How Netflix’s Romantic Comedies Are Failing Men
This past year, Netflix has embarked on a courageous journey to revive rom-coms. Can they save us from the Great Rom-Com Shortage of 2018? Possibly. But God, at what cost?
Despite living in a time where the #MeToo movement has helped make women’s rights “in” and objectification “out,” almost all Netflix original rom-coms are modeling this thing called “toxic masculinity.” Which is actually not great for men or women.
But what are we actually talking about when we say “toxic masculinity?” We’re glad you asked! Tolerance.org defines the concept as “the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured.” In other words, the way we are defining masculinity in television and film kind of sucks.
To see some examples of toxic masculinity, try watching Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, or Set It Up. All of which subtly emphasize the idea that guys must act like assholes in order to be successful in life. That means hyper-sexualizing women, adhering to strict gender binaries, and maintaining a tough-guy facade.
For instance, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser showcases sexy football player Jamey, a guy who is kind of winning at this whole manly-man thing because of his athletic skills and good looks. Similarly, in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we’re introduced to Peter, the most popular guy in school who acts terribly, but is once again saved by his attractiveness.
Both these movies teach men that they must be beautiful and athletic in order to be popular and well-liked (because all women only want that, duh). But the movie Set It Up takes it one step further, featuring a character named Rick who *hilariously* proposes to another woman to aggravate his ex-wife…only to cheat on her later in the film. What a guy.
We’re starting to notice a pattern in which the only kind of guys that are “desirable” are the ones that exhibit a toxic kind of power and control in their daily lives. Because of movies and media portrayals like these, guys are being taught that they must look and act a certain way in life to simply be a “true” man. Still don’t believe us? Keep on reading.
The Kissing Booth, in which a high school student gets with her best friend’s brother after deciding to run a (surprise!) kissing booth, is one of the best examples of toxic masculinity found on Netflix. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, a guy comes up from behind the female lead, who is wearing a very short skirt, and slaps her ass, leading to uproarious laughter. Because sexualizing women is always super funny and cool.
Additionally, the male lead consistently lashes out and breaks into fights for his lady’s honor, despite her ability to defend herself. While this may seem innocent or even be considered #goals for some people, this kind of behavior sets a precedent that says it’s ok to be possessive and controlling of women. And those things aren’t cute, they’re scary.
This leads us to our final example, the Netflix original When We First Met, in which a character named Noah time travels to alter the night he met his dream girl, Avery, so she’ll fall in love with him. Basically the biggest issue here is that the entire movie centers around the assumption that women are pliable pawns who exist solely for men’s pleasure. In addition, Noah attempts to woo Avery by insulting her in the second do-over. In the movie, this causes her to become sexually attracted to him (as any real woman would, right?). However, in real life this is still…you guessed it...problematic.
It’s important to remember, in the midst of a massive push for women’s rights, that social pressures for men are huge contributors to things like objectification and violence towards women. So while these rom-com archetypes may seem cheesy and funny at first, they still influence men and create pressure for them to conform to a certain (toxic) social norm. This has got to change.
Our thoughts? It’s time for us to notice that ideas about men being strong, powerful, and aggressive is actually really dangerous for everyone involved. For women, it means a society in which hyper-sexualization and objectification is the norm. For men, it means repressed emotions, an inability to communicate effectively, and a tendency towards violence. So although we love that Netflix is bringing the genre back into the limelight for all of our laugh-crying needs, we’d appreciate a newer kind of character—one that we can actually relate to.