We need to stop confusing creepy stalkers and casual harassers as 'sweet' romantic leads
Be it jokes about harassment or songs about rape, we have been unwittingly rooting for the wrong guys.
As a teenager I have loved rom-coms just as much as the next person out there, but as an adult I have had to reconcile with the fact that Hollywood's portrayal of a loving relationship is... well, not healthy. Oftentimes, the hero who is portrayed as the "nice guy" you have to root for, is revealed to be a creep who does not know what consent means.
The movies always make it seem like the common rules and courtesies do not apply to the charming romantic lead. Creepy, predatory behavior that lands you in prison IRL becomes fair game when the man in question is Hugh Grant displaying pearly whites encased in his signature lopsided smile. Most of these "romantic classics" make it seem like anything short of worship and devotion which borderlines on toxic and possessive behavior is not true love.
However, the catch is that they do not actually physically assault their romantic partners aka their prey and are driven by their blinding love rather than an actual intention to harass them. I don't know if that is a poor excuse or all the more reason for alarm.
Raise your hand if you had butterflies in your stomach instead of utter panic alarms going off in your brain while watching Edward Cullen sneak into Bella's room to watch her sleep at night in 'Twilight.'
Keep it up if you laughed every time Penny of 'The Big Bang Theory' "joked" about how Johnny Galecki's Leonard who plays her current husband did not “trick me, he just wore me down.”
What about rooting for one of the most iconic romantic heroes of all time? Ryan Reynolds' Noah in 'The Notebook,' literally threatened to kill himself if Allie did not go out on a date with him. And, he is touted as the greatest romantic hero of our generation?
I could go on destroying the image of the "ideal man" from our favorite movies and TV shows. Remember the beloved 90s series 'Mad About You?' Remember how Jamie and Paul got together? Let me refresh your memory. Paul basically stole Jamie's clothes from the dry cleaners, and went to every floor of her building until he found her and persuaded her to go on a date with him.
Then there is the highly problematic 'Love Actually' story-line where Mark – again, shown as a very capable and eligible romantic partner despite not actually getting the girl– stalks and obsesses over the woman of his dreams who also happens to be the woman his best friend is getting married to. At their wedding, where he is the best man, Mark only makes a 2-minute featuring only close-ups of the bride, which is supposed to be a mark of his adoration? What we do not see on screen, but need to assume happened, is that Mark sorted through hours of the wedding footage to secure shots that he picked and chose for his spank bank.
Also featured in 'Love Actually' - The Prime Minister of United Kindom falls in love with his assistant and reassigns her because he got jealous over the president of the United States getting to sexually harass her.
Kevin from '27 Dresses' stalked his romantic interest and noted his number on every page of her diary, Jake of 'Sweet Home Alabama' refuses to sign his divorce papers and "tamed" his wife into staying married, 'Hitch' saw a playboy who lived by the motto "I will make her say yes," John Travolta's friends in 'Grease' had a very valid question about his leading lady- "Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?"
And I don't even want to elaborate on how nauseating it was to watch a group of men lying and conning their way to win the heart of Mary in 'There's Something About Mary.' Spoiler alert: The man who stalked her the longest won in the end!
Just because a laughter track or romantic background music accompanies a line about stalking or harassment, does not mean it is okay to do these things – especially if you're planning to emulate them in real life.
It is high time the media in general stopped parading this entitled and creepy behavior of the leading men as charming or deserving of sympathy merely because they had to endure heartbreak. While rejection can be heartbreaking, pain should not be the launching pad for aggression, shamelessness and lack of respect for other people's boundaries.
A lot of the time rejection is – at least within the realm of romance – just another person setting a boundary and excluding you from it. The simple fact remains that every individual is allowed to draw that boundary to feel safe and comfortable. No one should feel entitled to question the relevance of it, need for it or even try to coerce them into erasing that before they are ready to do so.
Well-adjusted adults should be able to accept a "no" and move on, but for long, they have been taught to pay no heed to women's "boundaries."
I mean, Frank Loesser wrote "Baby It's Cold Outside" in 1944, where he refused to let his love interest go home despite her repeated requests to do so and it doesn't get a lot more "rapier" than that. And sadly, in over six decades we haven't made strides in changing a leading man's perception of "no."
Unfortunately, Hollywood is still incapable of seeing beyond the woes of the heterosexual white man who is pursuing the woman of his dreams to see anyone else's troubles. His persistence, obsessiveness and creepiness are interpreted as romantic rite of passage before actually getting the girl. Rather than viewing harassment as anti-social behavior and a crime, it is viewed as the normal thing to do. Ultimately it translates to young viewers as men are allowed to feel entitled and it is normal.
This in turn also translates to villainization and victim blaming of women. Instead of sympathy, these women become recipients of condemnation – purely because a fully-grown man is incapable of taking no-for-no and instead interprets it as no-just-means-try-harder. Also, let us also not forget that women stalkers are without fail shown as "crazy."
There is the "crazy ex-girlfriend" who can't accept the break-up, the "crazy one-night-stand" who refuses to follow the rules of one night stands and try to plan a future together and then there is the "crazy girlfriend" who is possessive and want to keep a tab of everything her man is up to.
Side note: I did not want to enter the rabbit hole of 'How I Met Your Mother,' but this warrantees a flashback to Barney Stinson's Hot/Crazy Scale graph, using which he determines if a woman is hotter than they are crazy, in which case you can go ahead and sleep with her.
Most notably the graph had a Vicky Mendoza Diagonal named after a girl Barney used to date. Her graph went back and forth across the line, because during the course of their relationship, she shaved her head, lost ten pounds, stabbed Barney with a fork and got a boob job. I will just leave it here and leave it up to the readers for interpretation.
On the other hand, media is known to accuse women of leading a man, giving hopes to multiple romantic partner aspirants merely by smiling at them and of course, there the rage-inducing concept of "friendzoning."
Let me put it out there: Things would be all the better if we could completely eradicate the archaic ideas of "playing hard to get" and "friend-zoning" from showbiz lingo.
The basic premise is thus: When a girl says no, she just wants you to work harder at proving you are interested in her. She wants you to break and enter buildings, she wants you to stalk and harass her daily and befriend her friends to get to her. Then, she will finally agree to go on a date with you. This has to change.
Ditto for friendzoning: When a girl expects a guy to do certain things for her because they are friends, she has friend-zoned him. Let alone the fact that he offered to do them. She is a b***h for not repaying your basic humanity with sexual favors. This too needs a change of perception.
Credit where credit is due, though. We are seeing better representation of love and young romance in recent days. One of the characters that truly impressed me is Skyler Gisondo's character Eric Bemis from Netflix's 'Santa Clarita Diet'. When he is introduced on the show at first, you expect him to fulfil the geek-next-door who gets friend-zoned but gets the girl in the end.
However, what truly surprised me was the open communication that Eric and his romantic interest Abby has on the show. He not only respects that fact that Abby wants him to be a friend first in her trying days but does not demean her need for turning to him in times of need by accusing her of "friend-zoning" him and totally backs off when she makes it clear that she did not appreciate him kissing her at one point.
They do, however, acknowledge the fact that there is chemistry between the two of them, and even approximates their chances of being a couple in the future as 3 percent. Now, this is a couple I would love to root for, because even with an undead mother who is killing people along with her husband in the picture, their puppy love is more realistic and respectful towards women than your quintessential rom-coms.
We do appreciate these changes in the writing of love stories, thanks to more and more women joining the writing staff and taking up decision making roles in Hollywood. Diversity in the writers' room is the only way to ensure no group or community is misrepresented in a movies and TV shows.
Now, thanks to this diversity, the men of shows like 'Santa Clarita Diet,' 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' and even the brand new 'Champions' know what "I have a boyfriend" means, what "needing space" means, what "keeping things professional" means, "I do not need you in my life to raise my child alone" means and most importantly what "no" means.