The Media's Unhealthy Fascination with Romance
As the digital world continues to dominate our world, the media’s effect on us remains notoriously prominent. As we look at the media to fill certain voids in our world with magical stories, and controversial truths, the media is expected to satisfy these nationwide cravings. Love, for years, has been at the centre of fascination with humans across various cultures and societies. The media in whichever form, dominated a certain decade, whether it be radio, books, or television, has made it a mission to incorporate this mental phenomenon into its contents in whichever ways possible. However, the outcomes have not necessarily been completely positive.
The effect on women has been significant and continuously reflected in Western culture. Most of the romance in movies and shows are catered towards women. It is presented to the general public as women being the chasers and dreamers of love. Women are often the main characters, spending their time thinking and talking about pursuing love. To a younger, impressionable girl, this form of female representation is enough to pressurize her into prioritizing romance over other aspects of her life. The media and the vast expanse of our society it possesses, has the power to influence the minds of the youth. Indie Wire wrote an article about The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film releasing a report in 2014, analyzing aspects of the placement on men and women in films. It found women to be film protagonists only 14% of the time- 29% as major characters, and 30% of the time having speaking roles (as both protagonists and minor characters). When impressionable girls consume media and find that the few times women take up larger speaking roles, they come to know that these roles are intertwined with romance in some form, and have the power to make these girls believe that their lives as well need to be “nourished” with romance.
Many times, the implementation of a female character in the media is not made to be interesting until a man comes to sweep her off her feet and solve her problems. A helpful question to ask is: “Would I still be interested in this character if she had no love interest”? Even following the Bechdel test does not always save a story’s female character from being defined by men. A man can have a story outside of romance, whereas a female character’s presence is not complete until it is infiltrated by romance. To see this being normalized in the media makes women believe that romance is more important in their lives than it really is.
The further normalization of hyper-masculinity is also enforced through the double standards in the media’s representation of romance. Men can be shown without romance and still be complex characters. They are able to be beloved, memorable characters without a female counterpart in media not pertaining to romance. This can influence men into believing that romance is not as important to them i.e as men, they do not have to value love as much as women do. This attaches itself to the harmful concept of hyper-masculinity as men can find their validation in hiding from emotions and feelings, especially those pertaining to romance and love unless it is associated with sex.
The distortion of a healthy romantic relationship is also common in the media. To continue with the concept of hyper-masculinity in the media, many male love interests are written as toxic people, yet their characters are glorified and romanticized. A favourite trope that the media loves to use for men is the bad-boy; emotionally detached and aloof men who find satisfaction through falling in love with a conventionally attractive woman, but continue to exert unhealthy and toxic mannerisms such as an obsession with sex, or becoming angry too easily. However, to look at the opposite side of male tropes would be the “nice guys”; men who are not only quiet, under-confident and lack female attention but also men who are in love with a conventionally attractive woman despite not being conventionally attractive themselves, and feel entitled to the feelings and bodies of said women. It also shows that the complexity of men in these romantic situations outweighs that of women, as men can have psychological troubles and hidden feelings as a manifestation of a difficult past, whereas women are sometimes obsessed with romance because that is simply how they are biologically wired to be. It is fascinating to see how the depiction of these men in the media in relation to romance normalizes unhealthy behaviour. It teaches boys and men alike to value relationships and romance in a certain aspect, typically through sex and a woman’s looks, always keeping in mind that the woman is a side character they can be complete without, and that they are always entitled to women and a patriarchal version of a happy ending.
The media seems to humanize men before women in their presentation of romance. They trap women both in boxes of ideals and stereotypes, but give men more freedom- perhaps a few windows in the box. The representations have significant effects on young girls- just think of all the little girls playing princess waiting for a prince charming and planning out weddings, and compare it to the number of times little boys do the same.
The heteronormativity of such depictions also forces men and women alike to forget the consideration of the LGBT+ community who have different preferences while enforcing gender-based stereotypes and unhealthy relationship dynamics. There is more humanization of men, as they can have stories of hurt and a plethora of emotions and interests, whereas a woman’s presence tends to be closely tied to and sometimes even defined by a man. The media limits its audience from truly exploring themselves. As a woman, do you have to be that interested in romance? Do you have to be in a constant need of a boyfriend or husband? Are you strange because you want something more? You are a human, made of many emotions and interests so vast that this simple sentence cannot even begin to cover your complexities. Yet the media has a tendency to think they can define you by a man in one simple movie and that is what you are meant to accept. But you don’t have to. We are allowed to be loud in our disapproval of the misrepresentations of women, who are humans that have lives and interests, apart from men and romance. We are allowed to demand more, to want more, because we are so much more than what a patriarchal industry wants to depict us as.