Feminism in Chick Flicks

Sex in the City Shopaholic

"The ideas associated with postfeminism and the presumed conflict between feminism and postfeminism are central to any consideration of chick flicks, which can be viewed as the prime postfeminist media texts" (Ferriss and Young). Before analyzing whether these films have a feminist discourse it is important to distinguish the difference between the two types of feminism, feminism and post-feminism, in our culture today and to explain the elements of post-feminism which I will be using to help analyze this genre of film. According to Ferriss and Young in their article "Chick Flicks and Chick Culture" in the 90's women's presence in American culture started to increase. Women were increasing their roles in media and therefore women's significance in contemporary culture began to amplify. This opened up a phenomenon known as Chick Culture from which chick flicks developed. In the 1970's the word "chick" was considered an insult by many feminists who believed the term meant women were "childlike, delicate, fluffy creatures in need of protection and guidance or as appendages to hip young males" (Ferriss and Young). The feminists of the time believed this was a setback in their movement to make a society that was gender neutral. For post-feminists this term has been used to express solidarity or unity and empower women. Feminists focused on political movements, resisted patriarchy, changed the hegemonic characteristics of femininity, and resisted pop culture. Post-feminism, on the other hand, incorporates five aspects important to the study of chick flicks.

1) Attitude

2) Rejecting the blame feminist put on patriarchy

3) Individual choice on how to be feminine

4) "a return to femininity and sexuality"

5) Having "pleasure in media-driven popular culture and an embracing of the joys of consumerism"

(Ferriss and Young)

Since pop culture places such an important role on deciding the role women have in contemporary culture, then the films made for female audiences, should be in support of the feminist movement and help shape a better future for the audience it is set out to reach. "Chick flicks illustrate, reflect, and present all of the cultural characteristics associated with the chick post-feminist aesthetic: a return to femininity, the primacy of romantic attachments, girl power, a focus on female pleasure and pleasures, and the value of consumer culture and girlie goods, including designer clothes, expensive and impractical footwear and trendy accessories-the admission of girliness, they [post-feminists] argue, doesn't mean the loss of female independence and power" (Ferriss and Young).

While the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic presents many negative feminine stereotypes, it also presents this type of argument for post-feminist in which women can be fashionable, have a career and find romance. Some of the feminists' elements chick flicks bring to the table are the ideas of having a female support system and a sisterhood (which are two important aspects of not only post-feminism but feminism as a whole) as well as embracing women independence. The films Just Like Heaven, A Cinderella Story, and Legally Blonde show women's independence through female protagonists who don't wait around for prince charming to come to the rescue but instead the damsels in distress save themselves.
In A Cinderella Story Hilary Duff plays a girl named Sam, whose dad remarries after the death of her mother, and soon after dies in an earthquake, leaving her with her evil step mother and two evil stepsisters. She then falls in love with an unknown fellow student in an online chat room. After meeting him (a character portrayed by Chad Michael Murry) at a school dance and recognizing him as Austin, the school's most popular football player, she decides not to disclose her identity. Sam works at the local diner once owned by her dad but now run by her stepmother.
Once her identity, the local diner girl, is disclosed to Austin, by her evil step sisters, Austin doesn't know how to react to the sudden shift of Sam's social status. However, instead of waiting around for prince charming to acknowledge his love for her, Sam takes matters into her own hands. Sam confronts Austin by telling him "I never pretended to be someoneelse its been me all along. And it was me whowas hurt in front of everybody...I came to tell you I know what it feels like to be afraid to show who you are. I was, but I'm not anymore and the thing is I don't really care what people think about me cause I believe in myself and I know things are going to be okay. But even though I have no familly, no job, and no money for college its you that I feel sorry for. I know the guy who sent thatose emails is somewhere inside of you , but but I can wait on you to figure it out. Because waiting on you is like waiting on it to rain in this draught, useless and dissappointing." Later she finds her father's will; stating she owns everything the stepmother once possessed. A Cinderella Story goes against the discourse of femininity, the belief that women are reserved, quite, dumb, just sexual figures, and lacking self-confidence, by showing that women can be independent in this patriarchal society. Sam walks into the boys locker room and stands up for herself in front of Austin's whole team. She shows that she is brave, intelligent, and has self-confidence.

In the film Legally Blonde, Elle (Reese Witherspoon) ends up upstanding the male antagonist of the film (her ex-boyfriend who told her he needed someone more serious if he was going to be a successful person), by going to Harvard and then being selected to take on a high profile law case with the help of another professor. In the end of the movie Elle's ex approaches her, telling Elle he made the wrong decision and wants her back. Elle looks at her ex and tells him "If I'm going to be a partner in a law firm by the time I'm 30, I need a boyfriend whose not a complete bonehead." By upstanding the male antagonist and beoming sucessful without him, Elle shows feminity by seperating herself from the belief that women need males in order to succeed in life.

In the movie Just Like Heaven, a post-feminist remake of the classic film Sleeping Beauty, "the film's protagonist lies in an accident-induced coma [Unlike the original version of sleeping beauty] our sleeping heroine will not simply lie around waiting for her prince to come. Rather, her spirit detaches itself and goes out to find him and she must 'wake' him so that he can appear just in time to wake her" (Ferriss and Young). In this film, like the other three, the heroine saves herself instead of waiting on a male figure to "rescue" her.

These films show independence from patriarchal restrictions and change the hegemonic discourse of women, by showing women as independent, strong, and confident, which is an inspiration to women all over. Most films show women in need of men to solve their problems and support the hegemonic belief that women are co-dependent, insecure, and weak.


Another characteristic of chick flicks that is presented to their audience is the importance of having a sisterhood or support system. Movies such as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Legally Blonde, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Head Over Heels, and Sex in the City are a few of the chick flicks that comprise this feminist idea into the plot. Having a "sisterhood" is a key theme in the rhetoric of feminism. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Sex in the City are both films about a group of friends who face different challenges in life but who, with the help of each other, are able to overcome their challenges.

For instance, in Sex in the City the female protagonists all join together to solve each one of the challenges each other faces. For example, after one of the characters, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), is left at the alter her friends all aid her back to not only forgetting his mistake but also forgiving him. With the help of all her friends Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) finally resolve their problems and get married. Also, in this film we see one of the friends fix her marriage, another end a relationship, and lastly overcome a troublesome pregnancy. By engulfing the film in problems some women may face and showing their audience that women can have a support system is benificial and positive to the chick flick's audience.

Legally Blonde, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Head Over Heels all employ protagonists who rely on a group of friends for support and advice. These films help show that women can lend a hand to each other and thus make the assistance of men unnecessary. Another way chick flicks act as a means of bringing together sisterhoods is by the films themselves bringing actual women together. "The pleasure women take in chick flicks is not a purely self-centered or solitary one...going to the movies is often an experience women share, rather than pursue individually" (Ferriss and Young). Since women are able to enjoy these films together it allows them to share an experience with each other and therefore create a bond, which is very important in creating the feminist support system.

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