As women, we have been conditioned to embrace, but also be ashamed of the term “chick flick.” Films that are supposedly made specifically for the female population but have a stigma attached to it, they’re associated with cheesy romances, melodramas, musicals, and anything with emotions involved. Through all of this, women typically are at the forefront of the story.
Mean Girls, Clueless, and When Harry Met Sally are all famously categorized as chick flicks, as if it’s a scarlet letter, burning with shame. Despite having quality stories about women overcoming obstacles, they’re automatically seen as too girly or too fluffy as if those were toxic traits to begin with. As we’ve been slowly unraveling in the past few years, the patriarchal society has taught men to repress their emotions and embrace their masculinity by dismissing positive films about women. If it’s a drama about female pain, then it’s acceptable, but if it’s a film about female friendships (say, 2017’s Girl’s Trip), then it’s not “masculine” enough for men to relate to in the eyes of a studio. Why are men expected to be catered, story-wise characters and everything in between, while women are expected to relate to stories foreign to their own?
To dismiss all female-led films as chick flicks is to dismiss female stories as not serious, and trivializes the stories that women have to tell outside of the context of the men who surround them. Nora Ephron perfected the romantic comedy in When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle and was nominated for Academy Awards for best screenplay for both of those films. So often, films that talk about the female experience are marketed, as chick flicks, even if that’s not what they truly are in the final edit, thus shedding it of any kind of credibility, often times before the tickets can even be bought. The fact that the term itself is seen as a negative is problematic in and of itself. As soon as that term is used, uninformed men roll their eyes and “brave it” for their girlfriends in hopes of getting laid after. Men are conditioned to go in already hating a woman-centered film and don’t even give it a chance to see its potential.
With the romantic comedy currently going through a renaissance, we’re starting to get quality films that don’t just focus on a woman mope over a man. In Netflix’s Set It Up, an overworked assistant tries to save her boss from a doomed relationship; in Mamma Mia 2, we see a positive portrayal of a single mother trying to care for her daughter; and in Crazy Rich Asians, a middle-class woman is trying to immerse herself in her boyfriend’s culture and family.
Despite the positive message for women and girls, we were taught to see these films as guilty pleasures throughout the years, rather than anything of substance but even in a genre that’s supposedly a safe haven for women actresses and filmmakers, it’s still getting taken over by men. Comedians like Judd Apatow have basically rebranded the chick flick for male audiences, making them beloved by major studios. Films such as Wedding Crashers, and I Love You, Man are frequently referred to as classic comedies while completely disregarding their roots in the dreaded chick flick.
While it went as a seemingly harmless term for years, deeming a film a “chick flick” dismisses the female narrative as sappy and melodramatic in a single phrase. It reinforces this belief that female stories shouldn’t be taken as seriously as male stories. If films like Crazy Rich Asians are classified as chick flicks, I’d like to start calling films such as The Hangover “dick flicks.” That way, every film can equally be degraded by gender.