Portraying the Male Abuser in Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Keywords:intimate partner violence, contemporary fiction, feminist theory, covert emotional abuse
Newspaper headlines show that awareness of intimate partner violence is a complicated issue that needs further examination. Works of fiction narrated by women trapped in abusive relationships are useful sites for the exploration of what intimate partner violence usually includes, and the identification of subtle behaviours that can be defined as violent and abusive but usually go unnoticed. This article submits two contemporary works of fiction, First Love and the Fifty Shades series, for a study of the covert mechanisms of emotional abuse. To understand such mechanisms, the article engages with feminist as well as postfeminist contemporary thinking on intimate partner violence. The analysis shifts the focus back to the male abuser by carefully depicting how he uses under-recognized, gendered forms of power to abuse his partner. The aim is to elucidate the capacity of first-person narratives to allow access to the abused woman’s mind, while simultaneously provoking questions about the abusers’ behaviours, making them a more powerful tool for understanding intimate partner violence than a newspaper report.
Adams, Matthew. 2017. “Book Review: Gwendoline Riley’s First Love: A Look at the Frozen Wastes of Relationships.” The National, February 2, 2017. https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/bookreview-gwendoline-riley-s-first-love-a-look-at-the-frozen-wastes-of-relationships-1.633546.
Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin. 2012. “Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on Fifty Shades of Grey: Do women really want to be so submissive?” Independent, July 4, 2012. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/yasmin-alibhai-brown/yasmin-alibhaibrown-on-fifty-shades-of-grey-do-women-really-want-to-be-sosubmissive-7902818.html.
Armentrout, Jennifer. 2012. “Every Breath You Take.” In Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey, edited by Lori Perkins, 81–92. Dallas: BenBella Books.
Bancroft, Lundy. 2002. Why does he do that? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Bonomi, Amy E., Lauren E. Altenburger, and Nicole L. Walton. 2013. “‘Double Crap!’ Abuse and Harmed Health/Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey.” Journal of Women’s Health 9 (22): 733–44. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2013.4344. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2013.4344
Bordo, Susan. 2003 (1993). Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. London: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520930711
Borgia, Danielle. 2014. “Twilight: The Glamorization of Abuse, Codependency, and White Privilege.” The Journal of Popular Culture 471 (1): 153–73. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00872.x. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00872.x
Boyd, Patricia R. 2015. “Paradoxes of Postfeminism: Coercion and Consent in Fifty Shades of Grey.” In Feminist Theory and Pop Culture. Teaching Gender, edited by A. Trier-Bieniek, 103–14. Rotterdam: SensePublishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6300-061-1_8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6300-061-1_8
Boyle, Karen. 2005. Media and Violence. London: Sage.
Brody, Susan L. 2014. “Twilight: The Unveiling of Victims, Stalking, and Domestic Violence.” Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender 21: 39–94. https://ssrn.com/abstract=2661052.
Burke, Tarana. 2020. “The Inception.” In Persuasive Acts: Women’s Rhetorics in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Shari J. Stenberg and Charlotte Hogg, 396–98. Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvwrm691.73. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvwrm691.73
Butter, Susannah. 2017. “First Love by Gwendoline Riley: Review.” Evening Standard, January 19, 2017. https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/first-love-by-gwendoline-riley-review-a3445316.html.
Collins, Victoria, and Dianne Carmody. 2011. “Deadly Love: Images of Dating Violence in the ‘Twilight Saga’.” Affilia 26 (4): 382–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109911428425. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109911428425
Dutton, Donald. 2007. The Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships. 2nd ed. New York: The Guilford Press.
Evers, Sturat. 2017. “First Love by Gwendoline Riley Review: A Compelling Tale of Toxic Love.” The Guardian, March 19, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/19/first-love-gwendolineriley-review.
Felski, Rita. 2008. Uses of Literature. Oxford: Blackwell. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444302790
Flood, Alison. 2012. “Fifty Shades of Grey Condemned as ‘Manual for Sexual Torture’.” The Guardian, August 24, 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/aug/24/fifty-shades-grey-domesticviolence-campaigners.
Gendrich, Cynthia, and Angela Hattery. 2004. “Borderless Academe: ‘Families in Crisis’ and a Lie of the Mind.” Theatre Topics 14 (1): 293–315. https://doi.org/10.1353/tt.2004.0003. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/tt.2004.0003
Gill, Rosalind. 2007. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10 (2): 147–66. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549407075898. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549407075898
Gottzen, Lucas, Margunn Bjornholt and Floretta Boonzaier. 2021. “What Has Masculinity to Do With Intimate Partner Violence?” In Men, Masculinities and Intimate Partner Violence, edited by Lucas Gottzén, Margunn Bjørnholt, and Floretta Boonzaier, 1–15. New York: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429280054-1
Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Gwynne, Joel. 2013. Erotic Memories and Postfeminism: The Politics of Pleasure. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137326546
Harris, Anita. 2004. Future Girl: Young Women in the Twenty-first Century. New York: Routledge.
Harrison, Katherine, and Marie-Louise Holm. 2013. “Exploring Grey Zones and Blind Spots in the Binaries and Boundaries of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy.” Feminist Media Studies 13 (3): 558–62. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2013.788854. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2013.788854
Humann, Heather Duerre. 2014. Domestic Abuse in the Novels of African American Women: A Critical Study. North Carolina: McFarland & Company.
Hutcherson, H. 2012. “Fifty Ways of Looking at Sex in Fifty Shades.” In Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey, edited by Lori Perkins, 109–13. Texas: BenBella Books.
James, E. L. 2012a. Fifty Shades Darker. London: Arrow Books.
—. 2012b. Fifty Shades Freed. London: Arrow Books.
—. 2011. Fifty Shades of Grey. London: Arrow Books.
Johnson, Merri Lisa. 2002. “Jane Hocus, Jane Focus.” In Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, edited by Merri Lisa Johnson, 1–12. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.
Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
Loring, Marti Tamm. 1994. Emotional Abuse. California: Jossey-Bass.
Maguire, Laurie. 2002. “Performing Anger: The Anatomy of Abuse(s) in ‘Troilus and Cressida’.” Renaissance Drama 31: 153–83. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41917369?seq=1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/rd.31.41917369
McRobbie, Angela. 2007. “Top Girls: Young Women and the Post-Feminist Sexual Contract.” Cultural Studies 21 (4–5): 718–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/09502380701279044. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09502380701279044
Midori. 2012. “Fifty Shades of Snark.” In Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey, edited by Lori Perkins, 137–41. Texas: BenBella Books.
Murphy, Megan. 2019. “Introduction to ‘#MeToo Movement’.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 31 (2–3): 63–65. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952833.2019.1637088. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08952833.2019.1637088
Patterson, Natasha, and Camilla A. Sears. 2011. “Letting Men Off the Hook? Domestic Violence and Postfeminist Celebrity Culture.” Genders 1998–2013, January 2, 2011. https://www.colorado.edu/gendersarchive1998-2013/2011/01/02/letting-men-hook-domestic-violence-and-postfeminist-celebrity-culture.
Regulska, Joanna. 2018. “The #MeToo Movement as a Global Learning Moment.” International Higher Education 94: 5–6. https://doi.org/10.6017/ihe.2018.0.10554. DOI: https://doi.org/10.6017/ihe.2018.0.10554
Riley, Gwendoline. 2017. First Love. London: Granta.
Rodier, Kristin, and Michelle Meagher. 2014. “In Her Own Time: Rihanna, Post-Feminism, and Domestic Violence.” Women: A Cultural Review 25 (2): 176–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/09574042.2014.944416. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09574042.2014.944416
Shoos, Diane. 2017. Domestic Violence in Hollywood Film: Gaslighting. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-65064-7
Spary, Sara. 2020. “Harrowing Domestic Violence PSA Reminds us Abuse is Still Happening Behind Closed Doors.” ADWEEK, May 8, 2020. https://www.adweek.com/creativity/harrowing-domestic-violence-psa-reminds-us-abuse-is-still-happening-behind-closed-doors/.
Spiers, Emily. 2018. Pop-Feminist Narratives: The Female Subject under Neoliberalism in North America, Britain, and Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198820871.001.0001
Taub, Amanda. 2020. “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide.” The New York Times, April 6, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html.
Wade, Francesca. 2017. “First Love by Gwendoline Riley.” Financial Times, February 10, 2017. https://www.ft.com/content/0e6f1cca-ea0f-11e6-967b-c88452263daf.
WHO. 2021. “Violence against Women.” World Health Organization, March 9, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women.
Wright, Susan. 2012. “Fifty Shades of Sexual Freedom.” In Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey, edited by Lori Perkins, 237–41. Texas: BenBella Books.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Fatmah
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors are confirming that they are the authors of the submitting article, which will be published (print and online) in journal ELOPE by Znanstvena založba Filozofske fakultete Univerze v Ljubljani (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Aškerčeva 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia). Author’s name will be evident in the article in journal. All decisions regarding layout and distribution of the work are in hands of the publisher.
- Authors guarantee that the work is their own original creation and does not infringe any statutory or common-law copyright or any proprietary right of any third party. In case of claims by third parties, authors commit their self to defend the interests of the publisher, and shall cover any potential costs.
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work.