Hear the term “Chick Flick” and what comes to mind? A girlie rom-com Pretty Woman or Bridget Jones’s Diary? A female-driven comedy like Bridesmaids or a musical like Mamma Mia? Or is it a tearjerker like Love Story or an emotional teen flick like The Fault in Our Stars? Hell, it might even be something more action-oriented, like Thelma & Louise or Wonder Woman.
And herein lies the problem. Just what the heck is the term “Chick Flick” trying to say?
Wikipedia suggests it’s “a slang term for the film genre dealing mainly with love and romance which is targeted to a female audience”.
New Yorker film critic David Denby seems to concur, albeit with the stipulation that only “if the story is dominated by the women’s point-of-view, by a woman’s emotions and desires…” (p. 145).
In a 2017 Op-Ed in the New York Times, Gloria Steinem describes a chick flick as a film that “… has more dialogue than car chases, more relationships than special effects, and whose suspense comes more from how people live than from how they get killed.”
I think Deborah Barker in her highly recommended book Chick Flicks puts it best:
“The chick flick has been defined variously as escapist entertainment for women, simply as films men do not like, as examinations of capable independent female characters and their empowerment, as emotional ‘tearjerkers,’ as tales of female bonding, and as the antithesis to male-oriented action films”.
In a similar vein, if we employ “Chick Flick” to describe absolutely any film that’s intended to appeal to females, we’re reinforcing polarizing stereotypes—what it means to be a woman and also what it means to not be a woman.
Trying to commodify an entire gender’s predilections in a single genre is not only absurd and reckless: it’s insulting. Here is a quick analogy to demonstrate why:
Once upon a time, Crayola had a crayon color they labeled “flesh”. In fact, the color was (and is now officially called) “peach” – an important distinction, because while “peach” refers to a pinkish-yellow shade on the color chart, “flesh” refers to “skin,” which we all know comes in a wide variety of tones. However, by labeling only the peach-colored crayon “flesh,” Crayola was implying that peach was the “normal” skin shade, thereby suggesting any other shade was, well, “other.”
In a similar vein, if we employ “Chick Flick” to describe absolutely any film that’s intended to appeal to females, we’re reinforcing polarizing stereotypes—what it means to be a woman and also what it means to not be a woman—by expecting women to favor films that adhere to socially acceptable feminine subject matter and ideals, while simultaneously threatening the masculinity of any man who might find them appealing.
Trying to commodify an entire gender’s predilections in a single genre is not only absurd and reckless: it’s insulting.
The term also imposes gender where gender shouldn’t (and mustn’t) apply. It’s rare we use the term “guy flicks” or “dick flicks.” Rather, we speak of “Actions,” “Westerns”, “Adventures”, “Comedies”, “Thrillers”, “Sci-Fis”, “Horrors”, “Mysteries” and “Noirs” with the understanding that these films are not restricted to male appreciation, nor are they expected to appeal to every single male. Yet, if we add a female protagonist, a romantic focus, or display overt emotion, chances are the general movie-going populace will revert to calling it a “Chick Flick.” Thus, male-dominated films become “normal” and anything else becomes “other.” This thinking leads to the production of fewer female-driven stories as the majority of studio-financed films are targeted at young males (for more on why see my previous article “Beyond the Bechdel Test”). https://iconema.com.mx/beyond-the-bechdel-test/?lang=en
So, how do we fix this snafu in our system?
I suggest we follow Crayola’s lead. Let us choose genre labels that have clearly defined, collectively understood and accepted meanings. The label “Chick Flicks,” as already demonstrated, does not. In an ideal world, we would employ gender-neutral categories like the ones mentioned above. Alas, since the damage has already been done, there will be times, especially in this blog, where discussion of these topics renders gender neutrality impossible. That being the case, when necessary, we will employ the term “female-targeted films” so as to put the onus on PR folks and not on societal realities. Just because a film is marketed to females does not mean it speaks to all (or, in some cases, any) of our diverse, individual aesthetics.
Just because a film is marketed to females does not mean it speaks to all (or, in some cases, any) of our diverse, individual aesthetics.
Next up: The F word (and why it’s not so bad)!
In the meantime, here’s some surprisingly worthwhile light reading from Wikipedia to offer more background on this subject:
And some additional links on the history of the term “Chick Flick”:
MTV offers a great breezy historical overview of the term claiming, “The earliest known use of the phrase, from the Bergen County Record in 1988, described movies with heavy erotic elements, such as ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,’ ‘Twilight People’ and ‘Black Mama, White Mama,’ which the newspaper called “another chick-flick set in a slammer in the Philippines.”
A former ballerina turned filmmaker, published fiction author and part-time film academic, Devi Snively is a proud alumnus of American Films Institute’s (AFI) Directing Workshop for Women and invited participant to the 2017 inaugural AFI/Fox Studios Bridge program. Her films have screened at over 500 festivals worldwide, garnering awards, distribution and critical acclaim.