There is nothing more cringe-worthy to me than the use of the term “chick flick.”
First of all, everyone should be offended by the use of the term. For one, it implies that women only like one kind of movie that fits into this particular box. It forces positive attention away from strong, female driven movies that are labelled as “women’s cinema” despite the genre, and can tend to be more easily dismissed. On the flip side, it implies that men are not supposed to enjoy these movies. They are supposed to sit next to their date rolling their eyes and/or falling asleep as their date weeps uncontrollably to the love story playing out on the screen. But doesn’t this also limit men? I know plenty of men who teared up a little at The Notebook, or who enjoyed How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days…but they would never admit it. They always have something in their eye, allergies, or are in it for the cool factor of Matthew McConaughey.
The definition of what constitutes a chick flick is also troublesome. A quick Wikipedia search of the term causes more confusion, muddling through until it basically says that it constitutes any movie with a female driven storyline.
“Generally, a chick flick is a film designed to have an innate appeal to women, typically young women. Defining a chick flick is, as The New York Times has stated, more of a parlor game than a science. These films are generally held in popular culture as having formulaic, paint-by-numbers plot lines and characters. This makes usage of the term “problematic” for implying “frivolity, artlessness, and utter commercialism”, according to ReelzChannel. However, several chick flicks have received high critical acclaim for their stories and performances. For example, the 1983 film Terms of Endearment received Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role. More recently, the chick flick La La Land, featuring both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, won Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Both of these actors were well known for their roles in chick flicks before jumping to the academy level.”
Confused yet? I sure am.
The Wikipedia article goes on to say that chick flicks can run the gamut from The Princess Diaries, Little Women, and What Lies Beneath (for full article, click here)
Hmmm…a movie based on a YA novel, a movie based on a classic piece of literature, and a brilliant Hitchcockian thriller? So, again…any movie dealing with a straight female protagonist? Wut?
The bottom line is, things are changing for women. We are moving toward no longer being seen in the kitchen, pining away for a man into the spinsterhood of our mid-twenties. We are encouraged, and encourage each other, to be anything, to do anything. I once joked with my boyfriend that I should greet him wearing an apron, drink in hand, ready to talk about his day like a proper fifties housewife. He was genuinely confused by the appeal. I asked why not, and he said, “I love you because you can think for yourself.” (Hi, honey! PS – bullet dodged ;)). So why is it that a movie should be regarded to universally appeal to women if we can have a variety of passions? We shouldn’t urge young women to pursue only one type of cinematic experience, just as we wouldn’t discourage them from reading one type of book or searching out only one type of job.
For purposes of this experiment, I will assume that you are familiar with Alien. If you aren’t, you probably wouldn’t be on this blog. If you’re not familiar, watch this horror/sci-fi/suspense masterpiece immediately.
Horror Hypothesis: Alien Technically Qualifies as a Chick Flick
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley: Badass Role Model to Young Women
In short, shouldn’t young girls be looking up to a bad ass like Ellen Ripley? Seeing a smart, competent lady kick butt is always awesome! That’s what women want to see, whether it’s in a science fiction/action movie, or on How to Get Away With Murder. Mic. Dropped.
Gender Politics at Play: We Feel You, Ripley!
One thing that really struck me about Ripley in the first Alien movie is her calm, collected attitude. The cracks don’t start showing until stuff starts to really go south. And then, well, if you were being hunted down by a primal alien with very pointy teeth and half your crew was dead, you might be a smidge edgy as well. Even when the cracks do show, she is laser focused on the task at hand – killing that SOB with anything and everything that they can leverage.
When thinking about it through this lens, I had a very different take about her calm attitude. She doesn’t want to be seen as overly emotional or irrational. She is second in command on a ship, and her captain is making terrible choices. She explains why they are bad choices and lets him know firmly that they could be potentially disastrous, but she doesn’t yell. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t scream. Even if these things are bubbling up inside her, she holds them back because she doesn’t want to be seen as a hysterical woman…she wants to be seen as someone who can do her job among the very best. I think that whatever field you are in, as a woman, we can all relate this to a similar experience in our working, or even personal, lives.
Progressiveness at Play: Why It Took a Futuristic Setting to Make a Lady in Charge Seem Plausible
Science fiction is an outlet that many empowered female role models appear. Why? Because it’s not happening now. I always wonder when watching a movie like Alien, released in 1979, if the film makers felt that it was easier to believe that a woman could have as much authority as Ripley in the future as opposed to their present time. If this is the case, this sounds kind of depressing but I think is actually kind of hopeful and optimistic. If they believed that an audience could believe it possible in the future, then they believed that’s where we were headed. The question is, are we there yet?
STEM and The Scully Effect
This is by far the most important reason that Alien should be seen as a female-centric gem and not just “that one with the chest burster.” Before you get mad, I’m definitely not knocking that chest burster…no one loves a good chest bursting more than me. Seriously, you should see me mime it. However, I would love to point out that Alien is not the only science fiction franchise with heroines that promote a female love of science. One of the most well-known (and trending again because of the reboot), is the Scully Effect, in which many women working in STEM today attribute their interest in science to be influenced by Dana Scully on The X-Files. Why not have as many characters as possible representing what women can do? Check out this little video on Dana Scully’s influence on The X-Files facebook page here.
The Alien franchise technically meets the following criteria of a chick flick:
- appeals to women through character of Ripley
- has received acclaim (Academy Award for H.R. Giger’s Effects and spawned 6 more movies and 2 spinoffs)
- features a female protagonist
The following criteria of a chick flick do not meet the guidelines of what every female movie goer wants to see:
- Formulaic plot
- Female protagonist making out with someone
- Happy ending
In short, chick flicks are no more! I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the odd no-brainer romance. I’m just saying that no-brainer romances shouldn’t limit what we consider female-driven movies. If blood and guts and the Alien franchise aren’t your thing, we might never be friends but you can’t live on a diet of movie fluff alone! So, instead of calling them chick flicks, can’t we just call them movies and label them with genres like we do for every other movie geared toward both men and women? If this franchise was stepping that way in the late 70s, surely we can make the last move and just do away with the term?
Check out the trailer for the latest installment, Alien: Covenant on 20th Century Fox’s YouTube channel. Highly underrated, in my opinion. And, true to form, another tough, female protagonist.