Spoiler warning: the Disney movie "Tangled"
Content warning: emotional abuse, manipulation, isolation
Think about specific times you've seen relationship violence in the media. Think about who's involved and what that violence looks like.
Yeah, that's not even half of it.
In my opinion, naming October as Relationship Violence Awareness Month over Domestic Violence Awareness Month is crucial. While domestic violence, usually between two heterosexual, cisgender partners is a major problem that needs to be addressed specifically — other lesser-discussed forms of relationship violence need to be discussed as well.
While I'm sorry I'm about to crush your childhood, I believe we need to talk about the popular Disney film "Tangled." Rapunzel's mom, Gothel, engages in emotional abuse against Rapunzel. After stealing Rapunzel from her parents, Gothel keeps Rapunzel locked up in a tower to use her voice to keep her young, convincing her that the world is too evil and scary of a place.
When Rapunzel mentions wanting to go see lights and doubts her mother, her mother begins to sing a song called "Mother Knows Best" which includes lyrics like "Look at you, fragile as a flower" and "One way or another/Something will go wrong I swear/Ruffians and thugs, poison ivy, quicksand/ Cannibals and snakes, the plague."
These lyrics degrade Rapunzel and show how Gothel manipulates her daughter into believing lies about the world to keep her bound to the tower they live in.
What's especially problematic about this situation and other situations of emotional abuse and manipulation are how insidiously they're done and how much confusion they cause in the individual being manipulated. For example, the world can be a bad and scary place with poison ivy and quicksand and much worse. So, in this sense, Gothel isn't necessarily wrong.
In addition, Rapunzel relies on Gothel for the truth because Gothel isolates her from every other human being, another sign of abuse. Gothel then makes Rapunzel even more confused and guilty, saying "I'm just saying 'cause I wuv you." She makes Rapunzel think that she's in good hands with Gothel, that Gothel is someone to trust and that she's a bad person for doubting her. Gothel is justifying her wrongful behaviors to Rapunzel to elicit doubt and manipulation that doesn't allow Rapunzel to think critically or have emotions.
I'm sorry to say it, because I know it's not fun to hear, but here's my unpopular opinion: Disney isn't perfect. While one could assume that older children realize what Gothel is doing, or that parents of children watching the movie would explain what Gothel is doing, I'm not convinced that children aren't growing up with unhealthy messages. In a sense, relationship violence is romanticized by being in a children's movie with music and princesses and convincing yet untrue depictions of life that negatively affect characters and even viewers in general.
It's okay to still enjoy watching movies like "Tangled" — heck, it's one of my favorites, minus the way Gothel treats Rapunzel — just keep in mind what's problematic and don't be afraid to discuss it.
On that same note, don't be afraid to critically think about your favorite movies and songs. Don't let the media's depictions or society's stereotypes mislead you on what relationship violence can look like. Relationship violence can be found in the bounds of any relationship, whether that be familial, platonic, romantic, or any other. Relationship violence also encompasses more than overt physical violence; it also includes violence that's emotional or verbal, financial, sexual, and several more, in which some are listed here.
Manipulation and isolation and obsession are symptoms of abuse. Violence isn't always overt, either, because the perpetrator knows they must create doubt in the survivor or risk getting in trouble. Violence is insidious and covert more than we realize and definitely more than we see in the media.
Most importantly, though, be aware for yourself and others that resources are available for support. Feel free to check out and share the Love Is Respect website and hotline, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and website, the RAINN website and hotline, and the Compass Center here in Chapel Hill.
You deserve safety, happiness, and well-being. You are not alone. You deserve better. You are loved, and love doesn't include any form of violence, whether covert or overt.