Sandra D in Grease final scene

Rom-Coms: Boy meets girl. Girl becomes unimportant.

By Lauren Edwards

During the pandemic, when binge watching became a national pastime, I decided to introduce my 13-year-old daughter to some classic rom-coms. As we snuggled down with a selection of snacks, I enthused about how these films were going to be feel good, life affirming experiences.

But as the films progressed, I began to cringe a little and squirm a bit with the uncomfortable feeling that these easy-going romantic comedies might actually be a teensy bit sexist.

First up was How to Lose a Guy in 10 days. After 2 hours of ‘will they, won’t they end up together?’ Kate Hudson’s character is offered her dream job, but if she takes it, then she will lose her love interest, played by Matthew McConaughey. She obviously agrees to turn it down so that her Mr Right doesn’t have to move. Cue me explaining to my daughter that she can strive for a career and have a relationship too, there is no need to compromise or if she does then her other half can compromise as well.

I like Kate Hudson. I’m a big fan of her Mum, Goldie Hawn. However, she really needs to rethink her choice of scripts as in our next film, Bride Wars, Hudson and Anne Hathaway play best friends who, when they find out that their weddings are taking place on the same day at the same venue, turn into lunatics and carry out nasty attacks to try and ruin the other friend’s wedding day. Amongst numerous pranks, Hathaway mixes the wrong hair dye and turns Hudson’s blonde hair to blue, Hudson switches Hathaway’s fake tan so that Hathaway looks like an Oompa Loompa, and it’s all very mean and pathetic. Cue me suggesting to my daughter that girls should empower each other and not try and humiliate one another.

We then decided to take it old school and indulged in a bit of Grease. I loved this film as a child and pretty much wore out my VHS tape rewinding the scene where Danny and Sandy danced about in spandex at the end. However, watching it as grown up, my first thoughts are that it’s a bit weird that the cast members were in their 30s playing 18-year-olds. Then you have the whole concept of Danny not liking Sandy because she’s ‘not cool enough’, Sandy’s new friends bullying her for being a virgin, whilst Rizzo is bullied for being promiscuous.

The movie culminates in Sandy shedding her ‘goody two-shoes’ image to ‘dress sexy’ to get her man, to which Danny gets a bit leery over. He had put a cardigan on to show solidarity at first, but then soon whips that off when he sees that she has changed her look. Cue me explaining to my daughter that you don’t need to change to be accepted by a man and well, it was made in 1978 and set in the 1950s so just ignore all of it. We still loved it though, apart from the unexplained ending of Danny and Sandy’s car flying?!

I know that rom-coms are meant to be fun and to not be taken too seriously. And not all rom-coms were bad (let’s not get started on Shallow Hal). Pretty Woman was quite business savvy when making deals with her billionaire client, Bridget Jones was an unconventional independent woman who quaffed wine, smoked fags and put her mates before her boyfriends (mostly) and Baby was the ‘girl next door’ in Dirty Dancing who taught ‘bad boy’ Johnny to be a better person and learnt a few nifty dance steps in the process.

In 2000, actress Reece Witherspoon set up her own production company after becoming fed up with receiving scripts where the female lead would always turn to their male counterpart in the film and say, ‘What do we do now?’, as if the woman didn’t have a voice or the ability to make her own choices. Films with women in the centre have increased, with female writers and directors now in the foreground. So, we can look back and learn and I can teach my daughter to just roll her eyes at how things used to be.

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