as readers need to recognise that.

I’m not against bad boys. But I do think characters can be bad boys without sexually assaulting or emotionally abusing the heroine. Violence should never be the norm in a relationship. When writers start glamorising violence in relationships, there’s a problem. And the sooner teenagers stop swooning over bad boys and violent sex scenes, the sooner we can get back to the true definition of heathy romance and love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
– 1 Corinthians 13: v4-8

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 
- 1 John 4: v18

2: Treated Lightly/Plot Device

Too often I’ve been reading a book or watching a movie where I’ll come across a horrific incident of sexual assault and/or rape, just to find that the author skips right over it without actually addressing the incident. In TV’s Gossip Girl, Chuck Bass attempts to rape three women, and yet the series completely glosses over it in favour of developing his character and making him out to be the dark hero. In Once Upon A Time, two male characters are raped, and the writers ignore the incidents and focus on the rapists’ characters: two beloved, popular heroines.

Or rape and sexual assault are just used as plot devices. It’s shocking how easily authors can throw a scene of sexual assault or attempted rape into their book, and only use it to move the plot. The incidents aren’t there to show how the victim’s affected – they’re just there for entertainment value.
Then there’s writing style. Many authors are way, way too flippant when it comes to writing abusive relationships and/or sexual assault. In Daughter of the Pirate King, the tone of the book is humorous, so when the author includes two incidents of sexual assault, the tone is light-hearted as well.

That’s unacceptable. If you’re going to write about an abusive relationship/ sexual assault/rape, then I think it is your duty as the writer to properly handle that topic with the attention and sensitivity it deserves. It’s a heavy, serious plot choice, and it has consequences. It requires a lot of page time and a lot of careful thought.

Abuse is a reality – we don’t need it sugar-coated and we don’t need it romanticised. We need it addressed.

I hope you've enjoyed this post :) Please share your own opinions in the comments. What are some examples of romanticised abuse you've seen in either movies or books? Do you agree that it’s becoming increasingly prevalent? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Hi I’m Amy! I’m an 18 year-old book nerd, film fanatic, coffee addict, feminist, and child of God. I write book and movie reviews (among other posts) over at A Magical World Of Words. My dream is to be a published author – if I ever survive the editing process of a book ;)

Connect with Amy on:
Facebook   Instagram   Twitter   Goodreads   Pinterest    


  1. Thank you so much for writing this! I so agree - I've been watching movies since before I can remember, so abuse and violence has desensitized in my mind. Something I realized wasn't good. Once I started thinking about it more it's bothered me more. It really is sad that we accept this as OK in our fiction, especially those of us that would like to say we care about others.

    Great post!

    And I'm just now starting to watch Once Upon A Time and having mixed feelings over all about the series. So that's sad to hear about the rape scene ;/

    1. I agree, I'm the same. It's so sad.

      Thank you!

      It's really such a huge pity :( Ugh.

  2. I agree with you 100%! Rape/sexual assualt is evil and sickening, and it sickens me to know it's being romanticized in YA fiction. Thank you for this post, Amy - you've put your thoughts into words so well!

  3. Yes, this post is amazing, great job! <3

  4. This is a great post! It made me think of the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actually -- Buffy was romantically involved with two different vampires over the course of the 7 seasons, one of them a bad boy and one not, and they used those relationships to really show healthy vs. wrong relationship behavior.

    Angel was a vampire with a soul (long story) and treated Buffy very well UNTIL he lost his soul, when he then turned into a creepy stalker. But after he regained his soul (such a long story), he went back to being a gentleman. Spike was a vampire without a soul (like most vampires), and he and Buffy had a very dark, unhealthy relationship later in the show that vividly showed the dangers of dating a bad boy or dating someone for the wrong reasons -- there's even an attempted rape at one point that is handled just perfectly, showing the would-be rapist as degenerate and awful even though he's spouting stuff about how he loves his almost-victim. It has major repurcussions for both characters for the rest of the show.

    In fact, reading your article, I realized more than ever what a great standard BTVS maintained with its storytelling. I'm really wondering how, in 20 years, we went from creepy = creepy to creepy = sexy in our TV storytelling, particularly. Sad and scary, really.

    1. Thank you!

      I've never seen Buffy, but I've heard a lot about those relationships. And wow, I can't believe they actually got it right whereas today it's all gone downhill. Usually it's the other way around.

      I really need to watch it. It does sound like they handled that storyline well.

      Thanks for the comment! <3

    2. Actually, now that I think back on the first half of the first season of Buffy, Angel was fairly stalkerly at first too. And Buffy called him out on it at least once, IIRC, telling him something like "Stalking isn't exactly the way to a girl's heart." It's part of why she didn't like him at first, though he kept showing up to save her life cuz he was... stalking her.

    3. Ugh a stalker :( I hate when stalking is seemingly justified just cos the guy happens to save her from something when he turns up.

      Glad she called him out on it though.

  5. So true! Thank you for posting - it feels like our culture doesn’t talk about this enough!

    1. Thank you! And yes, I feel that too :(

  6. I just wrote a post about this myself, and I thoroughly agree, boyfriends should not be portrayed this way. It's awful.

  7. (Replying down here cuz it won't let me post a nested reply for some reason.)

    Yeah, stalkers are icky. He wasn't exactly a stalker in that he was asked by higher powers to watch over and protect her, but it would have been better if he'd approached her and teamed up instead of just watching from the shadows all the time. (Except, of course, he was a vampire and she was a vampire slayer, so that may not have gone well either?) But yes, yay that she called him out on it, and he did get less-stalky then.

  8. Thank you for this post Amy!! :)

  9. Thank you for guest posting, Amy! What you said is so true.