Gloria Steinem: In Defense of the 'Chick Flick'
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Here's a modest proposal to the young man on the plane from Los Angeles to Seattle who said of the movie that most passengers -- male and female -- voted to watch: "I don't watch chick flicks!"
So what exactly is a "chick flick?" I think you and I could probably agree that it has more dialogue than special effects, more relationships than violence, and relies for its suspense on how people live instead of how they die.
I'm not challenging your choice; I'm just questioning the term that encourages it. After all, if you think back to your school days, much of what you were assigned as great literature could have been dismissed as "chick lit." Indeed, the books you read probably only survived because they were written by famous guys.
Think about it: If Anna Karenina had been written by Leah Tolstoy, or The Scarlet Letter by Nancy Hawthorne, or Madame Bovary by Greta Flaubert, or A Doll's House by Henrietta Ibsen, or The Glass Menagerie by (a female) Tennessee Williams, would they have been hailed as universal? Suppose Shakespeare had really been The Dark Lady some people supposed. I bet most of her plays and all of her sonnets would have been dismissed as some Elizabethan version of ye olde "chick lit," only to be resurrected centuries later by stubborn feminist scholars.
Indeed, as long men are taken seriously when they write about the female half of the world -- and women aren't taken seriously when writing about themselves much less about men or male affairs -- the list of Great Authors will be more about power than about talent.
Still, I know this is not your problem. Instead, let me appeal to your self-interest as well as your sense of fairness: If the "chick flick" label helps you to avoid the movies you don't like, why is there no label to guide you to the ones you do like?
Just as there are "novelists" and then "women novelists," there are "movies" and then "chick flicks." Whoever is in power takes over the noun -- and the norm -- while the less powerful get an adjective. Thus, we read about "African American doctors" but not "European American doctors," "Hispanic leaders" but not "Anglo leaders," "gay soldiers" but not "heterosexual soldiers," and so on.
That's also why you're left with only half a guide. As usual, bias punishes everyone. Therefore I propose, as the opposite of "chick flick" and an adjective of your very own, "prick flick." Not only will it serve film critics well, but its variants will add to the literary lexicon. For example, "prick lit" could characterize a lot of fiction, from Philip Roth to Bret Easton Ellis and beyond. "True prick" could guide readers to their preferred non-fiction, from the classics of Freud to the populist works of socio-biologists and even Rush Limbaugh.
Most of all, the simple label "prick flick" could lead you easily and quickly through the thicket of televised, downloaded and theatrical releases to such attractions as:
All the movies that glorify World War II. From classics with John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, those master actors who conveyed heroism without ever leaving the back lot, to Spielberg's "Band of Brothers," in which the hero would rather die than be rescued, Hollywood has probably spent more on making movies about the war than this country spent on fighting it. After all, World War II was the last war in which this country was clearly right. Without frequent exposure to it, how are we to believe we still are?
All the movies that glorify Vietnam, bloody regional wars, and the war on terrorism. These may not be as much fun to watch -- you probably are aware that we aren't the winners here -- but they allow you to enjoy mass mayhem in, say, South Asia or Africa or the Middle East that justifies whatever this country might do.
All the movies that portray violence against women, preferably beautiful, sexy, half-naked women. These feature chainsaws and house parties for teenage guys, serial killers and sadistic rapists for ordinary male adults, plus cleverly plotted humiliations and deaths of powerful women for the well-educated misogynist.
All the movies that insist female human beings are the only animals on earth that seek out and even enjoy their own pain. From glamorized versions of prostitution to such complex plots as "Boxing Helena," a man's dream of amputating all a rebellious woman's limbs -- and then she falls in love with him -- these provide self-justification and how-to manuals for sadists.
As you can see, one simple label could guide you through diversity, and help other viewers to practice avoidance.
But if you really think about it, I'm hope-a-holic enough to think you might like to watch a chick flick after all.
Gloria Steinem travels widely as a feminist activist, organizer, writer and lecturer. She co-founded New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine where continues to serve as a consulting editor. She has been published in many magazines and newspapers here and in other countries, and is also a frequent guest commentator on radio and television.