A must-read LA Times article about how the “chick flick” title ghettoizes and marginalizes women’s experiences. Any movie that shows women’s experiences, or that caters to a female audience, is immediately labelled a “chick flick,” implying that it’s less serious, less important, and unappealing to male audiences.
And it’s a blanket category at that, the smothering kind. It has made it so that a movie like “Wedding Crashers” is simply considered a comedy, whereas movies like “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” (a satire with female characters) or “The Sweetest Thing” (a raunchy comedy) are considered chick flicks — even when they share more in common with contemporary mainstream comedies than with the “women’s pictures” of the 1930s and ’40s from which, Athena-like, they are supposed to have sprung.
Like many reclaimed pejoratives, “chick flick” remains a volatile term. You can tell by the way some handle it gingerly and others lob it like a grenade. For example, in July 2004, O magazine published an article ranking the “50 Greatest Chick Flicks of All Time,” which included Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” at No. 11. That point was echoed in an interview on Canadian television in which Daldry said of his movie, “I don’t think this is a chick flick at all. I think there are real serious issues about how we live our lives and change our lives that are relevant to everybody.”
…because a “chick flick” doesn’t deal with serious issues, and can’t be relevant to everybody.
In other words, by lumping all movies about women into the same category, quality female-centric movies are put in the awkward position of having to assert their quality by denying the female-centric label. So much for reclaiming.
And the chick flick label has very real effects for female directors who seek to make movies that represent their own experiences.
But where male directors may wave it away with a grumble and move on to something else, the threat may be more serious to female directors trying to bring women’s experiences to the screen. In a recent interview in Slate magazine, writer Pamela Paul posed this question to director Niki Caro, whose movie “North Country” tells the story of the first class-action sexual harassment suit: “Both ‘Whale Rider’ and ‘North Country’ are stories about female empowerment. Do you worry about being marginalized as a woman director of films for women?”
“Yeah, I do,” Caro replies, “because that’s not what I do. I don’t see myself as a crusading feminist filmmaker. Not at all…. Personally, I have nothing to prove. But I’m tremendously curious about human nature. Female life is so incredibly under-explored in cinema, so these stories feel very exotic.”
Forget, for the moment, the weird characterization of Caro’s movies as being about female empowerment. (Are “Free Willy” and “The Insider” stories about male empowerment, or are they just stories about a boy and his large sea mammal, and of a lone crusader and his big, bad corporation, respectively?) Think instead about the philosophical gymnastics required to present oneself as a cool enough chick to be OK with being called a chick, but not with one’s movie being called a “chick flick,” because that would imply it’s silly, or histrionic, or a turnoff. Caro’s carefully worded response is incredibly freighted with the difficulties of trying to make art from human experience when the experience in question is female.
Read the whole thing, and try and ignore the post-post-feminism bits.