I was on my way back from lunch with a coworker, reminiscing about our teenage interests. We talked about television shows, movies, and books (she always assumes that because I am a huge Buffy fan, that I therefore like everything vampire--which is a gross overstatement).
While telling her that no, I hadn’t seen The Vampire Diaries and that I didn’t know the first thing about True Blood, I admitted that I did used to like Twilight. I remember being 16 and proudly carrying around the poorly written saga, as visible as the embroidered "Hollister" across my chest. I held the books high while reading during study hall, like a man in a tan trench coat running his eyes over a newspaper on a park bench. I placed it on the corner of my desk in each class. “Oh Jordan, what book are you on? I haven’t gotten that far yet!” I’d smile, feeling smug, desperate to finish the series but not wanting it to end. I wanted everyone to know that I was definitely in on the hype and totally eating up the sexiest book series that any of us had probably ever read up to that point. I knew what was cool.
My coworker responded with how she always found Edward super hot, but I told her that he never really did it for me. I thought he was weird as hell, to be honest (although I would love to know what kind of vampire-hair product he uses). I went on to say that if I had to choose, then I would have to say that I liked Jacob better. "I was kind of rooting for the underdog, and he just seemed more likable," I reasoned.
And here is where this 2009 conversation finally gained some validity. My coworker surprised me when she said: "Yeah, but Jacob always pissed me off. Bella wasn't interested in him, and it didn't matter how many times she kept telling him no, he just kept trying to get with her. Even when I was younger I was like, "Dude. Get over it. Leave her alone. Move on.""
A cartoon light bulb went on over my head. “I never really thought of it that way,” I started, “And I am embarrassed that I thought his aggressiveness was endearing. I kind of wanted them to end up together, mostly because he was trying so hard and obviously cared about her enough to not give up.”
But is pursuing a person when they clearly have said that they weren’t interested an attractive quality? Of course not! Gross! Then why is it that men characters can relentlessly go after women characters and we see it as romantic? Women are taught that they should be worth the chase, and well, men are taught that they should chase. If a guy stays casual and distant, then he isn’t interested. If a woman is as straightforward and is always the one starting the conversation or making the moves, then she is seen as overbearing. Fictional men that tirelessly and inappropriately pine over women are seen as sweet. If a woman were to make many of the same advances, or try to kiss a guy while he was in a committed relationship, then she would not be seen as romantic, but as crazy.
But okay, let’s not base all of this societal commentary off of Twilight. I have already given it enough attention. We can move on to something that many of us have seen and love: The Office. I feel like an angry mob might chase me down after I make my next case, but please know that The Office is one of my favorite television shows and I am heavily emotionally invested in every character. I love them all, but no one is perfect.
We have seen the Buzzfeed articles, memes, and gifs showing how seemingly flawless Jim is. Jim is sweetly devoted and loyal to Pam, making most of us swoon and think of how we wanted an office romance half as thrilling and adorable. While in middle school, high school, and the beginning of college, I eagerly watched each episode of The Office as it aired on TV. After getting over the initial heartbreak of it ending, I rewatched the show in its entirety on Netflix, like most of us have done once, twice, or ten times. However, while I watched it again, I found myself being a little weirded out by Jim’s persistence. Yes, of course I wanted him to be with Pam. It was also clear that Pam did have feelings for Jim, and flirted with Jim while she was engaged to someone else, but these actions do not make a person obligated to be with someone. I know that Pam quickly kissed Jim while drunk once (don’t throw that in my face), but Jim was very sober, and very aware through the entirety of their friendship when he claimed that he “knew” that he was “waiting for his wife”.
Okay, I am sure that a lot of you think that I am dissecting one of the greatest television romances of all time, but I am just being honest. In real life, Jim’s actions would have been pretty inappropriate (as were Pam’s to some extent, to be fair). But if a woman says no, then she means no. If the roles were switched, then Pam would have looked desperate, or would have been pitied like a wounded, fragile bird. Instead, we rallied for Jim, and got angry at Pam when it took her so long to agree to be with him. Do you see what I’m getting at here? We commended Jim for his determination to win Pam over, when in reality, Pam was engaged to someone else. You can’t help if you have feelings for someone, and it can be important to be honest, but we can’t let a character’s charm cover up the fact that what he did was a little creepy.
There, I said it. In the off chance that Mindy Kaling, who I love and adore, ever reads this, she may or may not decide not to offer me the chance to write for her show, which I have been waiting for. Sorry Mindy. Please forgive me.
While I am destroying classics, I guess that I can bring up The Notebook as another example. I first saw The Notebook my freshman year of college, so I missed the initial waves of tears and beating adolescent hearts with Ryan Gosling’s picture in the middle. I decided that I would watch it, thinking that it would make me cry, but I annoyingly predicted most of the movie within the first ten minutes. I am one of those horrible people, rolling my eyes with “Oh they are totally gonna get together,” or “He’s not really dead. Just wait, he’ll come back.” I’m gross, and sometimes I hate myself.
Anyway, it was obvious that Noah and Allie were going to end up together, whatever. But in the beginning, when Noah was trying to ask Allie out, I was totally annoyed. I didn’t think that his multiple childish attempts at winning her affection were cute, but psychotic and off-putting. Like, she said no! Maybe she was being coy, or hard to get, but Rachel McAdams is super hot and can pick whoever she wants. (Oh, so I think that being really attractive gives you the right to be shallow and not give a nice person a chance? No, of course not. Shut up.)
The scene that I am thinking of in particular is when Noah HANGS from a ferris wheel, threatening to kill himself if Allie doesn’t say yes to him. Um, hello? That is insane, and if a woman had done the same thing (especially in that time period), then she would have been put away, deemed unfit to take care of herself or be around others. Yet, we giggled and gasped at his persistence, wondering why Allie was being such a bitch. No, Allie just wasn’t feeling it. And that’s fine.
So let’s flip the situation a little. If any of you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, then sorry that I am about to drop a couple of spoilers. So you can skip this part, or read on knowing that enough weird stuff happens in that show that will cover up or make you forget what I’m about to talk about. But, if you’re not interested, then know that I am about to talk about a persistent woman character. (To skip, go down to the next *)
I love Twin Peaks. I would date Agent Cooper and Audrey Horne in two seconds. In the series, Audrey Horne was seen as clever and sexy (did you know that she was only 18 when they filmed?). Agent Cooper was equally smart and attractive, therefore they were inevitably a little into each other. However, Cooper knew that he was older, and because of a previous experience, was not interested in Audrey. Audrey romanticized Cooper, and continued to pursue him after he told her over and over that he wasn’t interested. The audience saw Cooper as being responsible and reasonable (although naturally we wanted them to be together), and Audrey as being a little embarrassing and needing to listen to him and move on. When Cooper walks into his bedroom and finds Audrey naked in his bed, I remember covering my face like “Oh my gaawwdd why is she doing this?!”. Cooper turns her down, and we think of how respectful he is, and physically hurt for a now mortified and rejected Audrey.
This relationship is an example of the woman being pitied, or encouraged to stop, because we respect Agent Cooper’s opinion and wants more than Audrey’s, as a man. If it were the other way around, then Agent Cooper would be desirable and handsome, and Audrey would be irritating because she wouldn’t give into him. There is totally something wrong with this.
*The biggest thing that I can reiterate is to please, to any person of any gender, do not be woo-ed by someone who is inappropriately persistent. When you say no, please know that it is valid. You do not owe anyone anything. I personally have made two mistakes in my life where I gave into guys that I thought were being romantic, “like a movie”, that I wish I could take back. Things I am still not over. Someone pushing you into a wall and kissing you after you’ve said no and tried to walk away isn’t charming and breathtaking. Movies, television shows, and books can create unhealthy expectations and tolerance when it comes to dating or staying in a committed relationship.
Never be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
I know that these things are for entertainment value, but realizing why they are problematic is an early step to fixing societal expectations and stereotypes.
So I will still watch these things (well, some of them), falling in love with the characters all over again. There is value in talking about double standards when it comes to sex and personal space, or any type of relationship between people. We can learn from it.
I wish that at 16, I would’ve realized that Jacob just needed to take a hint. That he was not what a potential significant other should be. It could’ve saved me some trouble later.