The Effects of the Media on Women’s Priorities and Expectations in Romantic Relationships – Part 1
Which girl hasn’t watched ‘Cinderella’ as a child and dreamed of the day she’d meet prince charming? Who hasn’t fantasized about said prince sweeping her off her feet, riding together with her into the sunset and living happily ever after? As teens, these same girls are watching the likes of ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘The Notebook’, ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, and whatever else they decided to feature at their next girls’ night.
Movies, like all forms of media, offer their audiences something to think about. The media, not the consumer, decides what topics they will place on their audiences’ radar. Of course, the consumer decides what to watch, but Hollywood dictates what themes to embed into the consciousness of it’s audiences.
Let’s use ‘Dirty Dancing’ as an example. A female watching this movie will likely be inspired by the forbidden element of the romance, the sexual encounters and the good-girl-meets-bad-boy thing. What messages might she take away from watching nearly two hours of a sweaty Patrick Swayze undulating in skin-tight spandex? In order to answer this question we need to determine what Patrick Swayze (Johnny, in the movie) offers our female audience.
Good dancer? Check.
Street Smart? Check.
Good in bed? Check.
The movie leaves female audiences everywhere pining for a sexy, muscular, passionate guy to come along and change their life for the better. (Think mambo dancing expert while entire bungalow colonies look on enviously).
Due to this skewed viewpoint that western culture and media presents us with, girls everywhere have the wrong priorities when it comes to looking for a man. Sure, Johnny might be a great dancer, good in bed and street smart, but does he do dishes? Will he get up at 4am with your crying infant and feed him a bottle so you can get some extra rest? Is he patient, loyal and honest? Can he hold down a steady job and provide for a growing family? The answer to any of the above questions is likely not. But guys like Johnny inspire girls to go after the exciting “bad boy” instead of the nice, stable, dependable guy.
Not all protagonists are bad boys like Johnny, though. Let’s take Ryan Gosling, ‘Noah’ from Nicolas Spark’s ‘The Notebook’. Noah might be patient, honest and loyal, but he sends girls everywhere a very dangerous message by setting the bar unrealistically high. He told Allie he’d be whatever she wanted him to be (instead of being himself) and he wrote her letters everyday for a year, to name 2 of many examples. Most regular, nice, decent men fall short of Noah’s intense and unrealistic overtures and leave girls everywhere feeling like, “Why hasn’t my guy done that or said those things to me? or “I’m waiting until I find a guy like Noah”. Their significant others may be perfectly fine men, just not self-negating stalkers.
Another unhealthy message ‘The Notebook’ sends to girls is that a long-lasting union is best created on a foundation of intense romance and drama. And, that if it’s true love it will wait, as Noah waited for Allie for many years, thus demonstrating that the only one for him was Allie. In the interim, Noah became somewhat of a social misfit and was never happy with any of his lovers until Allie came back into his life. Does love wait in real life? Occasionally. But more likely, when a summer fling ends, most guys will just find someone new to date in college 2 weeks later, and never look back. But ‘The Notebook’ promotes the ideation of a fantasy world, where girls’ hopes and expectations become that their relationship will be just as special and romantic as Noah’s and Allie’s. And if not, it leaves girls everywhere feeling let-down and disappointed. Well, maybe, a guy who isn’t waiting for 5+ years, writing tons of letters, or slow dancing in the middle of traffic is just being practical and realistic – two qualities that make great husband material.
So, take the impressions one may get from watching ‘Dirty Dancing’, or, ‘The Notebook’ and multiply it by the thousands. That’s the number hours an impressionable girl, teen or young adult will spend watching commercials, TV shows, movies and reading books by the time she turns 40. In the media, the same unrealistic, fantastic and romanticized ideas are reinforced over and over. Therefore, by the time a young woman begins forming romantic relationships, her ideas of what a real guy or a real relationship should look and feel like are completely skewed.
So what’s a girl to do?
Stay tuned for part 2!