Red flags we need to stop romanticising in rom-coms
Romantic Comedies, more commonly known as rom-coms, are comfort shows for many people. Full of young love, optimism, emotional catharsis, and witty dialogue, rom-coms are easy entertainment for viewers of all ages. They are the perfect stories to wind down to after a long day and are always a good choice for days when you need a light-hearted pick-me-up. However, the problem arises when the line between fiction and reality start to blur.
Stalking, cheating, abuse, manipulation, toxic masculinity, romanticising mental illnesses, a lack of diversity, harassment, outdated gender stereotypes - you name it, rom-coms probably have it. A lot of the tropes that make rom-coms such an exciting genre are very problematic and dangerous in real life. From jealous outbursts to forced advances, crossing boundaries without consent, and even bullying, are all glossed over in most rom-coms in the name of "love."
It is easy to dismiss the entire genre as "chick-flicks," as most romantic comedies are marketed towards a specific target demographic of young girls. How often have we watched a romantic comedy where the guy gets the girl, and all's well that ends well? But real life is often more complicated as love doesn't always conquer all. Rom-coms portray an idealized, and unrealistic, happily-ever-after.
In the idealized world of rom-coms, "hot guys can do no wrong." Movie after movie shows the "bad boys" demeaning and mistreating the girl without repercussions just because they are conventionally attractive, rich, white men. From classics like Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, and 10 Things I Hate About You, 500 Days of Summer, to more recent sensations like Passenger, The Kissing Booth, Fifty Shades of Grey, or How I Met Your Mother, stalking and obsession have always been normalized and glossed over in rom-coms. In real life, the same gestures of supposed "love" would be enough for the person to get arrested, or worse. From Noah threatening to harm himself when Allie didn't reciprocate his feelings in The Notebook, to Edward confessing that he snuck into Bella's room every night and watched her sleep in Twilight, we have grown desensitized to these dangerous red flags because of rom-coms.
Ironically enough, for a genre that is targeted towards mainly a female audience, women are undermined in most of them. The most prominent example is probably the stereotype of the "cool girl". As Gillian Flynn so aptly explains in her 2012 bestseller Gone Girl, the "cool girl" is the epitome of the male fantasy. The cool girl is one of the guys. She's fun, raunchy, profane, effortlessly hot, and likes whatever the male protagonist wants. But most importantly, the cool girl is "not like other girls." Think Megan Fox in Transformers, and Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary. The trope is incredibly sexist and falsely enforces the harmful ideal that women must change themselves and fit into outdated gender stereotypes in order to be desirable to men. In reality, the cool girl is an illusion. She does not exist outside the realm of men's idealisation of her.
By no means are rom-coms perfect, and the genre has a long way to go before they can fix all the problems. We deserve more diverse, inclusive storytelling, that is more accurately representative of the targeted audience. However, rom-coms are not entirely problematic. The reason why the genre is so successful is because they let us fantasize about a perfect world, where everyone ends up happily ever after, even if it is a false narrative. Nevertheless, we need to realize that rom-coms are just that, a fantasy, not a guide for real life.
Sara Kabir is a dreamer, a literature major, and a writer. She is often found juggling academics and her countless hobbies. Help her figure out what to write about next @scarletfangirl on Instagram.