I watch what can only be described as, a fuckton of horror movies. Most everything I watch generally falls within the horror genre whether it’s a television show, movie, or even the podcasts I listen to. But there is only so much terrifying content a person can consume before you need to balance it out. My movie genre of choice tends to be teen rom-coms from the 1990s and early 2000s. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have watched What a Girl Wants enough times that I have the movie dialogue and accompanying soundtrack memorized.
I apparently wanted to cause myself a new kind of pain though, and decided to watch Bo Burnham’s film Eighth Grade. If you haven’t seen it, I would actually recommend it. But the level of awkward, painful, pre-teen angst almost killed me. I had to color while watching the movie to keep from grinding my teeth down into powder. You’d watch and the main character would try to talk to a guy she liked, but was shy and stumbled over her words. You watched every terrible choice you made as a middle schooler play out in front of you, in a genuine way.
After putting myself through that, I decided to get wine drunk and watch whatever movie popped up first. The winner? Sleepover with Alexa Vega, if you all remember it. Basically four friends go on a scavenger hunt while at a sleepover during, you guessed it, eighth grade. I spent the entire movie screaming and cringing, again. As a child I really missed how fucked up some aspects of that movie are. For the most part, not as bad as some movies, but she’s 14 and is into a high school boy. She proceeds to BREAK INTO HIS HOUSE and STEAL HIS BOXERS. Then at the end of the movie he BREAKS INTO HER HOUSE and KISSES A GIRL WHO IS STILL IN MIDDLE SCHOOL.
When watching it as a youth I thought it was so dope. Being so young and having an older guy into you? Wasn’t that the dream? I admit my wine filled rage could have been exaggerating some of the issues, but it’s a little fucked. As a generation of young women who are trying to be woke, it is no surprise that we ended up in such awful relationships. We were groomed from a young age to accept that advances from older men were not only welcome, but meant we were desirable.
In complete opposition of this, when a high school senior makes a move on Kayla in Eighth Grade, she says no. But she still has to get a ride home from him and she apologizes the entire way. Yes, it was horrifying and scary to see it play out, but I would rather have that than perpetuating the belief that a young girl needs an older mans approval to be beautiful. She was uncomfortable, and told him to stop.
Even one of my favorites 10 Things I Hate About You and the way they literally were lying and manipulating these women to date them and get them into bed. Why did we see this as cute or romantic? Faking speaking French isn’t too bad, but an 18 year old boy exploiting a 14 year old girl to sleep with her! It’s not okay. Now I know it’s based of of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, and it is literally my least favorite play by him because of the treatment of women as “animals to be tamed.” Like, I will only love you if you change every thing about you.
I think our generation got a weirdly tainted view of teenage romance. Millennials were force fed this idea that we needed to find love in high school. We’ll either be with an attractive mean guy before we find our slightly less attractive nice guy; or that it’s okay to have someone manipulate and use us to suit their needs, as long as they do some grand romantic gesture after being a bag of dicks. Even in Legally Blonde she gets dumped because she isn’t the right kind of girl, and only applies to law school to potentially get back with this self-centered asshole. The movie definitely redeems itself, but you get my point.
I wish I would have been more hyper-critical of the problematic romantic fallacies that were crammed down my throat. Looking back we were never given the resources to understand that what we were being told wasn’t just a Hollywood movie, but a deep seeded culture of disrespect towards women. I know this to be true because when I watch genuinely shitty films at their core, I can’t help but pick it apart. Which is evidence at least that I’ve grown emotionally and analytically over the years, enough so that I can see the blatant lies that are placed before me.
When I watched Sydney White which is from the early 2000s, there is still some cringe at the behavior of the “villain.” But we were met with a girl who was great with tools, was part of a sorority but focused on studying to keep her scholarship, and had a massive comic book collection. It was just late enough that the really shitty relationship falsities weren’t present. It’s a difference of maybe eight years, but the progress was obvious between itself and even Mean Girls.
For anyone who absorbed far too many romantic comedies as a youth, take a step back and see how it impacted your romantic growth into adulthood. It took me a bit to kill the fallacy of that “soul mate” or “true love” angle. This might make me sound bitter, but I know I jumped into relationships over and over again because I thought it was what everyone was supposed to be doing. I was failing at being a teenager because I hadn’t lost my virginity, didn’t have a date to homecoming, or wasn’t in a love triangle. It took me until I was in college and beyond to focus on my own personal growth rather than this disturbing need to be dating.
I think there has been a push for more inclusive forms of romantic comedies, but we shouldn’t let it stop us from enjoying our old favorites. But let’s take them with a grain of salt. Especially as some of ya’ll are popping out babies and may want to share your childhood movies with them as they grow. Balance it out with content that doesn’t focus on romance, but on character growth and development. (Every Miyazaki movie ever created) Call out those movies for being bullshit! Laugh at the ridiculousness, or be callous about the way in which a male character disrespects a female character. Have a running dialogue about the absurdity, racism, sexism, or general awfulness.
If you didn’t go through a phase where everything you read and watched revolved around romance, you were lucky. It took me a bit to find out that other genres of things existed, as violent action thrillers and teen rom-coms were my bread and butter. Part of me is a bit ashamed, because it would be a straight up lie if I told you I didn’t have fantasies where a cute girl (or guy) would bump into me in the hall and we’d have a meet-cute, but they were with someone else, but would eventually leave them for me once they realized I was clearly the superior choice. I really wish I hadn’t been like that, but it was a part of growing up, and I have come to terms with it.
All this painful reminiscing about my childhood and teenage angst makes me need a drink.
I have a task for you all. I want you to go back and watch your favorite teen romantic comedy. Try to keep it from the 1980s – 2000s. In the comments below, tell me something you noticed that you were completely oblivious to. I can’t be alone in this! It will be a fun experiment.