Say what?! Science says they skew our perception of "normal" male behavior

By Macaela Mackenzie
February 05, 2016

We get it: Rom-coms are never realistic. But isn't a little harmless fantasy the whole point of watching them? Well, they might not actually be so harmless, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

It's pretty easy to recognize that the behavior we often see from men in the movies is so not the behavior we actually see from them in real life (still holding out for our grand gestures over here...). But this latest piece of research examines the ways in which those all too common I-will-never-stop-loving-you-and-will-never-give-up-until-I-win-you-back plot lines are actually skewing the types of behavior we deem "normal." (Is Your Guy Normal When It Comes to Sex?)

The researchers specifically looked at media portrayals of "persistent pursuit" and the ensuing beliefs about stalking. They asked women to watch six films, which all portrayed some sort of "love conquers all" behavior from male characters. Some of the films, like There's Something About Mary, portrayed this behavior in a sweet, comedic way (Ben Stiller enduring hilarious humiliation to win over Cameron Diaz? Awww...), while others, like Sleeping with the Enemy, portrayed the behavior in a more negative, realistic way (Julia Roberts being stalked by her abusive husband who refuses to let her go? Ahhh!). They found that the women who watched the rom-coms that displayed aggressive male behavior in a positive light were more likely to view such behavior as acceptable.

The problem is in the real world, it's totally not acceptable. The researchers worry that all the positive portrayals of aggressive, relentless behavior might make us more likely to buy into "the stalker myth," which causes us to take serious incidents or threatening behavior less seriously when it happens in real life. (Find out what every woman needs to know about self-defense.)

"[Such movies] can encourage women to discount their instincts," study author Julia R. Lippman told Canada's Global News. "This is a problem because research shows that instincts can serve as powerful cues to help keep us safe. At the core, all these films are trading in the 'love conquers all' myth. Even though, of course, it doesn't."

Sure, we may swoon when Kiera Knightly's admirer shows up at her door with his "to me you are perfect" cue cards, but if your husband's best friend came calling with grand gestures of love IRL? So. Not. Okay. Just make sure you know the difference.


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