I am a huge fan of a romantic movie. I grew up on the classics – Grease, Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, Love Actually, 16 Candles… I love them all. BUT, as I get older and more clued into my feminism I realise than most of these movies are less on the light-hearted fun, and more on the actually teaching terrible lessons to young girls. With a few song and dance numbers thrown in.
TELL ME MORE, TELL ME MORE, LIKE DOES HE HAVE A CAR
Grease is full of just crap lessons. Watching it back as an adult I’m amazed that my conservative mother ever let me watch it as a six year old. I sang along to all the songs, including the super misogynistic and materialistic “Tell Me More”. Now that I understand the meaning behind the jingles, I feel a little sick. Now we all know that Grease is set in 1950-feminism-hell. A more simple time, when it was hilarious for boys to look up girl’s skirts, when girl’s should feel lucky for the attention, and for 45 year old TV show hosts to hit on 16 year old girls. Fast forward to now. TV hosts are still obnoxious twats, but instead of giggling with their mates men are now taking photos of what’s up a girl’s skirt. Souvenirs are cool, and even cooler if you can send them to your mates. When girls walk away in disgust it just isn’t cutting it anymore – this kind of behaviour is at the very least a gross invasion of privacy, and a total disregard for women as human beings. It shows that we are thought of as nothing more than a joke. Any time a woman feels violated is a big deal and should be treated as such. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s “just a bit of fun” or that you should “lighten up” because it’s not, and you shouldn’t. Instead of walking away and minimising the situation, be brave and hold your head high, report the creep to the cops, security at the bar or club, your parents, friends – literally everyone. Tell everyone he’s a creeper and should be treated as such.
PRETTY WOMEN, EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Ahh Pretty Woman, that movie that shows that even hookers can have a fairytale ending. And why not? Why is it so unbelievable? This movie had a great premise for empowerment, and instead turned that premise into two creepy men and a woman who tells her best friend to stay with creepy men. In one classic scene, Edward sees Vivian talking to another man at a polo match, he gets territorial.
“I saw you talking to David Morse; I didn’t like it,” Edward says. When Vivian tells him they were just talking, he replies in a threatening tone, “I didn’t like it.”
We’re supposed to think he’s so into Vivian he just couldn’t bear to share her, especially not with his friend and lawyer. Awww, it’s kinda sweet – I know my teenage heart melted. As an adult watching it again, not only is Edward’s behaviour creepy, it’s the beginning of emotional abuse. If a man doesn’t allow you talk, text or work with other men (or women), it’s not because he’s sooooo into you. It’s because he wants to control you. He sees you as his possession, not a person who has the right to make her own judgements and decisions. Before you argue with me that this is a one of instant in the entire movie, let me remind you that he keeps her in a hotel room and gives her wads of cash to make her stay. He controls her finances and with it her ability to leave, her independence, and makes it impossible for her to see her friends. He chooses her clothes, her jewellery, her style. She changes her entire personality and lifestyle for him. Her room mate even comments on it, stating she thought Vivian had died before telling her to be careful.
SWEET SIXTEEN, HISTORY REPEATING
Sure, everyone makes mistakes. But some ‘mistakes’ are big warning signs about a person’s character, especially if they are repeating mistakes that you’ve seen before. In Sixteen Candles, heart throb Jake Ryan has a pretty low opinion of his girlfriend.
“Shit, I got Caroline in my bedroom right now, passed out cold, I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to.”
What a charming young man. Definitely the kind of kid you want dating your daughter right? It gets better; the only reason he doesn’t violate this woman he supposedly has feelings for is because: “I’m just not interested anymore.”
But it’s all okay, because Caroline is soon to be his ex, and he’d never treat Sam Baker aka Molly Ringwald like that *sarcasm*. The real lesson is if he’s cruel, disrespectful or abusive with other girls – including his sister or mother – he won’t be any different with you. Don’t fall for lines like “it’s different with you” or “you’re not like other girls”. Male entitlement doesn’t die so easily. If a man feels entitled to treat his current or former girlfriends with disrespect, then it’s just a matter of time before he does it again. Listen carefully to how he speaks about ex-girlfriends, and don’t mistake hurt and anger at their break up with abusive behaviour. There is a difference between hurt feelings and real abuse.
There are a heap of lessons we can learn from Love, Actually. None of these will stop me of obsession-watching it every single Christmas forever and ever. However there are several clear cases of stalking throughout the movie. Yep, several as in more than one. Let me lay it out for you, just with one example.
Jamie & Aurelia:
He’s a writer who just found out his girlfriend is cheating on him with his brother and she’s a Portuguese housekeeper who tends to his French cottage and speaks zero English. So, naturally, after a few weeks of making eyes at each other, it’s love, despite not speaking the same language. What woman could resist Colin Firth wet in a lake? Again. Literally no one. After they part ways to go to their respective families for Christmas, he takes intensive Portuguese lessons and turns up to her hometown (how did he know where she was from?) and proposes while the whole neighborhood is watching. She swoons and says “yes” (in English, because she’s been taking English lessons). Aww. NO. NOT AWW.
Reality check. Don’t get me wrong, I heart Colin forever. I am the future Mrs Firth. But this Jamie character? He’s a an emotional cripple on the rebound who rather than deal with the fact his girlfriend cheated on him with his brother, runs away to France to find himself and be a writer. She’s a poorly paid immigrant worker who has to clean up after a man who’s too hipster to use a computer or make copies. And then she has to jump into a lake to rescue his blown-away papers because he didn’t have the presence of mind to place a heavy object on top of the pile that wasn’t a dirty dish knowing that she would come along and clean up his dirty dishes.
When she can finally go home to Portugal and another menial, minimum wage job, her creepy boss (who’s run out on his family on Christmas Eve instead of facing his brother and having an adult conversation) turns up and proposes in front of everyone giving her no choice but to say yes because everyone she knows is watching.
Further examples include David & Natalie, Juliet & Mark, Sam & Joanna, and in an awesome gender reversal, Sarah & David. That’s right – the couple where Laura Linney pines away after sex-god Rodrigo Santoro, and basically spends the whole movie following him around like a little lost puppy.
What other classic movies have you rewatched only to realise that the lessons are less than ideal?