The opinions expressed in this piece are that of the author and are not representative of the views of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.
As someone born in the late 90s, I was raised on early 2000s female-focused coming-of-age films. 13 Going on 30, A Cinderella Story, and Legally Blonde were viewed at least once a week in my childhood, and that tradition is still thriving 22 years later. However, with age, I came to understand the nuances of cinema, which provided a staggering realisation: each of these films is classified as a ‘chick flick’, and nothing more. But what does that term actually mean, why has it become a genre, and is it necessarily a bad thing?
To me, films falling under this category encompass the best and worst parts of the universal female experience in a medium designed to comfort, humour, and humanise us. I can be almost certain that any film filed under ‘chick flick’ on streaming services will bring me immeasurable joy, and I am grateful to have a slice of cinema catered towards me and my experiences. However, I cannot ignore the fact that this category was most likely created as a means to dismiss female-focused media and place it on a shelf that would remain untouched by those who the category did not directly represent; namely straight, cis-gendered men.
The first problem with the chick flick category is that it is assumed that anything looking primarily at women or traditionally feminine individuals is of no relevance to straight cis men. I don’t believe that making films with the intention of attracting mainly women is a bad thing, however the problem comes with the assumption that anything feminine is unimportant. Furthermore, chick flicks tend to encompass any light-hearted film featuring a female protagonist. This covers a wealth of media with thousands of different themes that cannot all be lumped into one genre, however the commonality of appealing to women provides grounds to do so.
This only happens to women. Consider the reception and categorisation of films with similar (or, often identical) plotlines to chick flicks with male protagonists instead. Films including The Hangover, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and I Love You, Man hardly differ thematically from popular chick flicks. All feature strong friendships, hints of romance, occasional comedy, and awkward moments familiar to their target audience. So why are the female versions of these films placed into the unique category of chick flick, when each film about men is granted a genre based on its own themes and style? There is no such category for male trash.
However, this debate brings out an internal battle for me. I thoroughly believe that stereotypically feminine media is among the best and most valuable forms of media out there. In claiming that the term chick flick, or placing something under this genre, is a bad thing, it implies that femininity is bad, or somehow inferior to something that would fall outside of this category. That could not be further from my beliefs. So why does the term continue to irritate me so much? I think it comes from the lack of male parallel.
I love and embrace femininity, and in no way believe that the stereotype of femininity should be regarded as a negative thing. Defining something solely by its inclusion of femininity, however, is inherently sexist. The term chick flick insinuates that because something is aimed at, or featuring, women, it is inherently trashy, poor quality, or lacking the artistry that allow films created by and for men to be placed in the genres of thriller, mystery, drama, or comedy. This fundamentally comes down to the conception that anything feminine is inherently bad. It is expected that no female-focused film could provide any value outside of being for women, so it only needs to be categorised as a ‘woman’s film’. Things made for or featuring women are only for women, whilst films about men are expected to be enjoyed by every gender, despite the common inclusion of sexist stereotypes within them.
I am proud to love chick flicks, and will never buy into the thought that they are trashy or superficial, when films about men featuring the exact same themes are praised. However, the motivations behind creating the chick flick genre seem to come from a sexist place. Whilst it may seem like abandoning chick flick as a descriptor is the solution, I don’t believe that the rejection of a category designed to shame is the answer. Instead, it is about re-defining how chick flicks are perceived by all genders to ensure that femininity is taken as seriously as masculinity, because it deserves to be.
Image courtesy of Erik Witsoe.