This dynamic has, unfortunately, long been a staple of sitcoms. Nothing draws out a romantic relationship longer than a guy pursuing an uninterested woman with increasing desperation. Ross’ through-line of being creepy about Rachel continued unabated right through their relationship; Niles pined for Daphne so long even the dog got tired of it. And you don’t have to look far to find this dynamic currently airing. On The Mindy Project, male nurse Morgan casually harasses fellow nurse Tamra, clearly unwanted and occasionally flat-out delusional. (In the winter finale, he asks a doctor, “Every time I ask Tamra out, she says no. Do you think she has a crush on me?”) It passes largely without comment, and while the show’s general consensus is that Morgan’s an off-putting cog in the Shulman & Associates machine, it’s also not as though anyone’s made him knock it off […]
Of course, plenty of good comedy features exaggeration of everyday ills—making light of the tragedy of life is the reason comedy exists. But dismissing the creeper dynamic when a guy won’t leave a woman alone downplays an often-dangerous real-life situation in a way that falling over a bunch of times in a yoga class doesn’t. And things played as textually creepy on Mad Men or Law & Order are being played for laughs in sitcoms with almost no change of context, except one: Sitcoms pretend there are no consequences for the woman being pursued. In most sitcoms, there’s an acknowledged comfort zone that allows us to enjoy what might be uncomfortable in something more realistic: We know these heroes are essentially harmless. The objects of their affection can turn them down a hundred times, and the gentleman will go right on as he has before, until sweeps week forces them into a locked closet together or makes them pretend to be married. She’s never punished at work for turning down the advances of a lovelorn superior. She’s never in danger of the behavior escalating into violence. Everything’s fine. It’s funny. (Also funny: Boyle’s behavior so far this season hits every single bullet point for the Romantic Stalker on this list of warning signs from the Network for Surviving Stalking.)
And that’s the problem: A generation of romantic comedies rewarding men for diligently pursuing a woman until she caves has normalized a behavior that has direct and unwelcome corollaries in real life. In an era when we’re having open conversations about representation and sensitivity in comedy, the shtick of a guy who won’t take no for an answer has lost any charm it once held. It’s become either a romantic signpost to set up a long-term romantic dynamic (which it shouldn’t), or it’s shorthand to denote a clueless creep while rarely taking him to task for it.
- Genevieve Valentine, “The Full Boyle: Guys who don’t hear “no” just aren’t funny anymore”
I read this piece from the A.V. Club about Brooklyn Nine-Nine and was strongly reminded of the conversation we had in August about the way Doctor Who has romanticized and normalized stalking in several episodes. Though the situations are in many ways different, both are part of a broader narrative that normalizes (or, in Doctor Who's case, romanticizes) creepy, aggressive behaviors by men pursuing women.
I’m so fucking done with the “persistent romance” trope. “Well, he just likes her so much!” Right, okay, maybe if he likes her so much he should try fucking respecting her wishes and not being a creeper — but wait, I forgot, the fact that he wants to bone her is so much more important than the fact that she’s not interested. Because hey, eventually she’ll be interested, because a woman’s desires aren’t as important as the fact that she is desired. The part of her journey that’s important is the path that takes her to what the guy wanted all along.
And you know what, in addition to the fact that it trivializes something that’s a huge fucking problem for women — or many things, stalking in particular but rape culture in general, because no is never allowed to mean no, is it? no always means “coy” or “try again later,” no becomes a lock that you have to pick because you cannot stand the idea that a door may not be open to you, because you deserve to get through that door because you want it so much, because you have been so patient; and even more generally patriarchy, because women’s desires and development are unimportant when a man is there, wanting things — in addition to all that bullshit, it’s also just narratively really fucking obnoxious. Boring, too.
Think about it. What do you want in a long-form narrative? A gradual process of development and change, right? Things shifting organically to take the story in new and interesting directions so you’re not just repeating the same shit over and over again, because we live in a post-Cheers world and our sitcoms have serialized elements. There’s continuity. We can’t get away with Gilligan trying to leave the island every damn episode.
But with “
entitled asshole pining lead dude pursues woman until she caves” has an obvious endpoint, and that’s the “she caves” part. That’s not development and change. That’s “the same thing happens until it has happened for long enough and a different thing happens.” And once that’s happened… what, game over? Boop boop boop, he’s won, pinball in the hole? So she has to keep resisting, otherwise there’s nothing there, which means that neither of them are allowed to grow organically in the way that everyone fucking does over the course of ten years. “I pine. You say no.” Their relationships with other people never lead them forward so much as lead them back, in a really unhealthy way.
"Get the fuck over yourself and leave her alone, you piece of human mold, she’s NOT INTERESTED."
Also “eventually she caves” is like the shittiest character progression ever. But, honestly, what can you expect from a trope that treats its female characters as simultaneously an obstacle and a prize?
You know what’s an interesting process of development and change? Two people who grow, and over the process of growing realise that they may or may not be well-suited to each other. Or, a person being in love with someone who isn’t interested, and then learning how to move the fuck on. And you know what, maybe down the road, they’ll both reevaluate and realise that they’re meant to be, but I’ll believe and appreciate that moment one hell of a lot more if they’ve actually respected each others’ fucking boundaries in the meantime.
The stories we see matter.(via nonimaginaryfriend)
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