Watching Netflix's You with my daughter allowed me to initiate an important conversation
Watching the Neflix series YOU, with my teenage daughter provided a conversation starter about domestic abuse and unhealthy relationships.
For those who haven't seen it, Penn Badgley plays Joe, a man who develops an obsession with poetry student Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail. Joe stalks Beck via social media, finding out everything he can about her and her friends. He even finds her address online which leads to a scene where he watches her through her window while masturbating.
As we were watching the show my daughter was saying "gross!", and "so creepy!", at various points where Joe was engaged in typical stalker-like behaviour.
The majority of the series is seen through the eyes of Joe and his rationalising and justification of his own behaviour urges the viewer to sympathise with him. This is where the series runs into dangerous territory in terms of normalising or romanticising stalking and domestic abuse.
Spoiler alert, such is Joe's desire to "own" Beck that he literally murders the people who get in his way, including her ex-boyfriend and her best friend. After watching the series, I talked with my daughter about the problematic aspects of the show, and how You can be used as a warning of the signs of a domestic abuser.
Joe love bombs Beck, he dislikes Beck's friends and stalks them as well, online and in real life, when he breaks into the house of her best friend, twice. I talked to my daughter about how efforts to distance you from your friends are something to be viewed with suspicion, as abusers like to isolate their victims from all their support networks.
After stealing her phone, Joe monitors Beck's social media accounts and text messages. Technology is increasingly being used by abusers as a means of controlling their partners, so I suggested to my daughter that she change her passwords regularly and be mindful of the ways in which people can spy on you via your phone or laptop.
Joe thinks he knows what is best for Beck, better than Beck does. He does not view her as his equal, he views her as a trophy, an object to own. One of the cornerstones of an abusive mindset is a core belief in inequality. Abusers believe in their own superiority - and this informs all their interactions with others.
Several times Becks becomes angry with Joe over his interference, but each time she rationalises it to herself and gives him another chance. I spoke to my daughter about taking stock when you find yourself excusing, justifying or rationalising your partner's bad behaviour. I suggested asking herself the question, "If I just met this person today and they treated me like this - would I still want to date them?"
Some responses to the series on Twitter have been alarming, with women asking the actor Penn Badgley to kidnap them, talking about how "sexy" Joe is and saying they wish Joe would stalk them. Penn Badgely who plays Joe, seemed to be perturbed by the women who found his character attractive. Badgley tweeted, "People wanna talk about problematic/interesting dimensions of the show which is a positive thing."
I've had the chat with my daughter about the problematic aspects of the show, it was a great way to teach her about domestic abuse and how to spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship. Having the conversation about why some women say they are attracted to the character of Joe knowing he is a murderer...that will be a tougher conversation to have.