• Miranda L. Galbreath, MA, MA, LPC

Stop romanticizing stalking

I get really crabby about things that are regular themes in our entertainment. Movies, tv shows, books, video games…all kinds of popular entertainment are FILLED with the normalizing of problematic and/or victimizing behavior. Those behaviors are portrayed as normal, and often even desirable or romantic. I don’t have a tv, and I don’t go to the movies very often. This is in part because I just have way too much awesome stuff to do to be sitting around in front of a tv. But it’s also in large part because it pains me to watch all of the problematic themes in the stuff that’s on tv.

For example, popular culture is FULL of the romanticizing of stalking behavior, to include the stalker (usually male) totally disregarding the boundaries set by his target (usually female). The boundary violating, stalking behavior is portrayed as a grand, romantic gesture that the woman is “lucky” to be the target of. And indeed, eventually she falls in love with him. Grand, dramatic love. And she realizes she was all wrong about those original boundaries she tried to set.

And men and boys everywhere learn that disregarding a woman or girl’s boundaries are romantic, and will eventually work out in the end, and frankly women and girls can’t be trusted to know what they want anyway. They learn that if they really want her, they have to “fight” for her. Make her understand how much he loves her.

And women and girls learn to believe that their boundaries don’t really matter. And they learn to believe that a person who IS violating their boundaries might really be sweeping them off their feet. And that if a man really wants her, he will show it by continuing to violate her boundaries. And can you all see how this connects up nicely with the issues we already discussed about playing hard to get and not talking about consent?

Twilight is a particularly painful, particularly popular example. (Let’s leave aside for a minute how troubling it is that Bella is a vulnerable teenager who is new in town, and Edward is a sophisticated, experienced WAY, WAY WAY older supernatural being. That’s also a common problematic theme in entertainment, but it’s not what this slide is about.) After meeting her one time, he sneaks into her bedroom at night and watches her sleep. He repeatedly follows her and shows up wherever she is and lurks around. He tries to control who she spends time with. He tampers with her car so that she can’t go places he doesn’t want her to. This isn’t romantic. It’s abuse. And we’re being brainwashed to believe that it is grand romance.

The folks in my treatment groups for men who have committed sexual offenses are often confused when the people they have victimized don’t share their distorted belief that abuse is in fact romantic, or at least normal. And frankly, I can understand why they’d be confused. Many of us who have NOT committed sex offenses have the same misconceptions these incarcerated folks do!

We JUST had a conversation in group this week about why I raise concerns about particular movies being shown to our incarcerated population. As they learn more in their treatment group, they start to be able to identify some of the problematic messages in our popular entertainment and apply the concepts we learn in group to what they are watching. But so many of these harmful messages are so embedded that I often feel like I’m swimming upstream against a strong current as I try to support these folks to live healthier, sexually safer lives. I can’t stop them from watching tv or movies, and I’m not going to try….what I AM doing is giving my best shot at teaching folks to be discerning consumers of media to help them make informed choices about what they consume, and how they internalize the messages they are bombarded with.

As you are consuming media, get your critical thinking going. Ask yourself what messages you and your loved ones are taking in from the shows and movies you watch. To get yourself started, check out this article that identifies five popular movies that romanticize stalking.

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