Lately I’ve been talking with many of my film-obsessed friends about romantic comedies. Specifically we’ve been trying to come up with one made by Hollywood in the last five years which wasn’t misogynist rubbish. We’ve been failing.
Sarah Dollard, a dear friend, wonderful writer, and fellow romcom addict, pointed me to this excellent Guardian article on the problem. Kira Cochrane agrees with us completely:
It’s not only women who have noticed the shift in the romantic comedy genre. Peter Travers, a film critic for Rolling Stone magazine described He’s Just Not That Into You as “a women-bashing tract disguised as a chick flick” and Kevin Maher has written in the Times that the “so-called chick flick has become home to the worst kind of regressive pre-feminist stereotype”. Dr Diane Purkiss, an Oxford fellow and feminist historian, feels that we have reached a nadir in the way that women are portrayed on screen, and says that there’s been “a depressing dumbing down of the whole genre. That’s not to say that I want all movies to be earnest and morally improving. But I think that you can actually have entertainment with sassy, smart heroines, rather than dimwitted ones.”
As many of my readers know I’ve spent the last year watching heaps of movies from the 1930s. I find it shocking that so many of these movies are less sexist and appalling than the ones being made now. The female leads in so many of the 1930s movies are smarter and more interesting than any of the mostly deeply stupid women in the likes of Made of Honour, Confessions of a Shopaholic, License to Wed, He’s Not That Into You, Bride Wars and 27 Dresses.
These movies fill me with rage. There is no equality between the romantic leads which has been the heart of a good romance ever since Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy first met. In recent Hollywood romcoms the women are insecure, neurotic, needy, obsessed with marriage, and neither witty nor fun. The men are bemused by the women as one would be by a naughty puppy dog. That is not my idea of equality nor is it my idea of romance.
As Cochrane points out “the people making these films” seem to “genuinely dislike” their audience. Which I think is a good explanation for how stupid, insulting, and dumb so many recent romcoms have been. They’re made by men who hate women. Wow, does it show. It’s why I’ve stopped seeing them. It’s too painful.
For some additional romcom rage, check out the wonderful Robin Wasserman’s rant about The Family Stone.
Sometimes all the research I’ve been doing on the 1930s gets me down, because it forces me to realise that there are so many ways in which our current world is every bit as sexist as it was seventy years ago. And in some ways it’s worse: Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn never ever played stupid women. In their movies the audience was invited to side with them just as often as we were supposed to side with their male sparring partners.
What the hell happened?