If you ever felt a little uncomfortable watching Andrew Lincoln’s cue-card delivered confession of devotion for Keira Knightley in Love Actually, or wondered whether it was appropriate for Ben Stiller to hire a private eye to track down his high school crush in There’s Something About Mary, it turns out science is on your side. A new study suggests romcoms that feature men engaging in stalker-like behaviour can make women more likely to tolerate obsessiveness from prospective romantic partners.
I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You, a report by the gender and sexuality expert Julia R Lippman, of the University of Michigan, examined women’s response to questions about aggressive romantic behaviour after watching a series of films with differing themes. Lippman found that women who watched films featuring persistent romantic pursuit, including There’s Something About Mary and Management, were more likely to accept so-called stalking myths than those who watched films depicting frightening male aggression – in this case Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough – or benign nature documentaries such as March of the Penguins and Winged Migration.
“After watching excerpts from one of these six films, participants completed a series of survey measures, including one that assessed their endorsement of stalking myths,” Lippman said. “Stalking myths are 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.”
Lippman said exposure to films that depicted persistent pursuit in a negative way made participants less likely to tolerate stalker-like males, while women who watched romcoms were more likely to accept such behaviour as normal.
“[Such movies] can encourage women to discount their instincts,” Lippman told Canada’s Global News. “This is a problem because research shows that instincts can serve as powerful cues to help keep us safe.
“At their core, all these films are trading in the ‘love conquers all’ myth,” she added. “Even though, of course, it doesn’t. Love is great, but so is respect for other people.”
Hollywood’s sympathetic depictions of stalker-like behaviour – as with John Cusack’s hounding of an ex-partner in High Fidelity, or even the Beast’s behaviour towards Belle in Disney animated musical Beauty and the Beast – has echoes in India, where films routinely show males in aggressive pursuit of their romantic targets. In January this year a 32-year-old Indian security guard escaped a jail term in Australia after his lawyer successfully argued his harassment of women with unwanted texts, messages and personal advances was a byproduct of his passion for Bollywood movies.
This article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 3rd February 2016 13.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010