I got once again the pleasure of talking with my dear friend, Lucy A. McLaren – whose book « Awakening » is out in four months, check it out here and do not forget to pre-order it! – on a topic we both feel very strongly about : toxic relationships within YA fiction!
What is toxic relationship? How do we recognise one? And what can we do, as writers, to avoid perpetuating toxic cliches within our works?
As always, the transcript of the video is available below!
Enjoy and let’s not forget to tell us what you think about it!
Toxic Relationships in YA Fiction – Lucy A. McLaren & Cindy van Wilder
Lucy: Okay, so, hello! We’re, er, here for another chat today. So, some people might have seen our rape culture video that we did previously, erm, which we will put a link to wherever, on YouTube, yeah? Put a link in the description to that. But today we’re gonna be discussing a topic that’s related to rape culture, that we didn’t really get a chance to go into last time and that is, erm, toxic relationships. Just to take a step back from that though, we’ll reintroduce ourselves for people who didn’t watch the last video. So, Cindy do you wanna go ahead and introduce yourself?
Cindy: Yes, so, hi everyone, my name is Cindy van Wilder. I’m a Belgian writer, especially in Young Adult fiction and fantasy. I met Lucy a few years ago already through Twitter and from there on we became very good friends and, er, very good also, erm, I mean, acquaintance through writing and through critiquing each other’s texts. So, yeah, here is the reason for my presence today. And, er, yeah, pardonnez mon Francais—pardon my French, I say. Okay, let’s go to Lucy.
L: Mmhm. Thank you, Cindy. Yeah, so, I’m Lucy A. McLaren, YA fantasy author as well. My debut book is coming out in May this year.
L: Erm, and, yeah, like as Cindy said we met on Twitter a few years ago and I think we connected over, like, a love of fantasy stories, sharing each other’s work, but also I think we have, erm, like a shared passion for topics like this that we’re discussing today and, like, the importance of them and could probably go on for hours and hours about them but we’ll try and rein that in. But, yeah, so that’s kind of how we’ve ended up here. We both feel like these are important topics to discuss as writers and as people that want to include them in, erm, what we write and what we read as well. Erm, so if we start then by defining toxic relationships. So, I found a definition that was penned by Dr Lilian Glass, who’s a psychologist who wrote a book called Toxic People in 1995, and she defined a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”* So that’s, kind of, a definition that I found. I personally feel like toxic relationships are being recognised more and more in terms of, yes there’s sometimes abuse and violence in them but that’s not always the case. So I think there’s kind of that line in terms of, there was a point it was just if there was physical violence people thought a relationship was toxic, but we’re beginning to recognise more and more that actually there’s the psychological aspect, there’s a manipulation, there’s a coercion aspect, erm, which I think takes us onto another definition that we wanted to go over and that would be gaslighting. So did you wanna, kind of, discuss that, because I know that’s something that you brought up yourself when we were going over this.
C: Yeah, I thought of gaslighting as soon as you proposed the, er, to explore the theme of toxic relationships because, erm, I don’t know why this movie stayed in my head. It stayed in my mind long after I watched it. I think because the manipulation, as you said the coerciveness to which the woman is subjected in this movie, it’s kind of an old movie. It stars Ingrid Bergman so yeah, it’s not, it’s really not recent. Erm, but the manipulation she is the victim of is really chilling, you know? And it’s kind of remarkable in terms of, um, movie, of movie making because it does not use many special effects, so, er, such as we are kind of used now when we are watching movies. But the psychological effect, and that’s what you are talking about earlier, um, it’s really well depicted in this kind of movie, so it’s, er, as I said, it’s an old movie, its name is Gaslight. So, the term gaslighting comes from it. And, erm, as for the story, it follows the young Ingrid Bergman, er, who plays a young, kind of naïve young woman, who has been through a very traumatic element in her youth because her aunt had been murdered in the house that she was living in. And years later, erm, she meets a dashing young man, she marries him and she, they both decide to live in the house the aunt has left her niece, and where the murder actually occurred.
C: But, yeah, the events goes for a dramatic turn because, uh, the young woman soon begins to doubt her sanity, her mental health. She hears knocking in the wall, she sees the gaslight dim every day, er, and she begins to really doubt she is sane, especially since her husband always her she is imagining things, er, she’s becoming disconnected with the reality according to him. And, so, for her own safety, her own security, he forbids her to go outside, he forbids her to meet her friends, and is telling everyone she’s feeling unwell. And I think that really the mechanism behind the gaslighting, uh, we see in more and more explored in toxic relationships, as you were talking about earlier. The fact that the one person lies to another so repeatedly and with such a confident manner–
C: –that the other person becomes totally disconnected from reality, from what’s happening before their eyes.
C: And, er, the fact that the movie also shows that it’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome acting in it, er, because the victim becomes so dependent on the gaslighter and she’s becoming more and more attached to them, and, yeah, it’s a vicious circle which is more and more difficult to break.
C: So, yeah, as time passes.
L: Yeah, it’s sounds like a really interesting film. I never actually, I didn’t realise that’s where the term gaslighting came from and I’ve never seen the film so I’m gonna have to watch it because it sounds really good. And, yeah, so I, I kind of, from there looked up, okay, so what is the actual definition of gaslighting then? So, “it is a term used to describe a malicious hidden form of psychological mental and emotional abuse designed to plant seeds of self-doubt, alter perceptions of reality and manipulate someone into doubting their sanity.” Which is, like you said, that happens in that film, erm, as evidently where that recognition of those things has come from. And actually I looked like up, kind of, when was this recognised as something that is a crime because, like I said earlier, domestic abuse and violence was recognised earlier, whereas this, like, kind of mental manipulation was not recognised, erm, so 2015 in the UK in the Serious Crime Act** was changed so that controlling and coercive behaviour in relationships could be seen as something criminal. But I am aware, I don’t have the statistics to hand, but I’m aware it’s very difficult to prove in a court of law. So, it’s recognised as a crime but whether someone is actually able to prove that their partner has been, er, coercively controlling them is a whole other, whole other ball game. But, yeah, 2015, so that’s only 7 years ago. That’s… not long at all.
C: Yeah, I’m not even being surprised by this, unfortunately.
L: Mm, yeah.
C: I’m not being surprised. I don’t know, erm, the Belgian law for this or else the European law, but I wouldn’t be surprised that it occurred, that the legal recognition of this occurred at the same time.
C: And, as you say, it’s certainly very difficult in front of a court because, erm, in the movie, at least, the gaslighter doesn’t use physical violence against his victim, so we can, uh, we can assume that some people do not even need to use physical violence or abuse in the toxic relationship and that would be very, very difficult to prove before a court.
L: Exactly. Yeah, so, you know, abuse covers, yes, the physical side but psychological abuse is there as well and that doesn’t leave physical bruises or injuries that can be photographed by a police officer, but it leaves huge amounts of, er, mental scarring and issues for the person who is left, yeah, doubting their sanity, questioning themselves and all that other stuff. Erm, so I think that, kind of, takes us onto what else we were wanting to discuss today, which is how we take in those ideas of toxic relationships and gaslighting and how those are recognised in society. How do we explore in our books, right? So…
C: Indeed, indeed. And, I know, because, I know some of this is in your book because, er, I had the privilege to read it in advance and I think you depict it very brilliantly on several kinds of toxic relationship.
C: Um, I don’t want to spoil anyone, of course, and, er, I’m sure we’ll do our best to avoid any spoilers. But, in any case, I think you depicted different forms of this relationship, whether it’s between two persons, whether it’s a group exerting pressure on a specific individual, or even the society as a whole, uh, against a group of people. So, yeah, in my memory, because it has been quite some time before I read it, er, yeah.
L: Yeah, you read an early draft, didn’t you?
C: Several early drafts.
L: Yeah, that’s true, you’ve read it several times. But, yeah, so I mean I certainly wanted to explore this kind of relationship, because, I… So, it’s a Young Adult fantasy, erm, called Awakening, the first in a series called The Commune’s Curse. But, I, I personally, erm, whilst I do enjoy a good like romantic relationship in a book, you know, I’m not gonna turn down, I think that’s kind of, somewhat overdone in YA fantasy in terms of… generally we see a love triangle.
C: God, don’t even speak about it. That was a nightmare some years ago, watching all those love triangles in Young Adult. Too many, too many of them. [Laughs]
L: [Laughs] Yeah, you know, we’ve all read many books with love triangles. But it’s something I, kind of, wanted to avoid, and I thought… So, there is, there is an element of a romantic relationship in the story for one of the characters, erm, Commander Sulemon, but the relationship is not a healthy one by any stretch. And we, kind of, throughout the book and then into the, later in the series will explore it more, but in the first book we learn about this relationship and some of the history of it, and we see, kind of, his point of view on the relationship but start to also learn that, while he may have certain feelings for this person it’s… those aren’t necessarily reciprocated in the way that he would want them to be and he’s, he’s not treated in the way that he should be by someone who is a romantic partner. So, I would label it a toxic relationship, it certainly, erm, as I was going through the drafts, was something that I felt like should be made more apparent, that actually there was some gaslighting happening in this. Erm, so, hopefully that comes through in the book. And I felt like it was important to not just have this standard, like, a romance, like, yay they end up together in the end. I’m not gonna say whether they do or not–
L: –by book three, because that would be a spoiler. But it’s just something that I wanted to explore, erm, just to be, not just a standard romance. I didn’t wanna do that. I feel like you can read other books if you want that, but this one is not about having a standard love triangle–
C: No, I think, er, you, you’ve written very well, what you have done with this character. I think you offer a fascinating insight into his personal journey. From, erm, the person he was at the start, uh, when you see him, uh, having very strong feelings for this person, and then when he slowly starts to figure out who he is, what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do any longer.
C: And it’s, er, it’s fascinating to see how he really stands up for himself in the end. And, yeah. I don’t want to say anymore because I’m a big fan of this character, as you know. [Laughs]
L: [Laughs] You are, yeah.
C: So, no spoilers, we said!
L: I think he’s your favourite, right?
C: One of my favourites, yeah.
L: One of your favourites. Yeah, so, that was, kind of, one of the relationships in, in the book, erm. Like Evelyn, who is probably the main character of the four, erm, she has- we discussed this in the rape culture video, erm, she has a historical sexual assault that impacts upon who she is as a person in this book and how she behaves and how she feels about all that kind of thing. And I felt like because she had this historical sexual assault, this awful thing that happened, I didn’t wanna just have like, oh this is gonna be solved by having a romance with this person and this is gonna make her feel whole as a person again.
L: So, you know, I think that can be something of an issue that I have seen in books that, in order for someone to be whole, they have to have a, be in a couple by the end of it.
C: Yep, absolutely.
L: Erm, and I don’t—yeah. I don’t agree with that, I don’t think that should be the case. So her, this, this book and later books in the series is about being okay with herself given the historical issues that she’s had and the things that she’s been through, basically. Erm, so, yeah, I think those two are probably the main, kind of, main characters that have had this toxic relationship or something happen to them that falls within this umbrella. We do have Hector–
C: Oh yeah.
L: –who has a toxic relationship with, well, a group of people, which is where he grew up, his hometown of Nook Town. But that’s very much, kind of, centred in book two. But again that is, like you said, it’s a group exerting a certain kind of influence over him and causing him, erm, trauma from that. Erm, but I suppose when you say society as well, the whole society that’s in the book, like, the Commune and their imposing rule over the kingdom of Septima, they are trying to—I would see them very much as, kind of, patriarchal, erm, and they’re imposing this strict rule and that’s again something I wanted to try and challenge but it’s, there’s so many different themes I feel like I could easily wanna explore and it could get way too big. Erm, which is why I think I wanted to focus in on, like, Evelyn and Commander Sulemon having these particular issues and trying to explore them within those characters. So that, yeah, that’s why it was important to me. So, what about yourself? I know you’ve got, erm, Rose Girls which we discussed in our rape culture video as well.
L: Erm, was that important for you in terms of, kind of, the relationships you looked at in that book, erm, as you were writing it. What themes were coming to mind for you when you were trying to explore these issues?
C: I think we have, erm, unconsciously, of course, put the same, the same themes in our respective books, because, as you said earlier, that’s very important to us. And the fact that you, you decided for Evelyn not to have a romance so, erm, in order not to have a romance especially to become whole. To become safe, you know, which is a trope we have, erm, too much seen in the past in Young Adult fiction.
C: It speaks very strongly to me as well. For my current project, which is called Rose Girls, er, for the summary you might want to see our earlier video about rape culture. Erm, I think I’ve explored this toxic relationship with certain people around her. I’ve also shown a very patriarchal society, er, which divides women between the “good ones”, the Rose Girls, and the “impure ones”, the ones unmarked who are sent to be on the wall and left there to rot, basically that’s the main theme you see. That’s, er, very nice as you can see. For my character, for my main character who is called Abigail, she becomes, er, the victim of a kind of sexual assault, but yeah, it’s becoming obvious at the start of the book. And, er, she wants to be believed about what really happened and she is questioned by chief of police of her hometown and she quickly realises that the man, uh, comes to her not to hear her, not to listen to her, not to believe her, but because he has already a culprit in mind and that he wants just some evidence to, to bring against this person.
C: And she is feeling really unwell after their meeting and, yeah, she has to figure out why she can’t be believed on what she says. And the fact that, uh, she is gaslighted not only by the chief of police but also by her own family, because they don’t believe her. They don’t believe her because she has suffered a blow on her head and so, erm, what she says happened during the attack she suffered is considered as, erm, not to be, not to be consistent, not to be believed. So, yeah, erm, the people close to her, the ones she believed she could rely on are the ones turning against her. Or at least not believing her on something so very traumatic for this young girl. So, yeah, I think, I tried depicting the toxic relationship with her parents and also with the society as a whole through this character of the police, the chief of police in her hometown, because I think that’s really important and that’s unfortunately something happening in reality–
C: –when we see victims of sexual or physical assault, erm, not being believed by police officers or by authorities. And we talked earlier about the difficulty of proving, erm, the gaslighting some people have endured. I think that was really important to depict, especially in Young Adult fiction.
L: Mm, yeah, I would agree. I think, like, taking us on to, yeah, so why do we feel like this is important for Young Adult fiction especially? Erm, just, I found some statistics about young people especially, so, one in three young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. So there’s a quote here: “the tricky question is, what does an unhealthy relationship even look like?”*** And then we come onto the problem of having some very questionable relationships depicted in not just the YA fiction that perhaps we read ten years ago—there was problematic depictions then, but there is still stuff now that’s really popular. It’s the stuff that I alluded to in the rape culture video, I’m still not gonna name it specifically but there are Netflix adaptations of these books, er, if that gives you any kind of clue as to what it is.
C: I might. [Laughs]
L: Yeah, the relationships are really not good. Erm, and it’s this, I think you said this in an email to me, this idea that the man or the male in the relationship—because it’s usually female and male partners, it’s usually a heterosexual relationship that we’re seeing.
L: Erm, the male is, kind of, damaged in some way and that somehow is supposed to justify his abusive relationship and his abusive behaviour towards his partner. And, so, because of this damage it’s, kind of, excused and he’s forgiven and the relationship carries on and this cycle and they inevitably end up together because, oh, they’re meant to be together,
L: Yeah, it’s so messed up.
C: Oh, yeah.
L: And then you think, this is very popular amongst this—
C: Unfortunately, yes.
L: –demographic, like, teenagers and young people. Erm, so how are they then getting the idea of what an unhealthy or what a healthy relationship looks like? And you did mention last time Sex Education as, like, a great example of this is what healthy relationships can look like and you can set these boundaries, and you can talk to your partner and explain what is okay and what is not okay and what you like and what you don’t like, and all this kind of stuff. So, Sex Education remains an excellent example of, okay, this is what healthy relationships can look like.
C: Yeah, very good. Very good. Yeah, you can also mention, uh, as you talk about, um, depicting what a toxic relationship is like, especially for young people who do not have any reference to it. I will mention the last, the latest, I think that’s the latest Taylor Swift song, uh, I think I saw the movie with this song, and I think it was very powerful. Um, to see how, er, this young woman grows into a, into a woman so confident. She has been gaslighted, she has been betrayed by her partner. And how she, she goes out of it and to see the… I won’t say, I won’t spoil, and to see the conclusion which is bittersweet but at the same time so powerful for girls and women and all people, uh, of minorities who have endured this kind of abuse. I think it was a very powerful message to pass through this song. So, yeah.
L: Mm, I need to watch that. You mentioned it to me and, yeah. I just remembered.
C: You have to watch it.
L: Blame the baby brain there. Yeah, I need to watch it.
C: I know.
L: Uh, brain like a sieve at the moment. Yeah, so, I’ll watch that, that sounds really good. Um, I think, it’s stuff like, yeah, Taylor Swift is obviously highly, um, popular and influential so it’s great that artists who are that big are putting out videos like that, that are showing, actually, the “happy ending” doesn’t mean you end up with this person–
L: –despite the issues in the relationship.
L: It can mean coming through that, getting out of that relationship and, kind of, becoming empowered for who you are. And, erm, rebuilding yourself, sometimes, is what’s needed. Rebuilding your confidence when it’s been completely shattered down and you’re questioning who you are and you’ve been all this kind of abuse and have been made to question yourself and your identity and all these other things. Just having that empowerment can be really, really important, so that sounds like another great example.
C: Yep, I think that’s a trend we see more and more often in Young Adult fiction and I cannot say how much it means to me–
C: –because I grew up with, um, as you say the toxic tropes.
C: You fall for the bad boy, you fall for the boy who is messed up, and, uh, you hope for a great relationship with them. You end up in a couple with them and that was the main, I think, that was the main message of this fiction a few years ago. You, as you say, you don’t feel whole unless you are in a couple with, uh, especially the bad boy or the supernatural creature, you know. [Laughs]
C: Who has a very specific secret you have to learn all about. Because the story was not about the young woman, even though she was the narrator. It was about the boy she would end up with. And, er, you mentioned earlier the love triangles and I think it was, uh, it was… I don’t have anything against love triangles in principle, but it was a trope which was mainly used to, um, to develop these kind of stories.
C: I think we have, uh, seen too much of this. And, hopefully, the trend is being replaced with the empowerment of young people. Of saying, okay, you don’t have to be in a couple, you don’t have to fall in love, you don’t have to have sex to become whole as a person. And I think that’s very, very important to pass through this fiction.
L: Mm, yeah, absolutely. It’s, um, as you were talking there, I got the thought that, in a lot of these stories that we read, like, the female protagonist, yes, it’s told from her point of view but her story doesn’t start until she meets the male and then, like, has that insta-love and then that’s where the story starts.
L: And then it’s like her becoming herself because, oh, she’s, she’s fallen in love and met this person and then, inevitably, the love triangle is what causes the conflict to try and create and, yeah. [Laughs] So, love triangles can certainly be done well, um, but the examples I’m thinking of are not good. And, uh, just…
C: Definitely. [Laughs]
L: Just toxic relationships and… yeah. Um, So, yeah, I suppose, it’s kind of, it all comes hand-in-hand really for us as writers of Young Adult fiction and the idea that people in that age group can be influenced and, kind of, swept up by these really popular stories and, erm, you know what? We’ve all been there. Certainly myself I remember being swept up what’s popular.
C: Of course, yeah.
L: And falling in love with something. And then, looking back on it—I think we said last time—looking back on things ten years ago, ten, fifteen years ago, that I read or watched and actually thinking, “that’s not good.” [Laughs]
C: [Laughs] That’s very messed up.
L: Yeah. Erm, at the time we were like, “Yeah, no, this is great. And this is popular so I’m gonna be really into it.” Erm, so it’s really important to be aware of, okay, what these things are. What is a toxic relationship? To be aware of how gaslighting, um, takes form and the impact it has on the person who is being gaslit. Erm, and to include that within the stories that we’re writing, because it’s not that we’re saying, “don’t have a toxic relationship in your book” and “don’t ever write this”, because these things happen. Erm, personally, for me, I know people sometimes wanna read to escape and to be, like, completely different reality.
L: But, for me, I feel like exploring issues likes this makes me connect more to a story. If I’m, if I’m reading about a character that’s going through something like a toxic relationship or they’re having mental health struggles or something like that, I feel more connected to them because it is reality for so many people. And I can see similarities to personal experiences and that’s how I enjoy stories, it’s not necessarily escapism it’s about how I can connect with these characters and I feel like the accurate portrayal of all these things, rape culture and toxic relationships and mental health and trauma, is, for me, and I think for you as well is what really brings you into the story and brings it to life and makes it, kind of, educational in a way, and helps people to process things that they may have been through and to say, okay, I’m not the only person that’s been through this and, actually, maybe, maybe I can talk to someone about it. Maybe it’s, how I’m feeling is okay. And it’s okay to feel this way and, erm, I’m not alone, kind of thing.
C: Yeah, absolutely. It can give young people and not so young people, because, uh, as you say, ten years ago, um, there wasn’t much talk about this as often as now. It can give them a real opportunity to, uh, to express themselves and what they may have endured, what they may have suffered. And I think, uh, yeah, it’s really, it’s really important, and to talk about Young Adult fiction, um, I’ve come across two graphic novels which I think depict really brilliantly also the kind of toxic relationship we are talking about in this chat. The first one is Laura Dean’s Keeps Breaking Up With Me. I think the title says all. [Laughs] When I saw this title at first I thought, yeah. It can get really bad, but it also get really wow. And I read a few reviews about it and, um, I bought this book and I can think, uh, I can say with all confidence that the graphic novel is addressing a toxic, a very toxic relationship. And for once it does not concern a straight relationship, it is a relationship between two young girls, and one is visibly gaslighting the other. And the personal journey of this young girl who is being emotionally abused by the other is, uh, is very striking. And, as you say, it can give a real opportunity for people to talk about this.
C: And the second one, um, it’s Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau, I’m sorry for the accent, I know it’s horrible to you. [Laughs]
L: No, not at all. [Laughs]
C: Where, in fact, the main character slowly realises he’s involved in a very toxic friendship. Because, yeah, the toxic relationship is not always happening between, uh, a love interest, it can also happen between friends.
L: Very true, mmhm.
C: And I think that’s also a very important topic to address because friendship at this are, yeah, very, very vital, very necessary to young people and one cannot always spot the… when a friendship turns toxic.
L: Absolutely, yeah.
C: And it’s addressed in Bloom and thanks to his crush, actually, yeah, a very healthy crush at least, yeah. And the main character realises he’s involved in this toxic friendship. We see also how he becomes empowered through his relationship with his crush, which is very sweet, so that’s definitely two recommendations from me.
L: They both sound really good, yeah. Like, because it is about… if, if you don’t know to look out for the signs of these things, then, yeah, you don’t know it’s happening. And, from personal experience, yeah, toxic friendships can be a real issue, and, um, I won’t go into detail but it’s certainly something that I, kind of, had issues with and had no idea until years later, um, okay, actually, that’s, that’s not what a healthy relationship looks like. Erm, and I think having these books available like these graphic novels and, and being able to read about, this is a toxic relationship and this is what it looks like and this may be what’s happening to you, helps someone to actually get that self-awareness. Because once you’ve got the self-awareness, that’s, kind of, well, that is always step one. I always say that to my counselling clients, like, once you’ve got self-awareness, you can’t get rid of it. Like, it’s in your brain now and it may be something that, maybe, they don’t act on straight but they can start recognising things and starting thinking, okay, yeah actually that’s not alright and I don’t need to put up with behaviour like that, I don’t deserve to be treated in that way and all that kind of thing. It can start as a very small seed, but sometimes that’s all it takes.
C: Yeah, but it takes time to recognise the signs. And sometimes, as you say, you only recognise the signs you were in a very toxic relationship years later when this person is definitely out of your life and you, you are reminded of all the signs and you say, “oh my god, I should have realised”. But, as you say, there’s no reference frame we can fall upon to, to, to recognise this.
L: Exactly, yeah.
C: And, fortunately, that’s a work in progress for this society as well.
L: Yeah, it is. Um, you know, like we said at the beginning, this only was recognised in law 2015. There’s a long way to go in terms of, erm, recognising that toxic relationship whether it’s a romantic or a friendship or whatever kind of relationship it is, um, there’s still too many depictions in the media, in either, like, film or TV or books, that say, if you love someone, um, then it’s, everything will be okay. And that’s, like, that’s all you need to get through a relationship. Even if you’re screaming at each other, even if you’re being made to question who you are as a person, or questioning your own sanity or whatever it is, if you love someone you can, kind of, you can fix them.
C: Oh my god, yeah.
L: Or you can stay with them.
C: That trope.
L: Yeah. That’s not the case, that is not–
C: No. I think that, er, this trope in particular, erm, is sending the message that when you love someone, as you say, you’re willing to sacrifice everything you are, or you’re dreaming of just to be the perfect partner for this person.
C: And that’s really not okay but, as you say, unfortunately some media are still sending this message through their fiction, through their books or movies. But that’s definitely something we have to fight against, because that’s very damaging for people as a whole.
L: Mmhm. Yeah, because I think you mentioned something well in your email about consent as something that should be recognised.
L: Like as one of the ways in which we can avoid problematic depictions, like making sure that we’re accurately describing a toxic relationship, showing the consequences of it and also consent is such a big thing that, I think, in the last few years people have become more aware of the importance of it. Erm, but, when you think of, like, popular big romance films where it’s so much, like, the male will just keep pursuing, keep pursuing, keep pursuing, because eventually, the woman will be like, “okay, fine”, like, yeah and then they fall in love and live happily ever after. Like if you just keep chipping away at someone then eventually you’ll get them.
C: Yeah. We expect to cave in, actually, to give up.
C: To say, “okay, he’s the one for me”. I shiver with disgust.
L: Exactly. It’s… yeah.
L: It’s, it’s, I think we are getting that awareness slowly. It’s like we said in the rape culture video, like, it’s something that people are becoming more and more aware of but it’s like really slow, creeping awareness. Like it’s gonna take a while to seep into everything that we um–
C: Yeah, it takes really a good while, I think, to recognise the importance of consent and I would take just one teeny, teeny example to illustrate this. As you say, in romance movie we have usually this big scene where, uh, the man, uh, steals a kiss from the partner. Usually it’s a straight relationship. And, um, we have been, I think we have been, uh, we are expecting this kind of scene because it’s such a, you know, a great final with the violins in the background and everything will be well and yeah. Happily ever after, you know. And I think this, this kind of scene, this stolen kiss, is the first, not really the first, but one major step to say, to brush the consent question under the carpet. Uh, because it’s seen as a romantic gesture–
C: –while, in truth, uh, you impose something on the other person. It should be considered as a sexual aggression, for me. And, because it’s a romance movie, because we have to see a love story without any, um, any obstacles between these two persons, I think the obstacle between each other, not external, not outside of their stories.
C: Um, we do not see this kiss as an aggression, we see this kiss as an achievement. Uh, but in reality, it’s kind of really, really disturbing behaviour.
C: And just the question, “can I kiss you?”
C: It should be, it should be compulsory to ask someone. “Can I kiss you? Can I touch you?” And, yeah, it’s, as you say, it’s slowly, slowly, people are slowly becoming aware of this, but yeah… it’s still, uh, meeting some major resistance, I think, from the media, the publishers and so on.
C: And it’s very damaging. It’s very unfortunate for me.
L: Yeah. It is. Um, okay, so I mean, if we, kind of, wrap up then about what can we do–
C: Already. [Laughs]
C: We’ve already talked so much about it. [Laughs]
L: [Laughs] We’ve already answered this question in a way, but, like, what can we do in, like, depicting toxic relationships in our books? How can we avoid problematic depictions? I think we’ve already touched upon this but, what would your conclusion be there, for you? What is it that you’re doing that’s avoiding problematic depictions?
C: Mm. Um, I think my conclusion will be, uh, identical or much identical to yours in the fact that, instead of blindly depicting relationships in the same way mainstream media and culture have shown us through their stories, their movies, their books, we should challenge and question every aspect of our relationships and what is a healthy relationship. Um, so by, for instance, does it respect each other’s wishes? Does it show any imbalance? Any power play between partners? I think it should be done whether you depict straight, queer or relationship between two persons or between more people, because polyamorous exist too, even though we rarely see them in a healthy context, of course. But, yeah, we should take care that each party is feeling respected. That the question of consent and wellbeing are put on the foreground and that each party is listened to by the others. I think that’s, that’s really a vital aspect of our work. And we have this, kind of, responsibility as writers, I think, especially for young people. And I think you are on, uh, you do share this opinion.
L: Yeah, I’m on the same page, absolutely. Like, it’s not about, like we said earlier, it’s not about not depicting these kind of relationships. It’s about knowing about how damaging it can be to depict this kind of relationship and say, “this is okay”, and “you can fix someone if they’re like this to you”, and “you can live with them and have a happy ever after and everything will be fine and dandy”. Erm, absolutely depict these kinds of relationships because I, I think that can be helpful to people who are going through it. But be aware of what the consequences are, be aware of what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy in a relationship and question why you would feel the need to have, like, a toxic relationship… for yourself, if you think it’s okay to use that and it’s okay for that to be happening in a relationship, actually, you need to take a step back and get some self-awareness around that. And actually educate yourself on what’s okay in a relationship, because, you know what? For someone, you know, I’m 32, and, like, this is only something I’ve become aware of in the past few years. I think it’s, unfortunately, it’s not something we’re educated about as a rule of thumb, erm, and sometimes it can be about having to go and educate yourself, erm, and then depicting it accurately in your book. Erm, it’s as simple as that, I think. Like, gaining awareness and putting it across in what you’re writing. Erm, and not putting in things that can be damaging to what is, you know, whoever reads your book. Whether it is teenagers or young people, whether it’s adults, because a lot of adults read Young Adult fiction.
C: Of course, yeah.
L: Erm, and I think anyone who reads a book can be influenced by it, it doesn’t matter your age. So, yeah, I would say reading up around this kind of thing and getting as much education on it as you can is, kind of, the number one thing that a writer can do.
C: Yeah, and, as you say, we should spread awareness of this but we should also, I think, in order to do this, reach out to people who have been, who have been abused, who have endured these kind of things, and we should definitely listen to them. Because, uh, as we say before in the discussion about rape culture, it’s about believing and listening to the victims.
C: And, as you say, it’s vital for, for becoming educated on this very topic.
L: Absolutely, yep. That’s a great place to finish it. Listen to people. Listen to people’s stories, yeah. Okay, well, thank you Cindy, it’s been another great chat.
C: It’s been my pleasure, really.
L: And, so, like I said, we’ll put the link for the rape culture video below this one.
C: And don’t forget, Lucy’s book is out in four months and let’s all pre-order it. I have done so, so yeah. [Laughs]
L: [Laughs] Thank you. Yep.
C: All pre-order this and it’s called Awakening, Awakening, yeah.
L: Yeah, it is. Thank you very much, Cindy. Yeah, it’s out on 1st May. Thank you. [Laughs]
C: You’re welcome. [Laughs]
* Quoted from: https://time.com/5274206/toxic-relationship-signs-help/#:~:text=Lillian%20Glass%2C%20a%20California%2Dbased,other%2C%20where%20there’s%20competition%2C%20where
** Quoted from: https://family-law.co.uk/gaslighting/
*** Quoted from: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-teen-dating-violence
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