Romantic comedies are like a drug, causing a series of feelings that begins with ambivalence and uncertainty and lead you to an ending that leaves the viewer floating in all of the fuzzy feelings emanating from the screen. At least, that’s what good ones are supposed to do. There is just something about the mixture of cute romance and cringe that draws us in.
There is a scene in 2001’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary” where the two male leads fight in the snow over who gets to be with Bridget, and who can forget the moment in 1999’s “10 Things I Hate About You” where the mysterious, badass lead serenades the woman he’s trying to win over, his perfectly curly hair, fluttering as he gets chased around by campus police. These scenes are iconic, but there is a side to romantic comedies that makes it hard for some people to distinguish the line between fiction and reality.
It is easy to see how representations of women affect the way we think we should speak, look or feel. Even Tampon commercials are skewed to portray women as happy, dancing in fields of flowers as our uterus feels like it is being churned in a blender. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s not an accurate portrayal.
Romantic comedies are no exception to how media skews perception. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, did a study where they analyzed common themes in top box office films. When the psychologists surveyed respondents on which films they liked the most, they found that those who liked romantic comedies failed to communicate with their partners effectively. This study also showed that people who view a considerable amount of romantic comedies tend to have unrealistic views on how relationships work.
Romantic comedies portray romance as being the center of a woman’s life, neglecting to highlight any other facets in life that may be fulfilling. If there is another side of life the film features it is usually showing something negative. In 2009’s “The Proposal,” Sandra Bullock’s character is portrayed as a pushy, demanding boss, who has become overwhelmed by her career. It is these types of characterization that tell society a woman cannot be complete without romance in her life.
Romantic comedies NEGLECT
to highlight any other facets in life that may be fulfilling.
Another problematic feature of the rom-com is the fact that they tend to blur the line between pursuing women and flat out harassing and stalking them. Even the perpetuated concept that men should do the pursuing and women should be the one pursued is troublesome in itself; it is another
thing to push this trope to the extremes that some romantic comedies do.
The Atlantic cites in a 2016 article the example of “Hitch,” a 2005 rom-com with Will Smith as a love guru. Smith’s character is introduced to us by voice-over. In the course of this monologue, the character claims that any excuses a woman makes about not wanting to be in a relationship are lies. How disturbing is that? This perpetuates the idea that women are just playing hard to get, when women say “no,” they are really saying “maybe.”
Literal stalking is also portrayed in these movies as something cute and romantic, by presenting it under the guise of the character just going to the extremes for the one they love. A 2015 University of Michigan study on media and stalking showed that women who viewed romantic comedies where a man’s pursuit of a woman was shown in a positive light were more likely to believe misleading myths about stalking.
These types of movies are more common than you think. The one that comes to mind is 1998’s “There’s Something about Mary,” a wholesome tale about how a guy tracks down his high school crush from 13 years ago by hiring a private investigator to spy on her. How is this not creepy?
And sure, you might say that most people are smart enough to not confuse fiction with reality, and you’re right. But there are people who tend to have trouble distinguishing fiction and reality and eat this shit up like cheese fries — teens. Is it right for us as a society to allow young people to think the actions of men in these movies are OK? I don’t think so.
Even though the media is getting better at portraying women, with characters like Katniss Everdeen and Daenerys Targaryen, the genre feels a little stagnant, with its formulaic plots and strict adherence to gender roles. Though the classics are classics for a reason, it is not feasible to make another “Pretty Woman” in 2017. We’ve evolved. It’s time for the genre to evolve with us.