Saturday, March 16, 2013

YA Epidemics #2 - Abusive Boyfriends


It’s a story as old as time; Girl meets boy, boy has great hair and finds excuses to show off his great abs, girl blushes and giggles, boy notices her and turns stalker/domineering douche/violently possessive…girl falls madly in love with him?

What?
The sponge gets it

It’s not nearly as common as last week’s YA Epidemic (thank god), but everyone who claims to be a fan of the genre has read at least one of these romanticized abusive boyfriends.


Let’s get serious with this one; is this really the kind of relationship we want to be glorifying for the YA demographic?  Do we really want our twelve year old daughters and sisters and nieces to think it’s romantic for a guy to watch her sleep?  To tell her who she’s allowed to see?  To decide not to go with the original plan of killing her because he’s suddenly into her?  I don’t even have any daughters or sisters or nieces, and I can answer that with a loud, resounding no.  Just because he doesn’t put bruises on her body does not mean it isn’t abuse.

The root of these abusive boyfriends comes from the tried-and-true good-girl/bad-boy romance.  Who doesn’t love a guy who’s a little rough around the edges?  When the loner biker boy looks at you with adoration in his eyes, it’s probably going to mean more to you than when the emo boy with a journal full of poetry professes his undying love, because you know the biker boy doesn’t look at every girl that way.   It’s the girl’s equivalent of the chase, and damned if it isn’t titillating to fantasize about.  But the minute that biker boy tries to tell you what you can and can’t do, the minute you wake up to see him staring at you at night, it’s time to get outta there.  Because that’s when the bad-boy becomes abusive, and that’s when it stops being romantic.

Now, it’s easy to define the parameters of a healthy relationship when it comes to contemporary characters, but what happens when you give the loner biker boy superhuman attributes?  What if he’s a vampire or a vengeful angel or an immortal being fighting his natural instincts every day he spends on earth among humans?  Wandering high school hallways?  How can he not have some of these so-called abusive characteristics when they’re part of what makes him who he is?  Suddenly our bad-boy becomes a little dangerous.  A little danger spices up the romance.  A little danger ratchets up the passion.  But that’s where the lines seem to get crossed, because what happens when we push a little danger…a little too far?

What if you were best friends with Bella, and she told you about how she caught Edward – the vampire who wants to eat her – spying on her at her most vulnerable?  Would you be cool with that, giggling behind your hand and gushing about how romantic that is?  Or would you be telling her to barricade those windows, set alarms, keep pepper spray under her pillow and have 911 on speed-dial?  (Yes, another Twilight reference, but you try writing a YA Epidemic feature without the creator of clich├ęs as a repeated example.)  The fact of the matter is, if these things were to happen in real life, we’d be appalled and disgusted, but because it’s inside the safety of a book, it’s spicy entertainment.  Until the impressionable girl looks for her Edward and ends up with marks on her body.  Or the sweet boy thinks he’s got to fight anyone who looks at his girlfriend to be thought of as “sexy”.  Twilight may have been the harbinger of the popularized stalker boyfriend in YA, but there have been far too many examples coming out in recent years.  Hell, I know of a certain fallen angel who makes Edward look like a saint.

I’m not saying it’s not okay to get secret crushes on YA’s most dangerously sexy boys, but I am saying that it’s not okay to glorify abuse, to mainstream some of these behaviors.  I’m saying that if enough of us book bloggers and avid readers say enough is enough, maybe writers and publishers will realize that this particular YA epidemic isn’t just annoying; it’s also dangerous.  We should be painting healthy relationships for girls who probably haven’t even had their first kiss yet, not these trending pseudo-stalker whirlwind romances.


Have you encountered many of these abusive book boyfriends?  Is it harmless entertainment, or another way to desensitize us to the dangers around us?  I’d love to hear your opinions on this one in the comments!

39 comments:

  1. This is one of the reasons I try to avoid YA books now a days. Most of the time is just pisses me off. When I was 16 I thought certain guys were hot but I didn't dream about them, and I had a guy act creepy towards me and I told him to get lost, I didn't fall all over myself in love.

    Books like this not only promote this kind of relationship, they make young women out to be brainless, hormone induced, nobodies. Heck man I used to gush about the guy I liked, but I didn't want to fall down and die if he didn't feel the same way, and I definitely didn't think about him 24/7.

    Its hard for me to find a YA book that I will actually read because of this crap.

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    1. I completely understand that. I still love YA, but I have to be really picky these days for those very reasons. Since when did co-dependent relationships make good reading? There are hundreds of feminists rolling over in their graves right now.

      Thanks somuch for the comment!

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  2. I think part of the problem is that because of the conventions of the genre, the reader "knows" going in that no matter how abusive/stalkery the boyfriend seems, it's never going to end badly for the female lead.

    (Or in some cases, the author just won't admit it's a bad ending--see "Hot Gimmick.")

    If the narrative suddenly took a turn into Lifetime Movie of the Week or horror territory the reader would probably be shocked, and the younger, less hardened ones might feel betrayed. It might help, it might not.

    For the moment, it's important for us as reviewers, relatives and friends to be upfront when we talk about books about the problematic portrayals of romance and relationships. If we model the behavior of distinguishing wish fulfillment from probable outcomes, it will help a little bit.

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    1. I agree with your comment completely, skjam. I've been guilty of giving the jerk character the benefit of the doubt just because I know it's going to end well myself. Portraying the negative consequences of these kinds of relationships probably would help, and talking about it in a realistic manner is a definite must. Especially for the younger readers.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

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    2. What brought the "genre conventions mean the heroine won't get seriously harmed" thing to mind recently was "Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun" aka "My Little Monster." In the first chapter (and the first episode of the anime), the male lead, who has low impulse control and a history of violent behavior, clamps his hand over the female lead's mouth, drags her into an isolated area and threatens to rape her.

      Holy buckets. But it's okay, because he luvs her soo much, and he just needs it explained to him that he shouldn't be so spontaneous, and the love of a good woman will straighten him out....

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    3. Wooow.... I honestly don't know what to say to that. I think the worst thing is that it doesn't even surprise me that much. I'm just thankful there are still a lot of people vocal about how it's just gone too far these days.

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    4. Skjam, thanks. I was going to try that series out, but I think I'll just continue watching Elfen Lied. And wait for Shingeki no Kyojin to come out.

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  3. I find it's very hard for me to respond to this. On one hand, I totally get it. It's everywhere and has the potential to influence readers that certain behaviors are appropriate in a relationship when in reality they are creepy and wrong. On the other hand, certain people do think as Bella thinks so why not portray it? It's like saying that no sort of drug abuse should ever be depicted within any story because it will make readers think it's okay. I don't think that's always the case.

    I think what it really comes down to is the consequences. I think the biggest issue with this particular epidemic is that usually there are no negative consequences. In most of these instances, the worse thing that can happen is the girl is dumped or left unsure of how the guy really feels. There is some signs of depression and recklessness, but as skjam noted, we usually are fairly certain that things will be alright and that it really isn't that bad.

    What I think really needs to happen is if an author decides to portray these types of relationships, they need to put in the bad (and actually make it obviously bad). Have the outside characters react to the situation as they do in real-life, instead of not saying anything. Have the character have this huge internal battle that this person is really bad, instead of just saying "Oh, he's bad but I'm in love so it's okay." They should really struggle with it. Play out the reasoning that goes on in their mind, as goes on in any person's mind who goes through such relationships. They are in love and think highly of the person, but they still recognize and feel when things are wrong - they just rationalize it. Show the mistakes that happen in these types of relationships, instead of having the character just blindly and hopelessly support them.

    I hope that makes sense. I still think what you are saying is important, but for me I don't think these necessarily have to disappear altogether, as much as the negative side of such relationships need to be represented.

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    1. It makes complete sense, and I totally see where you're coming from. I'm not dissing on the whole idea of bad-boy romances, just the ones that go overboard i.e, Twilight and Hush, Hush (which is the worst one I've read, I don't know how it was allowed to be published as YA). I think I'd feel a lot less strongly about it if, like you and skjam have suggested, there were more not-so-happy endings to these borderline abusive relationships.

      Having secondary characters react more strongly (or even at all) would be a huge step forward, also, and show readers a little more of the struggle of being in love with someone who may be dangerous a lot more effectively then when we use silence and acceptance as an overall theme.

      I'm loving these comments! Thank you so much for all the thought you put into it.

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    2. Ha! Currently re-reading Twilight for my YA Lit class, and actually own a copy of Hush, Hush - just haven't read it yet. I'm a little scared to after what you just posted! It'll pry be pushed off for a bit longer, there's plenty of other books to read.

      And of course, I love posts that encourage discussion. It's only right after how much thought you put into your post that one would put thought into their comment (not that that always happens, but is usually preferred). Just keep writing posts like this and you can probably expect to receive an eight-page comment back from me like this last one, lol.

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    3. Twilight, in my opinion, isn't even THAT that bad. Take out Edward's creepy night-stalking and it's almost healthy...well, aside from Bella's complete co-dependency and inability to live without him. But what I hate most about Twilight isn't even Twilight. It's the backwards road that series has paved for books like Hush, Hush.

      Ooh, I can't wait to see what you think of Hush, Hush! I have a friend who loved it, but I just could not get past Patch. I seriously hate that "angel".

      Haha I love 8-page comments! It's sooo gratifying for me to know I actually have people reading and thinking about my posts. That's what I'm blogging for, after all.

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  4. Does this 'certain fallen angel' have a ridiculous name beginning with the letter 'P'? :D
    Ugh I hated Hush Hush and not just because of Patch!
    The Domineering=Hot thing is definitely becoming popular and the worst part is that most readers seem to enjoy this.
    "Just because he doesn't put bruises on her body does not mean it isn't abuse." - You got that right! I really hope that this whole freaky stalker trend is something that will wear off soon because a lot of readers seem to be put off by the ENTIRE YA genre because of this nonsense.
    This is a great feature,Kelly!Looking forward to next week's post. :)

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    1. Yes. Patch. How he's even considered a hot, romantic character is beyond me.

      I hate that it seems to be a contest in YA, who can make the hottest bad-boy. Because that leads to every popular book pushing the lines a bit further and further. If it's this bad now, I'm scared to see the face of YA in a decade.

      Thanks so much for the comment, Nuzaifa!

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  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post (and for your previous one on love triangles). One of the reasons I started writing YA was that I was afraid that my friends' daughters and other young women I know wouldn't have anything to read that depicted a healthy teen relationship. I even received a review for my book (In Your Dreams...just thought I'd drop that in there. :) ) in which the reviewer said she was surprised that the hero was just sort of a regular guy rather than an alpha male, and I thought it was sad that someone would be surprised by that.

    I frequently see the argument that "well, it's just fiction," but as astichoquette pointed out above, the fiction seems to glorify these relationships rather than pointing out the consequences. I know everyone loves a bad boy and so writers/publishers are just playing to readers' desires to some extent, but as I'm old enough to have run through several bad boys in my life, I can say that it never ends well, and I'd like to see those consequences at least touched on somewhere for the sake of younger readers.

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    1. Thank you so much, Amy! And haha, don't worry about the small plug, I totally encourage it here.

      I feel like, if that's what people want to read, well it's their business. But it shouldn't be YA. True, most of the people commenting on this post are probably not even teenagers anymore, but YA's demographic is adolescents. We're allowed to have stalking in YA books, but no smoking on TV? It's the same concept, in my opinion.

      I'll definitely have to check out In Your Dreams, by the way. I'm long overdue for a good guy love interest.

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    2. Kelly,

      My email address is on my website (which should be linked to my name on the post)--drop me a line if you'd like a review copy. Book bloggers rule the universe, in my opinion. :)

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    3. BOOK BLOGGERS, FTW!

      Ahem.

      ...

      Ah, screw it. WOOOOOOT!

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    4. I really enjoyed Amy Martin's In Your Dreams.You should definitely check it out,Kelly! ;)

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    5. Haha, I actually did check it out a bit on her site and goodreads. It really does look good. It had actually been recommended to me on goodreads a couple weeks and I didn't even notice till just now.

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  6. Another great discussion post Kelly. The only positive that I can take from abusive relationships like this being portrayed in books is that they can open up discussion. If I'm ever lucky enough to have a teenage daughter or son, you can be damn sure I'll be reading what they are reading. Not in a censure way, just so we can talk about the issues and thrash them out. I want to hear what they are thinking and will hopefully be able to point some realities about such "Romantic" love you so much, no one else is allowed look at you crap.

    Agree with Asti's point above, more consequences would make me feel that the author is taking a responsible stance.

    And having said all that, I still enjoyed Twilight :D

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    1. Yeah, monitoring what your kids are reading is just as important as what they're watching, a few good discussions can go a long way. And haha, nothing wrong with liking Twilight! It's really not that bad by itself, I just don't like a lot of the trends it's started. I use it as a repeated example because I don't want to openly hate on a whole lot of books by title, and everyone knows Twilight by now.

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  7. My biggest problem with Twilight was Bella's depression after Edward left in book 2. I never want an impressionable girl to feel that a boy is her whole world and she has nothing to live for if he leaves. Scary message, this is not ok.

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    1. Yeah. That, and Edward's night-time stalking. Everything else was a bit overdone mushiness-wise, but not that bad. There have been way worse in recent years.

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  8. PRAISE this post. PRAISE. Seriously. You hit the nail on the head. I've been avoiding any and all books where any of my blogging friends indicated a slightly abusive relationship. I can't handle that shit. It's absolutely baffling to me that anyone can read that and think it's romantic. It's not. It's just absolutely awful. And horrifying. And what makes it all so much worse is that these books are successful, and the consequence is that authors and publishers then think that this is what readers want. *headdesk* And then the shit storm begins and it's EVERYWHERE. I might need to do this kind of rant as well on my blog, and then hope other bloggers will as well, then slowly but surely maybe the publishers will take a hint.

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    1. Haha Debby, you should TOTALLY do a rant on this on your blog. This with gifs? Yes, please.

      Thank you soooo much!!! I'm so happy to see everyone else realizing this is a problem, too.

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  9. SPONGEBOB!!!!!

    Okay. I'm good.

    You already know my ranting thoughts on this. We talk about it all the time. Haha. I really enjoyed reading everyone's responses though...and it was a fantastic post! <3 <3 <3


    Love,
    Pixie

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    1. Haha yeah. We've exhausted almost every topic that I'm going to post on my YA Epidemic feature lol. I still love to see your comments, Pixieboo! And I kinda...made you check this one out. :/ Lol.

      I was browsing pictures and I really wanted something more book-related, but...SpongeBob...I kinda didn't have a choice.

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    2. That's because SpongeBob rules. ;)

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  10. Okay the SpongeBob pic is fan-freaking-tastic! Lol.

    And I couldn't agree more with your entire post! Although, like Pixie said, we rant about this kind of stuff to each other all the time anyways lol. But I'm glad to see from the comments that we're not the only ones!

    <3

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    1. I had the same reaction to the comments. I'm so glad there are so many people who see the danger in these types of YA romances.

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  11. There is no trend in YA that annoys me more than this! There's a difference between a "bad boy" character who is actually not a jerk(aka he might cut class/disobey authority, etc. but is not ABUSIVE) and this trend to like the actual BAD guys. Ugh, Hush Hush annoyed me so much with this trend. Great post.

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    1. Exactly. I love bad boys. Rebels, outspoken guys, loners, bring them! But stalking, threatening, and possessiveness is not hot. I have no idea how authors and publishers have managed to convince so many girls that it is.

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  12. Portraying the bad sides of this type of relationship is missing. But who wants to ruin the "romantic fantasy"? That wouldn't make for a good read, now would it? Believe it or not writers, it makes for a great one. Read Crank and Glass, or Tricks by Ellen Hopkins.

    Secondly, this is one issue I haven't been exposed to all that much. I tend to ignore romances in books because they are dull. I did pick up on it in Twilight though, because that is the plot. This creepy as fuck relationship between a 100 year old super powered vampire who is attracted to this weak girl because she smells like food. Meanwhile, Bella just wants some of that good 'ol blood sausage. (Yes, I went there. Too far? Wbatever.) The only other time a romance weirded me out was Delirium. That wasn't this creep issue though.

    I can't say to not portray that type of relationship. That's getting too far towards restricting artistic freedom, but I want more romances that don't turn out perfect, that don't suffer protagonist syndrome. Even if this wasn't an issue that is damaging people, it is damaging the literature ecosystem.

    Now, how can you stop this? When 50 Shades is the best selling book ever, and supposedly features a terribly abusive romance, what could convince business people not to do it? Their job is to make money, to produce what the public buys. When that is masked abuse, what do you do?

    Interesting that this both an issue in YA and Adult lit though, isn't it?

    Does anyone defend this in books? I'm totally on the outside of this debate, but I can't imagine someone supporting the idea of more Bella/Edward relationships.

    Overall, it is something I want to see purged from the industry, but I haven't paid enough attention to it to feel comfortable talking in-depth on the subject. Plus, you said everything that needs to be said I think.

    -Cain Freeman
    http://nobsbooks.blogspot.com/

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    1. Wow, I need to be more concise. Sorry for the word wall!

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    2. Ooh, Nobs, I didn't see your comment! Sorry! DX

      Word walls are welcomed and encouraged haha, means you thought about the post. :p

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  13. I'm not sure why girls are so attracted to this issue when it's in books but when it comes to real life people are so against it. The same people who attacked Chris Brown for hitting Rihanna are probably the same fans who keep buying into this questionable trend. This has always confused me XD

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. You even mention dangerous guys and stalking in real life, there's practically an intervention to get the girl away from him, if not a restraining order. In novels? Million dollar love story.

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As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3