Re-reading an old favorite is an excellent litmus test for personal growth and transformation. Adventures can suddenly seem very small (or very brave). The terror of scary story might be hiding in a completely different place. And that lusty love story you were ~all about~ at 15? Uh, yeah, that's not so hot now that you're a grown-ass person who understands what an emotionally healthy relationship actually looks like. Check out these 13 famously romantic books whose love stories are full of sexual harassment. You might be tempted to revisit some of your own "classics."
When the #MeToo hashtag began spreading across social media, I was not at all surprised. "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too,'" the now-viral post read, "We might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."
"Uh, OK," I remember thinking. "How many woman are there in... the world? That's the number of retweets this will have. Or would have, if everyone shared their stories, which they don't have have to and don't owe anyone that sacrifice."
Seriously, though, I think that call to action applied to literally every woman (along with a number of male and non-binary folks) I know. We're a culture built on centuries and centuries of gender and sexually-based violence, to such an extent that we've become numb to it, except in the most blatant, horrific cases. One of the key ways toxic masculinity has remained rampant is through continued romanticization of bad behavior. Boys will be boys! Men will be men (but, hey, only the manliest of men)!
In high school, I remember actively thinking that love was hottest with a dash of vitriol and a fair amount of suffering. And why wouldn't I? Many of my favorite books and movies proved, again and again, that relationships were "best" (read: the most entertaining) when men wouldn't take "no" for an answer, when men became "obsessed" with women, when men accused women of "torturing" them by not returning their love. Romance! Best when mixed heavily with angst and pain!
So take a look at this list. Any books you want to add? Any books you want to discuss further?
'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë
Hot take? Pre-20th century female characters who choose social norms over love should be examined with a huge, giant, boulder-sized grain of salt. The fact that Catherine is forced to shoulder the brunt of physical and emotional abuse from Heathcliff, because she bowed to the men in her life, is, uh, trash?
'High Fidelity' by Nick Hornby
Following its 2000 film adaptation, Nick Hornby's High Fidelity was cemented as the embodiment of late '90s relationships — caustic, "darkly funny," with a killer soundtrack. But as protagonist Rob Gordon catalogues his history of lost loves, you might begin sour on this concept of sexual harassment and manipulation as humorous.
'The Notebook' by Nicholas Sparks
Hey, uh, remember when Noah harasses Ally into going on a first date with him by asking a bunch of times, refusing to take no for an answer and then threatening to throw himself off a Ferris wheel unless she says yes? Very cool start to a healthy relationship, dude.
'Twilight' by Stephenie Meyer
At the heart of Twilight, the book that launched the mid-aughts vampire craze, is a deeply mismatched power dynamic between Bella and Edward (and, ugh, of course, Jacob). "Will he kill me or will he kiss me? Who knows, how romantic!" is essentially Bella's reprise throughout the entire first book. Also, Edward stalks her and watches her while she sleeps?!?!
'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë
Oy, the Brontë sisters. So brilliant, so sad, so deeply mired in this concept of love being inextricably intertwined with violence and manipulation. Jane Eyre's relationship with men, from Mr. Rochester to St. John Eyre Rivers, is colored repeatedly by manipulative power dynamics and men being really insistent that, eventually, Jane will love them.
'Gone With the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell
Question: Did everyone in Margaret Mitchell's life harangue one another into marriage? Like, is that the only that unions formed in her world? Through bullying? Because there is absolutely nothing appealing in the sexually manipulative way that Rhett Butler treats Scarlett O'Hara.
'The Phantom of the Opera' by Gaston Leroux
Sorry, just to be clear, a grown man stalks, kidnaps and menaces a teenager into a "romantic" relationship? But it's OK because she's very beautiful and he has a facial disfiguration? Oh, and he, a "musical genius," helped her career? Dope. I'm very glad this was adapted into the longest-running Broadway show in history.
'Atonement' by Ian McEwan
Look, I really enjoyed Ian McEwan's Atonement, I thought the movie was an incredible adaptation, but the beginnings of Cecilia and Robbie's relationship, in which their sexual tension takes the form of unkindness and aggression, has always struck a nerve.
'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery
It pains me to say this, because I am a lifelong stan for Anne Shirley, but this book did perpetuate that whole "Boys are mean to the girls they like" nonsense by starting out Anne and Gilbert's relationship as just that. And then we're expected to feel kind of bad for Gilbert when Anne cracks a chalkboard over his head? LOL no.
'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I'm always perplexed by people who want a "Great Gatsby-themed" wedding. There is not a single relationship in this book that is healthy or free from some form of sexual violence. Jay stalks and harasses Daisy and puts her on this bizarre, dehumanizing pedestal. Tom Buchanan is straight-up abusive. Myrtle and George's relationship makes my insides wither.
'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens
For the umpteenth time: Just! Because! You have a crush on a woman! She doesn't! Owe you! Anything! Just because Pip carries a torch for Estella! Doesn't mean she needs to love him back! Sorry, Dickens!
'Love in the Time of Cholera' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Poor Fermina. Whether its with Urbino or Florentino, the rational, stalwart husband (who cheats on her endlessly) or the passionate, obsessive love (who also sleeps around a bunch), she's forced to weather an endless stream of manipulative bullshit at the hands of her partners.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
OK, please don't bite my head off, but I am not a fan of Ron and Hermione.
The final entry on this list is sure to land me in hot water. Here's the thing: Ron treats Hermione abysmally because he has a crush on her, he doesn't do anything about it and she, engaging in, you know, her free will as a person, becomes involved with someone else. I know this happens often! I know that many of the readers can empathize! That doesn't make it OK or good or fine or any less cruel. It's still manipulative and controlling.