Photo: Sexism in Romantic Comedies
It’s the story we’ve all heard countless times before: boy meets girl, hilariously tender mishaps occur, and they fall hopelessly in love with one another. Romantic comedies have been irresistible since the beginning of storytelling because we can’t help but love love. Shakespeare knew it, J-17 magazine knew it, and due to the successful patriarchal brainwashing of western culture, now you know it too.
Looking back on some of our favorite rom-coms as adults, however, can prove tricky. We watch them to escape the harrowing reality of life, only to be thrown back into the confusing world of playful sexism for comedy’s sake. The leading women in these movies are constantly thrown under the bus, metaphorical or otherwise (Here’s to you, Regina George!) for a punchline that isn’t worth it in the end. Beyond this, they teach young women that love should be complicated and hard, that it is exhibited through taunting, teasing, hatred, and heartbreak. The simple question should be asked: Why? Why do we continue to perpetuate these stereotypes, even when they play into the facade of new-age Hollywood fads of “progressive” feminist film?
Sexism Begins with the Writers – It’s Hard To Write Women, Female Characters in General, Without Any On Staff
The entertainment business has long since been under scrutiny for not having enough women behind the scenes. Teams of female-led creatives have proven that there is a way to nail the romantic comedy genre without perpetuating harmful stereotypes about contemporary love. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, directed by Susan Johnson, written by Sofia Alvarez and Jenny Han, is a strong example of an authentic female lead, with intricacies and quirks that do not revolve solely around her love interest. However, the female empowerment narrative is recently commonplace in popular culture, meaning the classics we hold dear are actually drenched in testosterone and depictions of the manic pixie dream girl. A woman who, by definition, prefers a cold beer, fights her own battles and is so very unattainable. Girls like Ramona V. Flowers or Summer Finn are born of the male fantasy with no one around to check their ridiculous idealizations of these women.
Of course, you can have your dorky, extremely uncool women alongside this. These girls try too hard to obtain anyone’s love. They think obsessively about that total scum-of-the-earth guy who will eventually be beaten by the “good guy” main character. This blatant categorization of women is a result of the unintentional condescension an all-male writer’s room can produce. Not to mention our main characters usually fall into these descriptors, leaving queer women and women of color to fill stereotypes that are flat out racist, homophobic, and disheartening. So what’ll it be, girls? Are you too-hot-to-touch, or do you wear glasses? Are you just “one of the guys” or do you eat ice cream, alone, on Saturday nights?
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The Bigger Picture
These adaptive, male-fulfilling personalities contribute to a much larger issue on how women proceed to view themselves and their romantic relationships. Broken men cannot possibly fix themselves, right? The perfect woman would come along, see his anger, his addiction, his abuse, and take it in stride. Wrong! Women and men can have separate existences and should not fall into a relationship that is mentally tolling for reasons outside of their control. Women in films of this nature are merely used as a catalyst for a man’s change of heart and mind. When we see the Ginnifer Goodwins of the world, pining over the unattainable Justin Longs, we think, of course, I could do that! I am someone’s exception!
There should be no exception. Men shouldn’t have rules and special cases in regards to how they treat women, there should be no process in deciding whether a woman is good enough to be treated well. These attitudes in our real world lead to the misogynistic men who wake up one day and think, “You know what? I’ve got the perfect idea for a movie.” If we don’t begin to objectively criticize some of our favorite films, this cycle will be ever-lasting.
So Why Do I Like Romantic Comedies?
It’s hard not to fall in love with a chance encounter that leads to a fairy tale ending. We are human, after all! These films provide opportunities that are so unrealistic, so cheesy that we can’t help but be swept into the magic of it all. We look to these stories as a guideline to our own failed attempts at real love, but instead smother any real emotions because they don’t carry the signature ‘spark.’ It also provided a “standard” for women until very recently with the I’m-not-like-other-girls mentality that was extremely popular during the 2000s. We saw Kat Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You, how different and edgy she was, and never realized that it’s okay if you’re more like Bianca.
To separate yourself from different forms of womanhood is to create a divide that contributes to the sexist culture in which movies are developed. Within recent years, women have awoken to the excused acts of misogyny that constantly surround our media and taken action to put more women behind the helm, consequently giving us well-rounded, realistic female characters to enjoy.
Liking A Good Movie Isn’t Shameful
Films- at their very core- are meant to entertain, and the reason we have our favorite romantic comedy is due to the fact that it is enjoyable. However, Hollywood has a future. With every new film released, we create a new classic piece of cinema, and that means there is plenty of room for growth within the industry. Titles such as Crazy Rich Asians, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, have changed the narrative to normalize women exhibiting anger, shame, and other “unattractive” emotions on film.
Women in the industry have come together to support organizations such as Nominate Women Directors and the #MeToo movement, which began with the surfacing and legitimizing of rape allegations against infamous Hollywood superstars. As the movement gained traction, films have begun progressing past the standard male-fantasy fodder, and now takes the time to explore a woman’s character outside of her relationship with a man in the cinematic world. Romantic comedies now have multi-faceted women making decisions based on her wants and needs, like the spectacularly funny and heart-wrenching Robespierre film Obvious Child. Or, with the proper representation, they enter the LGBTQ+ genre, with women and men existing alongside one another without the jagged edge of sexism to intrude, like Alice Wu’s recent Netflix hit The Half Of It.
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In the end, we all want our own Prince Charming to sweep us off of our feet. However, with the new wave of romantic comedies and a well-informed, conscious viewing of the classic tales, our personal romances won’t be drenched in unrealistic standards. This begins with looking to the established movements that have been taking Hollywood by storm and asking, what can we do to improve? Which stories aren’t being told? We must root for our female characters, see them as whole and human, for feminism to truly take root in Hollywood.
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