“It’s Not You; It’s Me:” The Representation of Teen Dating Violence in Young Adult Literature and its Implications for Prevention
Storer, Heather Lynn
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PURPOSE: Teen dating violence (TDV) continues to be a significant social justice issue. The prevention of TDV requires an attention to risk and protective factors across ecological system levels. The media is one of the primary cultural drivers of societal-level social scripts about the causes, consequences, and lived experiences of TDV. Framing theory asserts that the media’s portrayal of social issues, including what contextual information is included and/or excluded, impacts individual-level attitudes about TDV and potential policy responses. Through an interrogation of the discursive properties of young adult (YA) novels, this study investigates the representation of TDV in YA literature, a media genre that is marketed to adolescent audiences. METHODS: Data include all young adult novels (n=8) published between 2004-2013 that have a primary focus on TDV. Texts were analyzed systematically using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) methods. RESULTS: Victimology, pop-psychology, and postfeminist discourses were used to describe victims’ entry and experience of TDV victimization, the antecedents of TDV, and perpetrators’ use of abusive behaviors. Victimology discourses shape our social understanding of the victims’ characteristics of victims that predispose individuals to becoming crime victims. Victims were framed as inherently vulnerable due to their inexperience in relationships, enduring a significant family tragedy, and having low self-esteem. Pop-psychology discourses, which are commonsense understandings of mental health issues that have been derived from more nuanced psychological theories, were enacted through portraying the perpetration of TDV as originating from perpetrators’ family and mental issues. Postfeminist discourses, which are inclusive of neoliberal ideologies, employ a rhetoric of personal responsibility, choice, and individualism and render second-wave feminism anachronistic. Postfeminist discourses represented TDV as an individual-level issue, where victims are agentic participants in abusive relationships. External social systems were underrepresented, and victims were positioned as responsible for independently ending their relationships. Rather than framing TDV as a violation of a victim’s human rights, or as a systemic issue related to gender norms, it was depicted as negatively impacting victims’ future trajectories, ability to maintain their physical appearance, and individual self-concept. DISCUSSION & IMPLICATIONS: The structural determinants of TDV have been overshadowed in the media’s portrayal of TDV, in favor of narrow portrayals of victimization that focus on victims and individual-level family histories and personal characteristics. Rather than underscoring how societal-level factors contribute to TDV, perpetration was seen as stemming from family dysfunction and mental health issues. The language of gender inequality has been supplanted by a postfeminist rhetoric of choice, personal responsibility, and vulnerability. These findings underscore how victimology, pop-psychology and postfeminist discourses have permeated the public vernacular about the causes and consequence of TDV. Implications for TDV prevention programs including the importance of media literacy will be discussed.