Men Have a Toxic Relationship with Romance Movies

Hello Interwebs! It’s Valentine’s Day. You know what that means: romance movie night! And that’s about the place many men disconnect emotionally from the conversation… But why? What’s so wrong with romance movies? Truth is: there’s a stigma against men enjoying certain forms of entertainment (emotionally heavy stuff in particular), and I’m sick of it. Today I want to talk about my experiences with this stigma, why I think it started, and what can be done to combat it.  

The following is an open letter to my fellow men in particular. But hopefully women may gain some insights on male behaviour from this piece too. I’m not trying to vilify anyone, or act like these are universal truths, or make you feel guilty about anything. I just want to discuss an aspect of culture which bothers me.

Romance movies, romantic comedies, and general melodramas have been considered “women’s entertainment” for decades. I’ll bet you’ve heard the term “chick flick” used before in reference to these genres. How is it an entire subsection of entertainment achieved this moniker? So far as I can tell, the idea goes back to old sexist attitudes which consider men emotionless/ logical (or assume they’re supposed to act like it) and women to be emotional wrecks.

Stories of romance feature heavy emotional components by their design. If you tried to make a cold, logical movie about love, I’ll bet it’d be the most boring thing in the world. Therefore, romance films require their audiences to develop strong attachments to their stories and leads. They make you laugh, cry, empathize, and occasionally infuriate. Thing is: such emotions have been deemed by our society as more “feminine” than “masculine”. It’s that distinction which results in men, on the whole, being shamed into hiding their feelings under penalty of mockery and (at the more extreme end) social ostracizing. I’ll explain why I believe this phenomenon occurs momentarily.

Before going further, I want to admit something: I’ve perpetuated this culture in the past. And I’ll probably do it unconsciously in the future as well, if I’m being honest. Because certain behaviours have been drilled into me for the entirety of my 22 years. My male friends and I rarely talk about romance films, and we’re all filmmakers! But wanna hear something ironic? The only times those films ever come up in casual conversation are when we discuss creating our own romance-movie projects. And even then, we keep the details of said projects mainly to ourselves. I know. It’s actually kinda funny. We openly decide to write and create romantic stories but still don’t talk about them (or at least, they come up far more rarely than other prospective works).  

Even this love story between robots (usually cold, emotionless beings) has heart.

Here’s the sad truth: men allowing themselves to be vulnerable, or cry in front of each other, is considered a form of weakness. It may not always be labeled as such, or even consciously questioned, but that’s basically the idea. And romance movies/ romantic comedies are designed to provoke both those reactions. Keeping up this facade of emotional control is arguably more exhausting than simply giving into our feelings, but men aim to maintain appearances nonetheless. Because no guy wants to be the emotional wreck when all his friends appear able to better control themselves. And we police both our own emotions, as well as our fellow men, into conforming to these masculine ideals. Frankly, I think we bother ourselves with these notions more than each other.

I find these emotional insecurities extend beyond simply watching movies. Many men feel so timid about the idea of exposing themselves to emotional entertainment (see: the potential for a socially damaging scenario, ala crying in front of peers) that they avoid anything created to make you feel. That means no watching, talking about, or considering romance movies as a valid entertainment option. It also means making fun of other guys who do partake in these things just to make people extra certain you’re never associated with that stuff. If people can’t even picture you in an emotionally compromising scenario, you can maintain your reputation.

“Ha ha! He likes girly movies!”

I’ve got open-minded friends, so it’s not as if I expect to be bullied by them, but there’s still this nagging fear of ridicule in my head. And obviously nobody wants to be made fun of. So it’s easier to keep your mouth shut than say something which may provoke a negative reaction.

For these reasons, romance movies simply aren’t the sorts of entertainment guys choose for a “boys night out”. I remember two times in my whole life I watched romance movies with my male friends, and both experiences came with a catch: I watched West Side Story with some childhood pals nearly a decade ago (to study for a drama class performance) and they spent the whole time making fun of it; and I watched La La Land with Justin a few years back.

​The later experience sounds better on paper but, even then, we both went out of our way to act tough and mask our emotions from one another. And it was painfully obvious that the story affected us both! That’s not shocking to me though. Justin and I don’t often allow ourselves to emotionally open up with one other, and I guarantee many male friendships are the same. So, even when guys watch romance films together, they don’t always get the complete experience. They’re too busy mocking the movies to get invested, or they feel obligated to hide if they actually are engaged.

Me hiding my emotions during La La Land.

Now, this isn’t a 100% male-driven problem. Women (in my experience) don’t generally mock guys for watching romance movies of their own accord, but often exude some shock at men’s taste in movies. Like: “What? You like romance movies?!” The intent is rarely malicious. But even a brief moment of shock makes a guy feel guilty for having “different” tastes to most of his sex. Once again, women shaming men is less pervasive than men shaming themselves and others, but it still happens often enough to be noteworthy.

All this begs the question: what can be done to end the stigma? Many men and women act as if guys who enjoy romance movies are an exception to some unwritten rule (I’ve seen the correlation take place unmistakably with my own eyes). But, ironically, if enough men openly watched romance movies, it would simply be a fact of life. And if it were more common, the guys who actually cared about the genre wouldn’t look abnormal!

So that’s step 1: more men ought to watch romantic/ cathartic entertainment, and they should ideally keep an open mind about it. Even if romance films are more targeted at women, so what? Mainstream entertainment has been targeted at primarily male interests forever, and women enjoy a lot of that stuff. Good entertainment is good entertainment. Give it a chance. On this Valentine’s day I think of all the fantastic romance/ romantic comedies out there and how much I’d be missing out for never seeing them. I’m talking to men in particular when I say: don’t limit your entertainment options. There’s so many great stories floating around, and it’d be a shame to miss them for some arbitrary reason (that being you’re not “supposed” to enjoy those movies).

Step 2 for ending the stigma: stop acting like it’s weird for men to enjoy these things. This one will be hard, because it’s more of an unconscious reaction than anything, but if we all try then the situation will improve. Who’s to say you have to like the films anyway? You might genuinely dislike the genre (whether you’re a man or otherwise) for any number of reasons. But please let’s end the stigma against men who like romance films. ‘Cause men have feelings too, and it shouldn’t be shameful to watch stories which provoke said feelings. Shouldn’t we all have the right to like what we like and not feel ashamed about it? No guy is any less tough simply for enjoying cathartic entertainment.

Step 3: To all the men who already like this stuff/ want to like it: ignore the haters, and ignore any thoughts of guilt in your own head. If you want to watch romance movies, then fantastic! If you cry during the movie, then that’s even better. It means the movie is doing its job. There has to be a place for these emotional experiences alongside adrenaline-inducing action movies, thought-provoking drama films, gut-busting comedy, and the charms of any other genre.

Let’s take the “guilt” out of “guilty pleasure”, alright? We human beings will be a lot happier as a consequence. Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone from Thought Plane Media!

What’s your favourite romance/ rom-com movie? What are you going to watch this Valentine’s Day, if anything? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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