The Reality in Romantic Comedies

I’ve never really been a fan of romantic comedies, or “chick flicks” as they’re commonly called.  I should like them.  They are the only genre made virtually exclusively for women.  Men role their eyes when the newest movies come out, hoping they won’t have to go see it on date night.  Women beg their boyfriends/husbands/significant others to watch a romantic movie framed with a candle light dinner and some snuggling on the couch.  It doesn’t really sound that bad.  Some quality time over a harmless, feel good movie.  Nothing wrong with that right?  Plus there are some of them that men and women generally agree on as being good.  When Harry Met Sally is one of them.  I’ve rarely heard a bad word about this film.

Even though I might enjoy a romantic comedy now and then, there is still something about them that rubs me the wrong way.  Especially more recent ones.  They seem to reflect what is going on in the larger social context.  Movies like No Strings Attached or Friends With Benefits promote the theme of causal sex outside of a committed relationship (side note, I have not seen either of these).  In general though this genre of movie seems regressive, sexist, and promotes hegemonic masculinity.  Let me break down what I mean.

Hegemonic masculinity has to do with the dominant perception of what it means to be a man.  Men are dominant and women are submissive.  In these movies we see white, straight men with washboard abs.  He is often aloof, most likely a jerk, and only after sex.  I think of movies like The Ugly Truth and What Happens in Vegas.

The woman on the other hand is usually a mess.  Either experiencing a terrible break up or so career driven she has no time for men.  You’re typical “Bitch.”  In the break up scenario we have a wonderful man stepping in and fixing her.  In the career driven track the man enters to show her that yes, she can experience love, if only she would loosen up a bit.  Usually he treats her terribly, leading to some sort of crying scene where she realizes that yes, she does in fact love this asshole that has been making her life miserable.  Does anyone else feel disturbed by these plot lines?  Again they feel incredibly sexist and regressive to me.  They show that a woman can only be truly happy with a man in her life.  Being single is miserable, unnatural, and at the worst a sin.  Even the woman who tells the world she is happy to be single is in fact secretly longing to be swept off her feet.  Scenes are full of women in coffee shops or parks gazing enviously at canoodling couples around them.

Another disturbing aspect of these movies is where the woman takes abuse from a man either because she loves him or wants to change him.  An older example of this is the beloved children’s movie Beauty and the Beast.  Not a romantic comedy but just bear with me.  Belle is literally locked in the dungeon, forced to wear clothing she does not want to, held captive, and continuously being yelled at.  Yet, at the end of the movie we are shown that if you love someone enough you can bring the humanity out of the beast.  This goes beyond sexism to me, and is down right dangerous.  Abusive and obsessive relationships are never okay and we should not be teaching our women (especially the young ones) that  this is acceptable.

So, in the end, we are attempting to put both men and women in a box with these movies. Enforcing the sexist scripts the we have been living into for ages.  Men must be dominant, strong, and independent.  Women on the other hand need a man, mustn’t be too independent, and always want children over a career.  It is a lot to live up to.  For both of us.

I can watch a romantic comedy now and then, but usually not without my blood pressure rising and annoying everyone around me with my snarky comments


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