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Movies That Are Good For Girls

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As longtime readers may know, I used to work with teenagers of the female variety, and I noticed that the only movies they would watch were awful Hollywood rom-coms. In other words, they were living on a steady diet of stupid.

myboyfriendthinksimfatI wrote a post a while back, shaming a few “bad movies for girls” – but now I’m stepping it up. I’m not just bringing problems, here; I bring solutions. So, what movies would be good for these teenage girls (and anyone else) to watch? What movies are out there that offer solid alternatives to the ol’ “I need a boyfriend, wah!” formula? I’ve made a list of movies that I wish those teenage girls would watch instead of No Strings Attached. If they ever felt like watching some light entertainment that didn’t end with Matthew McConaughey laughingly mocking a woman and then planting his face on hers*, I would like them to have some options.

* Notable examples of this trope include:¬†“You throw like a girl” (Sahara, 2005); and “Bullshit!” (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, 2003), to which he romantically adds, “You heard me. Bullshit”.

I ran all the movies I could think of through the Bechdel Test before selection. If you’re not familiar with Bechdel, passing the test requires that the film includes:

  • at least two (named) female characters
  • who talk to each other
  • about something other than men.

The movies listed below pass that test with flying colours. (It’s harder than you’d think! Apparently only half the movies in cinemas at the moment pass it.) I also chose these movies on the basis that I just like them. They’re entertaining. They suggest that maybe – maybe – it would be feasible to make more films about diverse female experiences. I know my life consists of somewhat more than just “wah, boyfriend” (although that’s in there, too), so it would be nice to see the movie options out there reflect that.

So here are five movies that I think are pretty good for girls:

1. Stick It (2006)

Angry girl is angry! For reasons that have nothing to do with boys! Also, she is a kick-ass gymnast. She and her teammates learn to put personal ambition aside and work together to shake up Big Gymnastics. It’s a gorgeous example of overcoming petty competition in favour of communal thinking. And, thank the heavens, they weren’t competing over men. To top things off, this movie’s got some rad athletic scenes, set to a cool soundtrack. I’d much rather hear girls quote this movie than the Bring It On franchise, as this one gives the mean/angry girls a bit of depth, compassion, and even redemption.

2. Pitch Perfect (2012)

Similar set-up to Stick It: angry girl is angry, joins in a team competition with much eye-rolling, and eventually leads her new friends to victory. But this take on a familiar trope is just so. Much. Fun. With a capella singing groups battling each other on campus, heaps of screwball characters, and Rebel Wilson declaring herself the “best break-dancer in Tasmania” … I mean, I’m in. There is a half-baked romance in the wings for the protagonist (Anna Kendrick), but it’s pure exposition for her character. The real triumph is her relationships with the other girls.

3. Brave (2012)

Made for a younger market than the other films on this list, but such a beautiful story from Disney-Pixar that I had to include it. This Disney princess resists being socialised to accept her fate as someone’s wife, and takes matters into her own hands. The central dynamic is a mother-daughter relationship – rare for Disney films – and it is handled beautifully. I cry every time. Every damn time.

4. The Hunger Games (2012)

Katniss is a bad-ass archetypal Artemis figure who shoots straight, takes no shit, and will do anything to protect her sister. At first I wasn’t sure if this one would pass the Bechdel Test because Katniss spends most of the movie interacting with Gale, Peeta or Haymitch (two of whom fancy her) … But then my housemate (a man) reminded me about the beautiful scenes between Katniss and Rue, the young victor from District 11, in which they teach each other to survive.

In fact, the narrative plays with the romance genre by introducing a “meta-romantic subplot” – Peeta and Katniss must act as star-crossed lovers in order to survive the Games. Is the love real? other characters ask. Or is it just what the audience in the Capitol expects? I think somewhere in there are the traces of an interesting commentary on how our culture consumes romance.

5. Mean Girls (2004)

Did someone say “YOU GO GLEN COCO”?? After reading Queen Bees and Wannabes in the early 2000s, Tina Fey bought the film rights to the book and BOY DID SHE USE THEM. I am using so many capitals because I LOVE THIS FILM. This came out just after I finished high school, and ten years later I still hear teenagers quoting it. Fey certainly hit a nerve with this story of a high school newcomer who learns manipulation at the hands of girl cliques. It explicitly addresses problems with the way girls behave towards each other, and does so in a hilarious and highly-quotable manner.

To the guy who told me he would never watch Mean Girls because “What, it’s a chick movie”, I say GO EAT A HAT. Iron Man; Yes Man; Cinderella Man; Spider-man; Bicentennial Man; Lord of War; Iron Man 2; The Dark Knight; The Last King of Scotland; I Love You, Man; Spider-man 2; Children of Men; The Men Who Stare At Goats; X-Men; Men In Black; Man On The Moon; and Spider-man 3 – I’ve watched ’em all, and ENJOYED them (even Spider-man 3, no matter what people say), and I still have all my lady parts in tact. Oh, you know what, just read this.

"She doesn't even go here!"

“She doesn’t even go here!”

But, Bridesmaids ..? Some may remark upon the absence of Bridesmaids (2011) from this list … But I felt that it only barely passed the Bechdel Test. Yes, there are many female characters, but they do mainly get together to talk about men. And when we get a blockbuster Hollywood comedy written by women with a leading cast of women, it’s still centered around a wedding. I think this movie is hilarious, but I’m not sure it offers a great alternative to traditional patriarchal narratives. That said, I nearly cracked a rib laughing at the ‘airplane scene’.

Just a quick point: I recognise that my list of movies representing “diverse female experiences” is doing a great job of privileging young, white, hetero, first-world girls’ experiences. I get that. I would love to watch more diverse female characters on screen, and I welcome suggestions of movies to watch that can help me outside this bubble.

My overall hope is that we’ll see more movies being made that represent the rich diversity of human experiences, especially in the comedy/romance genres. There are so many more types of people out there! Let’s get their stories into teenage DVD collections, too. C’mon now.

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Five movies that are bad for girls

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For most of last year, I worked at a private boarding house for girls. I was a “housey”.

My boarders were very bright, active, educated young women who could keep any housey on her toes. When lining up for dinner, they were fierce analytical negotiators. At bedtime they were tireless prosecutors. (“But miss, you let the Year 8s stay up for Glee!”) They navigated the politics of teenage girldom with strength and canniness and a freakish understanding of their complex social web.

But when it came to Movie Night, they only wanted one thing. Stupidity. Frequent, continuous stupidity. Preferably delivered to them in a cute dress.

They wanted the stupid, vapid, often offensive films grouped under the umbrella of “rom-com”. They wanted them without exception, and they would accept no other genre.

I despaired of the boarding house’s DVD library, which contained almost exclusively films about romance (with the exception of Milo & Otis … which is really more of a bromance). In school, these girls were privy to the best academic education our state had to offer. But their education in love and relationships was informed by How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.

So, for months, I had to watch Amanda Bynes finish every story arc with “See! It’s OK that I’m a strong woman, because look, boyfriend!”, while my brain screamed to itself.

I tried to counteract this pro-stupid bias by delivering mini-seminars at the end of each movie. “Alright girls, who could see what was wrong with that ending? Should she have risked her career so that he wouldn’t feel ’emasculated’?” My lectures were met with replies such as “Shut up” and “Miss, don’t ruin this for us”.

I watched nearly all of those movies with the girls (and quite a few in my spare time). I’m not saying I don’t enjoy watching them. I do. I really, really do. But I also watch other genres of film, and, I might point out, I have enough life experience to realise that Matthew McConaughey is not going to sweep me away on his motorcycle. Those rom-com stories are all about exceptions to the norm: weird – and therefore funny – situations. But the girls watch them uncritically, accepting them as their ideal romance. When they collectively cooed in awe as Edward decided he did, after all, want to be with Bella, after breaking her heart and abandoning her without explanation, I wanted to bash my own head in.

So, rather than bash myself (because then the rom-coms win!), I choose to word-bash these films in this blog. I choose to NAME and SHAME.

I wanted to title this list “Top Five Movies That Young Girls Shouldn’t Watch Without An Accompanying Lecture And Discussion Workshop Analysing The Oppressive Discourses At Work On Them”. But it wasn’t snappy enough. Here, instead, is my list of Five Movies That Are Bad For Girls.

5. Friends With Benefits / No Strings Attached / any film in which casual sex leads to the guy falling deeply in love with the girl

These movies are just setting girls up for a fall … and possibly herpes.

4. Pretty Woman

Prostitution leads to the guy falling deeply in love with the girl … See above.

3. 10 Things I Hate About You

Yeah, I know, BUT HEATH LEDGER! I agree. He is dreamy. And while I adore this film, the ending makes me go “But whaaaaat?” Let’s remember that Heath spends most of the film conspiring with a motley group of teenage boys to trick Julia Stiles into dating him so the other guys can swarm on her sister. Somewhere along the line, Heath actually begins to notice that Julia’s a rockin’ babe. However, he continues to accept bribes to date her, and lies to her about things like quitting smoking. Julia finds out and, hurt by his betrayal, gets mad. Really mad. (Not surprisingly.) Still the bravest person in the film, she expresses her bewilderment in a poem that rhymes really badly. Heath listens with a pained expression. With so much trust lost between them, and such a betrayal on Heath’s part, you’d think it would take something huge to– oh wait, he bought her a guitar. He bought her a guitar! Rather than do something trite and mediocre like APOLOGISE, he bought her a guitar. And when she expresses her need to rebuild trust with him, he stifles her by forcing his face onto hers. All is better! Cue grunge music!

2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Pointing out chauvinism in the Twilight series is like shooting fish in a barrel, so I’ll keep this brief. Bella loves Edward! Edward loves Bella! But wait, Bella’s blood makes Edward’s family want to kill her. Bella wants to work through this problem, because their relationship is important to her, but Edward knows what is good for Bella BETTER THAN SHE DOES. He dumps her, without explanation. Bella is sad! Bella sits on a sofa without moving for several months! Then she jumps off a cliff! Only solution when your boyfriend leaves you! Wait, Edward needs her! Then, ignoring safety for herself, Bella needs to help him! Edward’s back, yay! He’s chastising her for not understanding that he did it for her own good, but he’s back! All better!

1. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days

This blog post begins and ends with Kate Hudson. I’ve probably seen this movie upwards of a dozen times. It’s like a bag of stale popcorn: if it’s in front of me, I’ll probably finish it. Yet, the ending never fails to make me mad. The set-up of this film is that Kate Hudson is bored with her job writing fluff pieces for a women’s magazine. She wants to write about politics, world events, substance! Matthew McConaughey is a jock with an overwrought torso who boasts that he could make “any woman” fall in love with him within 10 days. (What a catch!) Something something they fall in love something then they find out they’re both being played and things fall apart. Clearly, their relationship (which only began less than two weeks ago, I’ll point out) was built on shaky foundations. There is a lot of trust lost. Out of this fiasco, Kate finds the strength to quit her boring column, and leaves New York pursue her dream job. Yay Kate Hudson! But wait, who’s this driving his motorcycle recklessly through peak hour traffic? It’s your dream guy! The one who sees women as interchangeable and dated you on a bet with his boss! He’s telling you not to leave him, because he JUST REALISED he loves you, and he thinks it’s stupid for you to move to Washington for your job, because HE is in New York! “You can write anywhere!” Duh, Kate Hudson! Now he’s ordering your cab driver around and singlehandedly deciding that you’re not moving, after all. Aren’t you lucky that you have such a handsome, strangely-tanned man to make decisions for you? BLERGH.