Gendering the Cliche Teen Movie

By Lydia Geisel

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 3.14.36 PM

(Still from Easy A, 2010)

As big of a fan as I was (and still am) of the happy-go-lucky high school comedy, I can’t help but piggyback off of Steinem’s recent New York Times article and question the dual, gendered nature of the genre.

We’ve all seen them, and many of us love them. From American Pie, to Can’t Hardly Wait, to Superbad, these youthful, party-clad films have become an important part of our “growing up” experience. Often, they explore real high school issues (with a Hollywood twist), like falling in “love,” feeling like a loser, working a summer job, and preparing for college. Typically set on the brink of graduation, they explore what the final few moments of high school—or “pre-real world”—are truly like. This “genre” seems to be split into two gendered categories, however, which I find disconcerting.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 3.18.06 PM

(Still from Superbad, 2007)

The films mentioned above, and surely more, have a few things in common: the protagonists are male, the narrative’s revolve around the main character(s) “scoring” with the girl of their dreams, and the final tipping point is normally the prom or some other end-of-the-year party. Then, on the other hand, we have high school comedies that follow a similar tone, but explore the female experience. I’m thinking of more recent movies like Easy A, Mean Girls, Clueless, etc. Equally as crude, hilarious, and ridiculous, I personally place most teen movies into the same boat. But, I have a hunch that not everyone does. What I found really interesting following our conversation the other week about Gloria Steinem’s article on chick flicks, was how applicable her argument is for these types of films.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 3.22.40 PM

(Still from Mean Girls, 2004)

In Superbad (2007), we see two hilarious, awkward, and slightly perverted friends sorting through the ups and downs of their adolescence all while chasing after the popular girls. Many of these male-centric, high school comedies aren’t given any particular label but, when you replace the men with women they become something totally different. For me, the narrative structures, conventions, and overall messages between a movie like Superbad, for example, and a movie like Clueless, fall under one comedic category. However, Superbad may be considered simply a comedy by most, whereas Clueless might be considered a chick flick. When I assign these labels, I’m considering how general audiences would categorize these films, not necessarily how the producers marketed them.

I’m simply interested in posing a question about viewership and our willingness or ability to relate to the opposite gender, because this “gendering of genre” only seems to be one-sided, as Steinem suggests. Her words really came into full effect for me when I applied her thinking to types of films that I’m familiar with and love.

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7 Responses to Gendering the Cliche Teen Movie

  1. mediaphiles says:

    This is so true and interesting to think about! After reading through your blog and thinking about even more films that fit this genre, the gender split seems more and more evident, which even extends to television shows like Hannah Montana and more.

    –Maddie Turner

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I loved this discussion, since I do believe that while male and female comedies may have the same conventions, they are often estranged by different labels – the female one always turning into a “chick flick” despite it’s brand of humor that appeals to both genders.

    -Meg Schmit

  3. mediaphiles says:

    This is an interesting commentary on high school films. I’m a huge fan of “chick flicks,” and I don’t care who knows it! It’s funny how female-dominant films are labeled but male-dominant films are not. Like Meg said, the brand of humor appeals to both genders. -Caitlin Herlihy

  4. mediaphiles says:

    Reading this made me realize that I don’t think iv’e ever actually heard anyone call “Mean Girls” a chick flick. I think what is so interesting about “Mean Girls” is that it has pretty much created its own category because it is so iconic. This film no question appeals to both genders more so, I think, than any other “chick flick”. Really interesting blog post. Thanks!

    -Kendra

  5. mediaphiles says:

    This is such a good post. There is definitely a separation between films that center on the male-experience vs.female-experience that seems to me quite bothersome. Many movies that mention the word “chick flick” do so in such a derogatory manner that has always made me uncomfortable. Mostly, it would be used in an instance where the guy would immediately shoot down the idea of watching a chick flick with his girlfriend in order to protect his masculinity. Whenever that scene would pop up I would always just say, “who cares! You might actually like the movie”!.

    -Shelby Halliman

  6. mediaphiles says:

    Lydia, while I had thought about these films and the ways that men and women are portrayed in them, I had not looked at these films from the perspective of gender genres. It is very interesting to see the experiences that every character faces, and put into perspective, whether they are a male or a female. I will have to re-watch a few of these films and pay close attention to this.

    -Luke Dellorso

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I usually watch these types of films as a way to relax, not thinking about the any critique of the film. However, I am glad that the New York Times article and this blog post points to the fact that in any film, there will be some sort of critique. If anything, more critique needs to be done on these films since their audiences are so broad and mainstream.

    Katherine Naylor

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