Today, I had a lecture basically about the Battered Wives' Syndrome (in the technical context of self-defense as a defense for criminal responsibility in cases of murder). As the professor lectured about the typical behavior patterns of the abusive husband before and after the marriage, I realized that a lot of them sounded quite familiar. And that is because I have consumed my fair share of chick flicks in my life.
What do I mean? Well, firstly, I don't mean that chick flick heroines, immediately following the ending credits, would become abused wives (even if they were bereft of the protection offered by fictionality). The movies are written with certain implicit assumptions about time compression and such like that make it impossible to judge the actual relationship. But a lot of the behaviors exhibited by abusive husbands, even long before they become physically abusive, are the very behaviors that chick flicks laud, expressly and implicitly, as healthy and/or romantic. Examples*:
1) The Big Romantic Gesture: Abuse generally works in escalating cycles, typified by extremes on both ends of the spectrum. Immediately after the abuse (and particularly in the earlier stages of the abuse, which usually starts just after the wedding), the husband is effusively apologetic, romantic, sweet. He buys jewelry, presents, new furniture to replace anything that he destroyed. (One police officer says that every time a woman came to report abuse, he could tell how often she hadn't reported it by counting her rings, necklaces, and bracelets.) Every good romantic comedy has a scene in which the hero engages in some over the top romantic gesture to atone for something that he has done to the heroine; the gesture proves that he is a good guy, that he truly loves her, that he will never hurt her again. Obviously, this is never physical abuse, but the core idea of "Gestures atone for misdeeds" is well-established.
2) They're all Just Jealous: Abusers typically seperate the wife from family and friends who attempt to stand in the way of a relationship that they see as problematic. They have never really understood her; they are just jealous that her relationship is succeeding; they want to keep her for themselves; they don't understand how happy she is; they are over-protective; will they never be happy for her? This serves both to silence any voices of protest and to cut the woman off from other people who might be able to help her get out of the situation later. In the romantic comedy form, there is usually only one over-protective parent or jealous friend/sibling and in the end they always acknowledge their flaws and the beauty of the relationship. Nevertheless, the idea that you should listen to your heart and boyfriend over your family is pretty well-rooted.
3) The Stalking of Love: Abusers typically slowly take over every aspect of their partner's life. They want to be with them at every moment, they pop up at unexpected times, because they always just want to be with them. Romantic comedies are full of this stuff, and it's hard not to notice the creepiness even without the abuser stuff going on. Nonetheless, even if the behaviors are exaggerated, the idea that there is something romantic about them wanting to spend every moment with you, and popping up in every aspect of your life, is reinforced. To make matters worse, romantic comedies often have an aspect of fixing your life as you find your man, who is often the one to point out that character flaw that you need to fix to make yourself happy and healthy. Of course, in the romantic comedy, he is generally absolutely right. This does not change the controllingness of the situation, or weaken the message that the man should be introducing major changes into your life.
The list continues, my time does not. In summation: Chick flicks are more than innocent cotton candy for the mind- they reflect some seriously twisted conceptions of love, and not just those of the "love conquers all variety".
*Based on one 1.5 hour lecture on a slightly different subject