As a teenager, I, like many other girls, loved “The Notebook.” It was the ideal love story and, more importantly, it included Ryan Gosling. Since my teenage years, my definition of romance has changed, though Ryan Gosling will always hold a special place in my heart.
“The Notebook” follows a familiar yet alarming pattern: boy wants girl, girl does not want boy, boy pressures girl, boy gets girl. Gavin de Becker, a specialist in security matters, explains in his book “The Gift of Fear” that, “Girls are taught from a young age to expect this kind of behavior … it is shown to be a model for a love story, where man pursues woman and gets her regardless of her consent.”
It’s notable that in movies like “Fatal Attraction,” where the roles are reversed, the ending is drastically different; instead of the girl getting the boy, she ends up dead. Movies like these perpetuate a disturbing double standard. They suggest that when a man says, “no,” it’s final. But when a woman says, “no,” it means try harder.
Though it’s unfair to blame society’s attitudes solely on the messages we find in movies, films often reflect what we deem acceptable as a culture. Unfortunately, the norms enforced by Hollywood can translate into chilling real-life situations. For example, in 2010, one group of Yale fraternity pledges chanted, “‘No’ means ‘yes!’ ‘Yes’ means ‘anal!’” in front of women’s dorms. The ramifications of these attitudes go beyond offensive chants. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 25 percent of college women are victims of attempted or completed rape, and 90 percent of these victims are attacked by someone they already know. These facts demonstrate why our society desperately needs a romance makeover.
We must ensure that both individuals in a relationship respect their love interest’s boundaries. This means separating persistence from courtship and teaching people to honor the word “no.” While rejection is difficult for everybody, accepting it is essential for both parties. Gavin de Becker asserts, “‘No’ is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you … ” Serenading somebody with the help of the school marching band (“10 Things I Hate About You”), watching somebody sleep (“Twilight”) or attempting to sabotage a wedding (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”) in an effort to win someone over all may seem romantic in the context of a movie, but in fact suggest personality traits that could lead to unhealthy relationships and potentially unsafe situations.
Many fear that chivalry will die if we change our interpretation of romance. Redefining courtship may be difficult, but it does not mean that traditional elements of dating, such as roses and chocolates, need to disappear — they will just play a different role in romantic pursuit. Besides, the roses will smell sweeter coming from someone whom the receiver wants in his or her life.
Hollywood, fortunately, already has examples that demonstrate what a healthy courtship looks like. For instance, in “The Notebook,” there is a scene where the protagonist, Allie, debates between staying engaged to her fiancé, Lon, or reuniting with her old boyfriend, Noah. After Allie tells him about Noah, Lon says, “I love you, Allie, but I want you for myself. I don’t want to have to convince my fiancée that she should be with me.” When Allie chooses Noah, Lon leaves her alone. His actions were a powerful microcosm demonstrating what romance should be about: respect. After the movie, I kept wondering if Lon ever found somebody. Because that is a love story I would want to hear about.
Kelsey Trotta is a LSA senior.