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COLUMN: The taboo subject we fail to acknowledge

Jennifer Hamilton
Columnist Jennifer Hamilton

It is not uncommon for someone to use the word stalking in a light-hearted manner. You may have heard someone joke about Facebook-stalking a friend, for example.

Stalking is classified as criminal harassment in Canada, and a staggering 58 per cent of Canadian women have been stalked by a former partner. Women make up 76 per cent of all criminal harassment victims, and of these victims, one-third of cases result in violence, according to Statistics Canada. Homicide is now the fifth leading cause of death in women under 45, with more than half of these deaths being committed by a former partner.

Stalking is an incredibly taboo subject as the majority of victims do not feel they are in a safe position to speak out. Yet despite the overwhelming statistics and stigma, there is hope.

There is a clear relationship between stalking and the way we are socialized to handle rejection. Raising a new generation of empathetic young men – teaching men how to handle rejection and readjust their sense of entitlement – is key in changing a culture that allows women to be subject to such violence.

We exist in a culture that romanticizes stalking and unhealthy relationship dynamics. It is clear in an overwhelming number of romantic comedies featuring unrequited love remedied by grand gestures.

Take the popular young adult novel-turned-film Twilight, in which sparkly vampire Edward regularly watches Bella sleep without her knowledge or consent. It is framed as romantic, as though he is so drawn to her that he can’t help himself. Remove the sparkle and the soundtrack, and you have an older man watching an underaged girl sleep.

Someone should have told Edward that respecting boundaries is romantic.

This is just one small example of the skewed ideas of romance sold to us by Hollywood.

Another contributing factor to the culture of stalking is the friend zone myth: the belief that men are owed a relationship or sex in exchange for kindness. The friend zone is a dynamic in which one member of a friendship wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship while the other does not.

There is a common tendency when facing rejection for us to look inward, to ask what we did wrong. Those with abusive tendencies are taught rejection is the fault of the rejector – but women do not owe anyone affection, no matter how kindly you treat them. If you constantly go on about how women ignore the nice guy, you may not be as nice as you think.

The friend zone myth is popular with involuntary celibates, or "incels", a culture built around male entitlement. Members of the online sub-culture claim they are unable to find romantic or sexual partners. At least four mass-murders, resulting in 45 deaths in North America, have been committed by those who described themselves as incels, according to The New York Times.

There is a misconception that only weak or meek women are victim to abuse. The reality is a true manipulator can manipulate anyone. We have a responsibility to teach young people to respect the boundaries that someone sets. We should teach them that when someone says no, they mean it and are not inviting you to convince them otherwise.

We should also be aware of our language: when we joke about stalking our friends on Facebook, it minimizes the experiences of those being cyber-stalked and other victims of criminal harassment.

We cannot combat an issue if we remain ignorant to it. It is my hope that stalking becomes less taboo as we work to fight the conditions that perpetuate it.

Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and writer.

About the Author: Jennifer Hamilton

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