A spotlight: How pop culture romanticises and normalises stalking

Stalking? What does that mean to you? What do you think of when you hear the word? It’s commonly used as a joke, such as when you’re talking about scrolling through someone’s Instagram or when you’ve run into someone one too many times.

Stalking is defined as ‘”a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim’’

Pop culture affects our views of love and relationships in helpful and hurtful ways. It can be entertaining to watch disastrous on-screen couples, but it’s time to highlight the impact this can have on the public’s perception of this behaviour in real life.

Boy meets girl, girl rejects boy, boy just sees this as ‘’playing hard to get’’. So, he follows her around, continues to ask her out, plays music outside of her window, lies in order to get closer to her. And finally, after his relentless pursuit, she finally gives in.

Within popular tv shows and films ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’, it’s simply flirtation encouraging the boy to try harder: “convince me.” These positive portrayals of stalking – like those where the pursuer is rewarded by ‘getting the girl’ can perpetuate the problem of stalking and male violence against women by normalising it and even making it seem glamorous or attractive.

This is problematic and a conversation worth having.

Real love isn’t like this, but the media is trying to teach us to sympathise with those committing these acts. But if you take the time to really think about the character’s actions and if this was to happen in real life, how would this make you feel?

The obsessive, coercive behaviour is framed as an expression of the male character’s love and devotion.  Some of these behaviours include turning up at a person’s workplace unannounced, repetitive unwanted contact and monitoring someone’s whereabouts. This happens in countless films and or tv shows such as You, Twilight, The Notebook and Love Actually.

Growing up watching men stalk women under the justification of love allows us to believe a ‘no’ just means try harder.  All the male characters in these films refuse to respect women’s boundaries, personal space, or privacy. They don’t pay attention to what women say and overlook any signs of disinterest or rejection. This is not healthy or realistic and reinforces harmful perspectives about relationships.

Teenagers and young adults need to understand where romance ends, and abuse starts. When we see stalking for love in a movie or TV show, it is important to turn to your children and say, “That’s not love” and teach them to respect someone’s wishes and understand that rejection is not an invitation to coerce someone into changing their mind but to accept that “no means no”.