Nate and I never see movies in theaters (see being parents of small children, also global pandemics) and we’re usually at least a year behind when it comes to the latest greatest movie that everybody’s talking about. So last night we watched A Star Is Born with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
I enjoyed the music– whatever else you might say about Lady Gaga, the woman can really sing. And it’s pretty undeniable that she and Cooper had fantastic chemistry in their roles.
But as I watched the romance between the fading alcoholic superstar Jack (Cooper) and the undiscovered talent Ally (Gaga), I kept wondering– if this movie been made ten years ago and I’d watched it then, would I have been able to see that the way Jack relates to Ally is emotionally abusive? Would I have been capable of spotting all the red flags in the relationship? Would I have noticed the way that Jack won’t respect Ally’s boundaries, the way he tries to possess her creative talent and fails to support her when she starts blossoming into a career of her own? Or would I (like Ally) have been swept off my feet by what feel like grand romantic gestures, such Jack sending a private car and a private jet to bring her to his show the night after they first meet (even though she has already told him she couldn’t come and had to work.) Would I have been able to see the way Jack manipulates Ally, using her, emotionally derailing her, deflecting her when she tries to confront him about the ways he’s hurt her? Or would I have tried to cast him as the tortured Rochester-esque hero whom it is the heroine’s job to rescue.
So often American girls have the idea of Prince Charming picking the worthy peasant girl out of the crowd and sweeping her off to a life of ease and luxury so ground into us that we rarely stop to ask ourselves what lies behind the glitz and glamor, if Prince Charming is really so wonderful as he looks.
I think about my own years of hoping for Mr. Right to appear. In my adolescent and young adult years, nobody ever talked about consent, but a very big deal was made about male pursuit. Mr. Right was the one who would *pursue* you (after making his intentions known to and being vetted by your father, of course.) There was even a certain subsection of the Christian courtship culture where the way a guy romantically pursued a girl was seen as some kind of reflection of the way God supposedly pursued us– often entirely against our inclination, maybe even against our will. I can remember a story in one of Josh Harris’s books* about a young Christian guy interested in a girl who had no interest in him, no desire to explore a relationship with him. But he was determined that this was the girl God had for him to marry, and so kept on pursuing her, while all her friends and family told her that this guy was awesome and it didn’t matter what her own feelings were, her feelings weren’t reliable anyway. A guy’s failure to respect a girl’s “no” was seen as inevitable– a measure of his manhood, a romantic thing, even a holy thing. The entire premise of the best-selling Christian novel Redeeming Love, which evangelical women have swooned over for almost two decades, is based on this conception of love as a thing that ignores all boundaries, all obstacles, all protest, where consent is meaningless, and a lover will inflict himself on the Beloved regardless of what she thinks of the matter, because it’s the Lover who knows what is best for the Beloved.**
Recently on Sheila Wray Gregoire’s Facebook page (I often refer to her as “The Christian Sex Therapist) was a post about husbands groping their wives in a non-sexual context, such as when the wife is engaged in a household chore or when they are out in public. I read through the comments and was so disheartened by the number of women who commented “my husband does that and I hate it” and either they felt like they weren’t allowed to tell him to stop, or they had already told him and he continued anyway. But what made me furious was the other group of women, who commented that they liked their husbands groping them and subtly shamed the other women who don’t enjoy it, implying that they should be grateful for their husbands’ attention/desire and that there was something wrong with them for not liking being groped.
People, please. Crossing boundaries IS NOT SEXY. It’s not romantic. It’s not holy. It’s wrong. It’s abusive. It’s a path that leads towards dehumanization and degradation.
Every year into my marriage I am more thankful that I married a man who was not raised in that kind of culture. Nate’s and my marriage is far from perfect and we’ve got our own challenges to work through. But I know that he respects me, and when I draw a line, he doesn’t look at it as a challenge to his masculinity, or as a dare to see how fast he can cross it. He respects me. He treats me as fully human. A lot of women who were raised in the same culture I was can’t say the same about their husbands. Any culture that primes young women to believe that guys should see their “no” as a challenge to overcome is an unhealthy culture, a culture that has a fundamental lack of value for female autonomy. That’s a culture where the president can brag about grabbing women by the pussy and both Christian and secular leaders look the other way. That’s a culture where a youth pastor who sexually assaulted a teen girl receives a standing ovation at his church for his “repentance.”*** That’s a culture where women who report rape and harassment are disbelieved, ridiculed, and even told that you were asking for it because of how you were dressed/where you were/what you were drinking/etcetera.
That’s not the culture in which I want to raise my daughter or my son. They both deserve better.
*Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, by Josh Harris
**For a fantastic deconstruction of this concept, see Samantha Field’s review series of Redeeming Love.
***The New York Times, “I was Assaulted, He was Applauded.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/opinion/jules-woodson-andy-savage-assault.html