Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Romantic Gestures," Stalking and Dating Violence

A piece in Jezebel today raises a crucial point: Relentless Stalking is Not Romantic. Author Anna North outlines a critical reading of a Nerve interview in which Juliet Linderman tells the story of how her parents met: her mother, Paula, spurned the increasingly desperate advances of her father, Bob, who continued to pursue her under the guise of friendship until, eventually, she just gave in.

What turned out to be love for Bob and Paula could just as easily be stalking for another couple, and it's disturbing how often stories of romance — especially in the movies, but in this case also in real life — involve inexorable pursuit against the woman's wishes. Bob's concluding words are particularly telling: Partly this is because "we met, we both really liked each other, we got married" doesn't make a very good story, but partly it's because love's supposed to mean more if dudes have to forcibly wrest it from women. Like him right away? You're easy. Have the gall to actually pursue him yourself? You're desperate. Is it any wonder that men stalk women, or fail to take no for an answer, when we're constantly told that love is a decision a dude makes and a woman eventually, reluctantly agrees to?
And is it any wonder that, steeped in these particular cultural narratives, women being stalked can fail to recognize that it's wrong? The story we're told is that women don't know what they really want, that "no, I'm not interested in you" means "but keep trying, even when I'm ignoring your calls and refusing to speak to you except to plead with you to go the hell away."

I had a friend in high school who was the target of several men engaged in this kind of behavior, and there were days when she would come to school and say, "Joe came to my house at three in the morning yesterday and when I wouldn't come outside, he just sat there in his car," or "I had a horrible nightmare about Billy and woke up screaming." I felt so angry and powerless--I can only imagine how she felt. I had suggested restraining orders, but there wasn't concrete proof of danger to her, and we didn't actually know what was required. There was nowhere for her to go to make this stop.

In other words, this kind of narrative--stalking as love--sets women up to be victims of dating violence, to experience very real distress even if their bodies are never physically threatened. It degrades women's sense of self-worth when our right to live the way we want to live is devalued compared to your right to harass us.

Bottom line: it shouldn't be normal for our wants and needs to be ignored.

1 comment:

  1. It is very scary that this happens to some women out there!