Feminism is fetch.
Movies create a more perfect reality, and that’s why people (pre-covid) paid upwards of $15 to sit in a movie theater and forget about life for a few hours, with a cherry Icee in one hand and a tub of overly buttery popcorn in the other.
There’s something about the early 2000s teen movies that bring us a sense of nostalgia. They transport us to simpler times of middle school lockers, cherry-vanilla lip smackers, stained white Converse, and trading AirHeads at recess.
The reliable plotlines are comforting, especially at a time when so much feels uncertain. The main character is awakened by an alarm clock with the sun peaking through the curtains and Hoku’s “Perfect Day” in the background, then rushes downstairs to a delicious breakfast on the kitchen table with never quite enough time to eat! There’s no problem too messy or difficult that can’t be solved by the end of the second hour when the screen fades to black and the feel good song plays while the credits roll.
Today, the High School Musical trilogy seems to be the closest we have to a “classic,” but the DCOM is unable to deliver the angst and drama between musical numbers. Netflix has taken over teen movies, but Paramount and 20th Century Fox need to take them back. Kissing Booth and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved trilogy, do not come close to iconic movies like Mean Girls, John Tucker Must Die, and Clueless. But these classics are few and far between today. Why? Think about the stereotypes they portray.
While the fashion and catch-phrases remain iconic, the stereotypes do not. Whether it’s who is labeled “popular,” “dumb blonde,” “geek,” “shy girl” who ditches the glasses, gets a makeover, and ultimately wins over “the jock”–these movies reinforce distinct gender roles and demeaning stereotypes, that we’re continuing to turn our backs against as a society.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love watching these iconic movies, but I can’t help but cringe at the way the women are portrayed - overly emotional, crazy, dumb, materialistic, obsessed with diets, guys and gossip.
In Mean Girls, “The Plastics” are the coolest clique in school, but they’re also unbearably cruel, unintelligent, and superficial. I know what you’re thinking:that’s the point, the movie is about mean girls! But can’t the story be told without having the female characters be so two-dimensional? Satirizing stereotypes only further perpetuates them, especially if the intended audience is not mature or wise enough to discern the satire.
The girls of the North Shore High junior class go crazy when the secrets and lies of the Burn Book spread around school. The girls are depicted as insane, catty, and unreasonable. I mean, what else would these girls care about besides gossip, boys, and their appearance? College applications? Sports? Of course not, that’s for the guys to worry about. Obviously, Tina Fey’s Ms. Norbury wasn’t a loud enough feminist voice in the movie to break down the raging stereotypes.
Those same stereotypes rear their heads in John Tucker Must Die, in which the three scorned lovers of the infamous f-boy, John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe), ignore their varying social statuses to team up to ruin their common enemy. Beth (Sophia Bush) is “the vegan hippie”, Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) is “the class president/type A personality”, and Heather (Ashanti) is “the cheer captain.” All three from different social stratospheres found themselves caught in John Tucker’s orbit, and all at the same time. Ugh, John John John, I guess it’s true what they say: once a cheater, always a cheater.
The movie also picks up on the “blame the other woman” reaction society has to cheating men. The group resorts to criticizing one another’s looks and dating history, throwing around the demeaning slang and labels women try to escape. It takes “the sweet, new girl,” Kate (Brittany Snow), to get them to realize the real problem is Tucker, not each other. Thankfully, Kate shares her wisdom and plain common sense–“this guy is cheating on all of you and instead of taking it out on him, you are beating the shit out of each other?”
Finally able to get past fighting one another, they join forces in their determination to ruin John Tucker by turning him into one of them, quite literally. They secretly feed him hormone pills so he becomes a stereotypical, teenage female–overly-sensitive, easily-distracted, and body-conscious.
While this gets some laughs, does it have to be at the expense of the female image? Must we exploit the labels and insulting stereotypes for a cheap laugh? Apparently yes, but not really. Not if they’re just that.
These movies are time capsules of an iconic, fashionably questionable time in pop culture history, and that’s just all they are. We can enjoy these throwbacks for what they are, and not an idealized world we saw them as when we were younger.