Do romantic comedies teach women that stalking is OK?

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) in (500) Days Of Summer. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

MONTREAL – If there’s one thing many girls love, it’s romantic comedies.

Since day one (think Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast), girls have been taught that in order for a relationship to work out, they have to play hard-to-get, and it’s not worth it unless the boys are being persuasive enough to woo them (think Romeo throwing rocks at Juliet’s window).

But what does all that mean when we become adults and the relationships turn from cartoons and fairy tales to real life?

Julia R. Lippman’s latest study, I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You from the University of Michigan looks at the plot lines of romantic comedies.

She discovered many of the most popular rom-coms show men (or women) who have stalker-esque tendencies.

“I was inspired to pursue this research by observing that stalking often seems to be trivialized in our culture. We joke about ‘Facebook stalking’ crushes, for example,” Lippman told Global News.

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“This led me to wonder if this cultural tendency to trivialize stalking might shape the beliefs people hold about stalking.”

She discovered that women who watch romantic comedies are more likely to tolerate some form of stalking in real life.

The female-only participants in the study were randomly assigned to watch a half-hour excerpt from one of six films.

Two of these films exemplified romantic persistent pursuit (There’s Something About Mary and Management).

Two others depicted scary persistent pursuit (Sleeping With The Enemy and Enough).

The last two were control films that did not depict persistent pursuit or relationships that could serve as a baseline for comparison (March of the Penguins and Winged Migration).

“After watching excerpts from one of these six films, participants completed a series of survey measures, including one that assessed their endorsement of ‘stalking myths,'” Lippman explained.

“Stalking myths are false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimize its seriousness, which means that someone who more strongly endorses stalking myths tends to take stalking less seriously.”

Her paper concluded: “exposure to a film that depicted persistent pursuit as scary led participants to endorse fewer stalking-supportive beliefs,” while women who watched rom-coms were more likely to accept the behaviour as normal.

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“This is a problem because research shows that instincts can serve as powerful cues to help keep us safe.”

So, how do we change the narrative?

Lippman observed that films, and romantic comedies in particular, can have great power on the way people view love and romance.

“At the core, all these films are trading in the ‘love conquers all’ myth. Even though, of course, it doesn’t,” said Lippman, adding that the rom-com film industry is unlikely to change, so it’s up to people to question what they’re watching.

“Love is great, but so is respect for other people. This is true even when people tell you things you don’t want to hear.”

What do you think? Are the main male characters in these films simply head-over-heels in love, or leaning a tad on the stalker side?

In 50 First Dates, Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) plays a womanizer who falls for amnesia-stricken Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) and concocts different scenarios to get her to go on a date with him. Courtesy Columbia Pictures Corporation
In There's Something About Mary, Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) hires a private investigator to find his dream girl from high school, Mary Jensen (Cameron Diaz) so he can ask her out 13 years later. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
In How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, despite her many "quirks," Ben Barry (Matthew McConaughey) will stop at nothing to keep Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) on his arm - to win a bet. Courtesy Lynda Obst Productions
In What Women Want, misogynistic ad-man Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) finds himself able to hear what women are thinking, and tries to use it to his advantage. Courtesy Paramount Pictures
In Love Actually, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with his best friend's new wife and not only films her up-close at the wedding, but shows up to her house to declare his love for her. Courtesy Universal Pictures
In 10 Things I Hate About You, Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the new student at Padua High School, is smitten with Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik) and goes to great lengths to win her love. Courtesy Touchstone Pictures
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In 27 Dresses, Kevin Doyle (James Marsden) finds every excuse to see Jane Nichols (Katherine Heigl) in order to write a story about her, "perennial bridesmaid.". Courtesy Fox 2000 Pictures
In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) proves he's willing to do almost anything to keep control of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Courtesy Focus Features


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