Study Shows Some Romantic Comedies May Perpetuate Stalking Myths

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According to a new study entitled I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You: The Effects of Media Portrayals of Persistent Pursuit on Beliefs About Stalking, movies that depict “persistent pursuit” from men as romantic can make some women more tolerant of stalking myths.

For the study, Julia R. Lippman of the University of Michigan had a group of 426 women watch a half-hour edited version of one of six movies: Management, There’s Something About Mary, Enough, Sleeping with the Enemy, March of the Penguins, or Winged Migration. Afterwards, participants filled out a survey designed to assess their endorsement of stalking myths, which Lippman defines as “false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimise its seriousness, which means that someone who more strongly endorses these tends to take stalking less seriously.” The women were asked to rank their agreement with stalking myths such as “Many alleged stalking victims are actually people who played hard to get and changed their minds afterwards” or “An individual who goes to the extremes of stalking must really feel passionately for his/her love interest.”

The study found that participants who watched the films that romanticize male persistent pursuit (Management, There’s Something About Mary) were more tolerant of stalking myths than participants who watched movies that portray male aggression in a negative light (Enough, Sleeping with the Enemy) or one of the neutral nature documentaries.

Lippman writes that the iconic “grand gestures” of male pursuit in romantic comedies “are often framed as unequivocal signs of true love. Indeed, they may be seen as reflecting one of the great cultural myths of romantic love: that no matter how big the obstacle, love will conquer all.” She goes on to explain, “The whole ‘nice guy’ trope is a similar thing [to stalking]. It’s like, ‘Oh, if you put in the time, you’re entitled to her.’ What she might want in the situation is really beside the point. Because really she does want you, she just hasn’t realized it yet.”

Lippman also writes that the frequency with which persistent pursuit is normalized in media “may have implications for the legal support female stalking victims are able to access.”

Of course, it’s important to clarify that not all women who watch romantic comedies will be influenced by a movie’s normalization of persistent pursuit, and that just because this study focuses on the way women are taught to ‘endorse’ stalking myths does not mean that the study is blaming women for internalizing the messages of problematic media.

Ultimately, this research just highlights society’s systemic tolerance of male aggressive ‘romantic’ behavior. Romantic comedies aren’t made in a bubble, they’re made in male-dominated Hollywood; and even though films like Management or Something About Mary perpetuate stalking myths, the real root of romantic aggression lies with men’s pervasive entitlement to women’s bodies.

It’s arguably equally important if not more important to examine what media like romantic comedies tells men about persistent pursuit, and I’d be very interested to see what the results of this research would have been like with 426 male participants. Still, I think this study is a valuable indicator of the influence that certain movies can have on our lives, and a great reminder to enjoy some films with critical distance.

Thoughts, friends?

(via The Guardian)

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