Kincart: Enjoying Rom-coms Isn’t Bad Feminism


By Sydney Kincart, Print Chief, Opinion Writer


Romantic comedies (also known as “rom-coms”) tend to produce mixed responses as a genre. Personally, I’d consider it one of my favorites. I’m always up for a romantic comedy, whether it’s critically acclaimed or not. I might even enjoy the cheesy movies the most. My longtime favorite rom-com is “Definitely, Maybe.” I love how it depicts a father-daughter relationship while also focusing on the complexities of three different women.

I tend to enjoy watching movies with female leads. I can relate to the protagonists and am inspired by the feats they accomplish. As I grow older and dig deeper into feminism, I contemplate how my favorite movie genre might conflict with my values. If she always ends up with the man (because sadly, this genre is heavily heteronormative), is she a “real feminist?” After much thought, I’d say “yes” to that question. The beauty of feminism is that it never has to look the same — it’s okay for women to embrace feminism differently.

My interest in rom-coms started around the same time as my interest in feminism. The prominence of female protagonists in the genre linked these interests. Within the top 100 grossing films in 2018, female protagonists were most likely to appear in comedies. As I watched these movies, I finally saw pieces of myself in the characters. I saw women invested in their career and educational goals, who aspired to leave home and embark on new adventures and make the most of their lives.

This representation mattered to me — though representation in the industry still has a long way to go as Black and Asian representation in the genre is sparse. Characters like Kat Stratford of “10 Things I Hate About You” and Elle Woods of “Legally Blonde” vocalized female oppression. They worked to defy gender norms linked to their success. Their actions not only inspired me but were inherently feminist.

Within these movies, female leads are acting in ways consistent with feminism. Let’s compare two of my favorite characters: Cher Horowitz from “Clueless” and Kat from “10 Things I Hate About You.”

Kat is “a woman who felt no need to impress a guy, who wasn’t afraid to be aggressive on the soccer field, and who read a copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ with almost comically oversized font — held perfectly upright so anyone passing would know she was only interested in reading deep feminist thoughts.”

On the other hand, Cher loves fashion, makeup and shopping. In the end, Clueless is free of “slut-shaming or virgin-bashing” while depicting the ups and downs of female friendships — even through projections of misogyny.

With all that, Cher happens to end up with a boy who respects her. Kat gets into her dream school across the country and ends up with the boy. Although that boy was the cause of conflict in the film, they discuss the misunderstanding. It’s also important to note that Patrick (the love interest) doesn’t kiss Kat while she’s drunk — avoiding rape culture perpetuated in other classic rom-coms.

It’s clear that outside of the context of love, both women are feminists. They are feminists in their own respects, and they both end up in love — because feminism and love aren’t inherently exclusive. I specifically remember feeling moved by Kat as it was clear she grappled with accepting that same duality.

I think back to a discussion in my high school literature class. One of my peers continually insisted that being in a relationship was “un-feminist.” I bought into this idea for a while. I spent so long thinking the most feminist representations of love occurred when the couple didn’t end up together — think “La La Land” and “500 Days of Summer.” But, pitting women and what they love against each other is one of the most “un-feminist” things we can do.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve recognized it’s important to let yourself love. Healthy relationships, filled with interdependence, are a “two-way street.” The healthiest relationships have two “me’s” and one “we.” Independence is possible in a relationship, and it’s good. Independent, healthy relationships also help you grow as a person.

I firmly believe that if some of these rom-coms got a second movie, years later, this is the pattern we would see. Sky and Sophie from “Mamma Mia!” exemplify this trend. In the first movie, Sophie admits to Sky that she isn’t ready to be married, and they sail across the world together. In the second movie, Sky comes back to the island to support Sophie’s hotel management goals and her newfound pregnancy. In this more modern rom-com musical, the couple exemplifies a healthy relationship. They support and respect each other’s independence.

Rom-coms aren’t free of problems. I’d love to see more representation and intersectionality in the genre. But the genre displays a variety of different female leads with a multitude of interests. These women are each feminist in different ways. The rhetoric deeming that someone who falls in love is “un-feminist” needs to change. Judging women for what they love is “un-feminist.” Perhaps the most feminist thing you can do is lift yourself up enough to help advance the fight for others. If that lift happens to come from love, there’s nothing wrong with that.


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