Going the Distance with FeminismOctober 13, 2010
Romantic comedies often get a bad reputation with the feminist community. Janice Radway for example feels that romance novels and the like find their primary value is as a form of escape for women. She notes that reading romances reinforces heteronormative beliefs about marriage and monogamy, and they act as a way for women to leave the present world and submerge themselves into an imaginary one. This is damaging from a feminist perspective she argues, because instead of creating social change, they are able to live vicariously through the characters in their novels. This argument can also be applied to the characters in romantic comedies. Many women feel that their relationships should mirror the ones they see in these films, but lack any kind of capacity to make it happen. Other feminists disagree with Radway’s criticism; Ien Ang for example feels that romances can provide a sense of pleasure for women (not just escapism). They enjoy seeing a world in which the battle of the sexes is always overcome and they find empowerment in this. With all the negative news about marriage and relationships in real life, romances and romantic comedies can be a beacon to those who have all but given up hope.
Another common example of the romantic narrative in popular culture is the soap opera. Christine Geraghty looks at the Dynasty and Dallas and how they embody the idea that entertainment illustrates a utopian society. The shows take five social problems (poverty, exhaustion, monotony, manipulation, loneliness) and transform them to show audiences the ideal lifestyle. Characters have an abundance of wealth, endless energy, drama and excitement to keep things interesting, transparency with one another, and a sense of community. These five pillars can also be seen in most romantic comedies.
This summer, Going the Distance came out in theatres. The film depicts how a whirlwind relationship between DrewBarrymore and Justin Long’s characters ends up turning into a serious long-distance relationship despite both of their aversion to the idea. The film does challenge some typical characteristics of the romantic comedy. Neither character is particularly wealthy; in fact, not being able to afford plane tickets hurts their relationship on one occasion. Barrymore’s sister’s family has a little more wealth, but it is nowhere near as overt as the soap operas Geraghty references. The relationship is more exciting and witty than most people’s in real life though and both characters have their own little community to share their feelings and reflect on things with. The film also goes against the endless energy pillar as both characters and worn down by jobs they do not enjoy.
The film does exercise as a kind of therapeutic entertainment because in the end (spoiler alert!) the characters do end up together. Long’s character quits his job in New York and moves across the country to be with Drew Barrymore and allow her to pursue her career too. People want to believe that they can have love and career. The movie does a good job of painting the tensions that many people experience when trying to work out a relationship and find a job about which they are passionate. Although the film is hardly groundbreaking from a feminist perspective, it does do a good job of presenting a strong female lead who doesn’t sacrifice herself to be with the man she loves.