Looking back on 2017’s sexual harassment denunciations and purges, I realized that what Hollywood preaches is not what it puts on screen. Like railing against gun violence while making a mint off violent movies at the same time, what Hollywood movies say about sexual harassment is very different than what Hollywood figures say in the post-Weinstein era.
Under many of the definitions going around these days, the women of romantic comedies are actually victims of sexual harassment. While these women are not physically abused or raped, they are subjected to unwanted attention from men. The EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment includes the phrase “unwelcome sexual advances” which would describe the plot of most romantic comedies.
Think about the romantic comedy genre. These movies typically have a plot where boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl can’t stand boy, boy persists despite being rejected by girl and boy finally wins girl. If the man in the movie persists after being rejected and told “no” then isn’t that sexual harassment by definition?
If merely pursuing a woman who doesn’t fall into your arms at first sight is sexual harassment then a great many men – and also a great many women – are harassers. Who knows how many happy marriages are built upon behavior that many now seek to criminalize? I’ve heard many stories of couples who didn’t hit it off at first, but who eventually fell in love and created a happy life together.
There are limits of course. It is clearly wrong for a man in a position of power like Harvey Weinstein to force women to have sex with him in order to work in Hollywood. It’s also wrong to grab the butt of a stranger or fondle someone’s breast uninvited.
When the unwanted activity involves mere words and flirting, the lines are less distinct, however, and even in cases of consensual sex, there can be a gray area. Rebecca Reid of the UK Metro recently wrote that, as a teen, she “had a threesome, also because I didn’t want to be rude.” Many of the women who had sex with Weinstein also gave consent in order to get work. Is consent still consent even if given under duress? Don’t women also have a responsibility to say “no” if they don’t want to have sex? If a woman says “yes” and means “no,” how is a man to know the difference unless he has the ability to read her mind?
There seem to be two solutions to the problem. One way is to criminalize romantic comedies. We could simply make it illegal for people to have any unwanted contact. The result of this strategy would probably be lots of lonely people as men become afraid to woo women for fear of being sued or arrested or having their reputations ruined.
A second solution would be a return to traditional sexual values in which couples wait to have sex until marriage. Without the expectation of casual sex, fewer men would harass women and fewer women would be compelled to have sex out of politeness. It would also help men and women find more fulfilling and longer-lasting relationships.
In spite of jokes about unhappy marriages, for many Americans married life is our Hollywood ending. Rather than going through life alone, we grow old surrounded by people we love. That is our happily-ever-after.
Originally published on The Resurgent