By Lydia Geisel
(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.
(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.
(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.