The issue with "chick lit"


By Alex Swanson

We consistently resist racially, sexually and religiously homogenous casts in popular media; we push back against sanguinary violence in the media because we fear the likely significant effect absorbing this media will have on its audience.

So then, let’s discuss now the near ubiquity of abusive relationships in well-received popular culture and the effect it has to have when we tell the viewers, who are overwhelmingly young women, that it’s synonymous with romance.

While the most relevant examples for this plot device are media usually considered tawdry — think “Gossip Girl” or “Twilight” — this type of media is very psychologically significant.

We as viewers are monetarily and culturally lending direct support to a system that endorses domestic abuse. In no way can I bring myself to justify that in a satisfactory sense.

Women are certainly not the only victims of domestic abuse, however they are affected at a much higher rate, statistically. Further, when discussing popular media that capitalizes on the glorification of abusive relationships, it is a good almost exclusively marketed towards women.

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Molly McLay, assistant director of the University Women’s Resource Center, supports the critique in stating the media offers models of relationships, sexuality and consent that are often unrealistic.

“If those messages are counter to what healthy sexuality and relationships actually are, it can be feeding a message that helps to socialize (viewers) into believing that something that’s actually unhealthy is normal.”

Countless couples depicted in popular culture are little else besides tumultuous; the couple fights and makes up cyclically. While this isn’t typically categorized as abuse, McLay countered that this type of behavior is independently problematic.

“If it’s examined closely over time, (this) could be indicative of various kinds of emotional manipulation and coercion that could lead to abuse,” McLay said.

These passionate romances in the media manipulate women into believing that a romance cannot qualify as the “real thing” unless it’s dramatic.

This cognitive manipulation then has the potential to creep into how we represent ourselves in romantic partnerships.

“I’ve literally heard people in abusive relationships use that language of ‘We fight for our relationship,’” McLay said. “This is something that’s being fed to us from mainstream media.”

An excusing or even the embrace of abusive behavior is within the realm of potential effects from this kind of media. So this all boils down to the reality that when a woman finds herself in an abusive or volatile relationship, it can feel just like in the movies.

Among the most confusing aspects of this phenomenon is the fact that, even when we are aware of the detrimental messaging we receive from this sort of popular media, we continue watching.

McLay discussed her dichotomy of feelings regarding one of her childhood favorite films, “Beauty and the Beast.” The relationship is decidedly abusive — McLay reiterated that the hero is literally a beast who kidnaps his lover, holds her prisoner and verbally abuses her. And yet, we allow young girls to grow up wanting to be just like Belle.

Perhaps the Disney Princess idolization complex partially results from the fact that pieces in popular media instruct young women to prioritize romance above all else. Men are not given that same message.

Though this double standard can be traced to a historical period at which a woman often needed to marry for financial security, we still now, in a time far removed from when this phenomenon originated, insist on teaching women that romance is everything.

For a piece of fiction to pass the famed Bechdel test, it must include two female named characters who talk about something other than a man — just approximately half of all fiction passes.

I should hope it is safe to say that our current society is well aware that women are beings with as great a capacity for complexity, intellect, work ethic, etc., as their male counterparts. It therefore seems quite prejudicial for the media to continually portray fictional women as vain and perpetually infatuated caricatures, even at the expense of their safety.

Numerous academic studies have proven that viewers are affected by what they absorb in popular culture in a statistically significant fashion.

Our society has a responsibility to engage in an honest dialogue regarding why domestic abuse is prevalent to the point at which one in four women will likely experience it in her lifetime.

So for starters, let’s stop watching.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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