Trigger Warning: Abuse, intimate partner violence
Ever since I can remember, I have vivid memories of coming across misinterpretations of abuse as love. From remarks stating that if a boy picks on you, he has a romantic interest in you to movies that have normalised shutting a woman up by forcefully kissing her to several widely-liked dramas where abuse and coercion seem to be romanticised and normalised. Phrases like “Maybe he just likes you but doesn’t know how to act around you” are not only irresponsible and dangerous but also have a long lasting impact on how an individual views healthy relationships. But this misinterpretation paves the way for normalisation of violence and abuse and promotes divisive gender stereotypes.
The Dangerous Consequences
Assuming violence as love only internalises the perception that aggressive and irresponsible behaviour is a way of showing affection. Al Vernacchio, author of For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health argued in his TED Talk that “the way we talk to kids about relationships of all sorts gives boys tacit permission to cross boundaries with girls.” Jess Adler, program director for the peer leadership program Start Strong at Boston Public Health Commission has stated that “It can be really confusing. If a young girl talks about how some boy is teasing her at school, her guardians and teachers will often say ‘oh, that just means they like you…. That’s putting the women in the position of ‘Okay, it’s okay for me to be treated that way.'” This indeed does increase tolerance to misbehaviour and abuse. By promoting this behaviour, we are only teaching individuals to accept mistreatment and poor behaviours and not establish clear boundaries.
In fact, media has a massive control over how individuals perceive relationships in a society. Movies and dramas disguise “violence” as romance. Abusive acts are portrayed as “cute” and “romantic”. It then comes off as no surprise that individuals learn that taking out your anger, frustration and revenge is a form of expressing love. Beating and humiliating a woman is excused to be a way of expressing “brutal love”, which, women should endure without any retaliations. This also delivers an irresponsible message that if a woman is submissive and tolerant towards abuse, she will see changes in the man who will, later, love her unconditionally. Such tropes are perilous since they convince victims of domestic abuse to believe that their partners will change and internalise that they can stop the abuse by just being “kind”, “polite”, “tolerant” and “understanding” and in the process, normalise continuing in abusive marriages.
Another dangerous consequence arising out of this is that it reinforces that men are incapable of feeling and expressing emotions in a healthy manner. This then reinforces the cycle of toxic masculinity where showing rage and anger is considered a way of expressing love.
If the media is consistently promoting such tropes of abuse and violence leading to love, what do we expect individuals to learn? It is a disgrace that we have disguised abuse as a way of expressing love. As it has been rightly said by a domestic violence survivor, ABUSE is NOT LOVE, ABUSE IS ABOUT CONTROL.
Pravah Ranka is reading law at Gujarat National Law University. Her research interests include Human Rights, Intellectual Property Rights, and Arbitration. She is the co-founder of Bleed India Organization, which is an NGO working to eliminate period poverty and stigma from India. When she isn’t working, you can catch her reading feminist poetry or exploring new music. She can be found at Instagram and Twitter.
Image Credit: Simlyn J/Feminism In India