Femininity, Misogyny & Film
Updated: Feb 26
She is blonde, thin and wealthy. Her wardrobe is filled with pink. She is feminine.
And she is the conceited, cruel, villain of most early 2000s teen movies.
We know very well that gender roles are enforced from a young age, starting with the notion that boys play with Lego, while girls play with dolls, and slowly becoming that men work and provide, and women stay in the kitchen. It’s consistently ingrained in our minds that traditionally “masculine” interests and occupations hold more value than traditionally “feminine” interests and occupations. With the equal rights movement of the past few decades, we are seeing people explore their identities without confinement to these ideals and gender roles. This is a huge step forward, and we must continue to push to eliminate these constructs.
A huge chunk of media targeted at youth revolves around a similar high school plotline: New girl at school who seems to stand out in the crowd of brainless teens being targeted by a mean girl with a small dog and a fur coat. For instance, Regina George from Mean Girls or Sharpay Evans from High School Musical. These villains encompass most of what society has deemed as feminine, from their physical attributes (including thinness and whiteness) to their wealth, social standing, and interests. On the opposite side, the protagonist often separates herself from these gender roles, and while she always remains feminine enough to be the main character, she enjoys things that are typically seen as masculine. For example, she might be interested in STEM, like Gabriella Montez or Cady Heron.
"So you agree? You think you're really pretty?"
Regina George is a perfect example of a stereotypical mean girl, her and her clique likely being the reason for the movie’s title, Mean Girls. In this movie, Regina George befriends Cady Heron with
unknown intentions. Cady, convinced by her new friends Janis and Damian, sees this as an opportunity to ruin Regina George and her Plastics’ lives. Regina George enforces a hostile environment amongst her group, while simultaneously introducing Cady into her world of glamour and high social status. Cady continues to sabotage Regina by inducing weight gain, causing a breakup between Regina and Aaron Samuels, and turning the Plastics against her. By the end of the film, Cady has become so obsessed with destroying Regina that even Janis and Damian are sick of her. Yet, she gets redemption when she wins Spring Fling Queen, and breaks her crown, giving it to Regina, Janis, and many other students.
There is no doubt that Regina George is mean. She absolutely is. But so is Cady Heron (Janis and Damian too, for that matter.) Regina George and her clique are ridiculed to hell and back throughout Mean Girls, and it seems to hold a deeper meaning.
Our Internalized Misogyny
Misogyny and sexism are very prevalent issues, even in this day and age. This is oftentimes internalized by women. We begin to believe what we are taught- that feminine interests are irrelevant, that we don’t belong in the workforce, etc. Internalized misogyny can present itself in many different ways. A common manifestation of internalized misogyny mirrors these movies: feeling the need to separate yourself from femininity and distancing yourself from other women.
Ever heard somebody say that they hang out with men because women are just too dramatic? Maybe they just can’t understand why another woman would objectify herself by wearing makeup or revealing clothes. Or maybe you’ve heard a man compliment a woman by saying that she is nothing like other girls. We begin to believe that all these “masculine” interests, or even male opinions about women, hold more value than our own interests or thoughts. We try to separate ourselves from the girls we deem “extra” or “fake.” There is nothing wrong with a woman who has internalized misogyny, it’s excruciatingly common. We should instead take note of our own internalized misogyny, and work on taking control of the narrative and accepting each other without judgment.
This isn’t to say that we must boycott Mean Girls, High School Musical, The Princess Diaries, or any other movie that plays on these misogynistic tropes. Mean Girls does show us, in the end, that women don’t need to hate each other- that we can stand to love each other, instead. Legally Blonde shows us that stereotypical blonde pink-loving women can be smart, and flips the switch by making the mean girl an ambitious brunette law student. In the end, they come together and fight against the true villain of the story- a predatory male teacher and sexism itself. And White Chicks, a movie that has two Black men play as wealthy, popular white girls serves as a hilarious and much-needed commentary on a white woman’s privilege in society, especially in contrast to the two Black men who are impersonating them. Most of the movies that use these Ultra-Feminine female characters do it to get really great points across. As audiences, though, we need to make sure we don’t let them fuel our own internalized misogyny.
Because, in real life, it is okay to enjoy both stereotypically feminine and masculine interests. It’s okay to like pink, and it’s okay to like science. It’s okay to like makeup and all the things that we are told are shallow, and it’s okay to like biochem and video games. Real women and girls don’t exist as either the Popular Mean Girl or the Smart New Girl. Every woman has a unique set of skills, hobbies, and traits. It’s time to come together and embrace the many different ways we can exist as women, instead of further dividing ourselves.