“What’s your favorite movie?” is a very standard question, but one I have always answered with some hesitation. My favorite movies were traditionally considered ‘girly, not cult or smart enough. ‘Legally Blonde’ or ‘Twilight’ or ‘Mean Girls’, I had always said in a joking tone. Most of the movies that I’ve genuinely enjoyed and have been able to relate to on some personal level had a specific detail about them; they were made by women for women, generally a much younger audience of women, and all the movies, no matter how intrinsically funny, well-constructed or popular they were, were dismissed, the same way I was when told a group of friends that I thought Mean Girls was a great showcase of power and social dynamics. Someone just misexplained that I was just overthinking and the conversation moved on.
A specific term for such movies, first coined by Brian Callaghan in the early 1970s, is ‘chick flicks’. The term, originally meaning a sexually explicit movie, is often used in a derogatory and reductionist manner. Chick-flicks don’t use women as the punchline of the joke but are catered towards their perspectives.
Author Natalia Thompson expresses her opinion on the term ‘chick flick,’ asserting that it’s a mere “attempt to lump together an entire gender’s interests into one genre.” Thompson raises a valid point. Why are there so many genres and subgenres when a movie is aimed at a male audience? In the sense that the Fast and Furious, Bond and Star Wars franchises are all different movies with their own appropriate genres, even though they all have a similarly strong, male lead righting a villain’s wrongdoings.
This is different for ‘chick flicks.’ The Devil Wears Prada, a movie about a powerful, talented businesswoman and an overachieving intern, is placed in the same category as a film about four best friends, interconnected by a pair of jeans that fit all their body types in ‘The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants’ (2005 – 2008). These films are all slammed together in one category for their one shared trait: the screenplay is exclusively written by women with an all-female main cast, and is catered to young women.
Shockingly, female directors such as Nora Ephron, (the director of Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail), and Nancy Meyers (who has grossed more than $1 billion in the American domestic box office alone) are not household names. They are dismissed for being chick flick directors when they have consistently created successful, entertaining, and charismatic films. This observation accentuates the rooted sexism in how audiences view the genre. It fails to acknowledge that most chick flicks are incredibly interesting, politically-fuelled movies that depict teenage drama or career ambition. Tina Fey, the screenwriter of Mean Girls, told the Boston Globe that she wanted teenage girls to feel that “someone made this for me, not at me.” That’s the reason why chick flicks are so triumphant.
They bring comfort to so many young women who grew up seeing male stories in the majority of critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning films. Whereas when films about their reality, perspective, and lifetime were seen as shallow and inane.
When a ‘chick flick’ comes out, it is not a surprise when it’s a huge success. However, the stigma surrounding chick flicks propagates negative consequences for women in the film industry. Such stigma leads to an unfair decline in opportunities and respect. Although women make up half the film school graduates, they only directed 1.9% of the top-grossing films made in 2013-2014.
The best way to support female directors and casts is with your money and respect. Perhaps it’s the recent Promising Young Woman, which tells the story of a sexual assault survivor seeking vengeance, or even Amy Poehler’s brand new Moxie. Either way, catching the latest chick flick is a good way to start supporting women for all their multifaceted and complex lives.