Giving "chick flicks" flack

An L.A. Times story tackles the problematic labeling of "chick flicks."

Published November 13, 2005 7:16PM (EST)

I was blown away Sunday reading a really smart L.A. Times piece by Carina Chocano about the way we designate any movie that doesn't involve boxing, war, Will Farrell or an elaborate gambling ring a "chick flick."

Chocano reports that Merriam-Webster recently added the term to its 11th edition, defining it as "a motion picture intended to appeal esp. to women." Chocano is unsatisfied with this definition in that it only "legitimize[s] the already generally accepted notion that there are movies for everyone, and then there are movies for women. Like a miracle household product, it marginalizes as it defines."

She writes that the term originated "as a way to dismiss a movie so sappy or saccharine only a girl could like it." After a brief reclamation project, she writes, it has now once again "become the dread 'communist' or 'terrorist' of cinematic allegations -- one random accusation and it's all over."

Chocano's argument will ring bells for anyone who watched Cameron Diaz promoting her most recent foray, "In Her Shoes," protesting wildly -- to Jon Stewart and everyone else who asked -- that it wasn't just a movie for girls, that guys shouldn't be scared of it -- that a guy directed it, essentially, that it didn't ... suck.

"Chick flick" is a term that feminizes, and by "feminizes" I mean "degrades." I don't think a movie necessarily needs to be about women to earn the title. Let's just see, for example, what happens when "Brokeback Mountain," the love story about gay cowboys, is released next month. Howdy, chick flick.

Chocano wonders whether the overuse of the term stems from the political correctness of the 1980s and '90s gone wrong, or the still meager number of women in creative positions in Hollywood -- only 13 percent of the 7,400 members of the Directors Guild of America are women -- or from the way movies are depressingly laser-marketed at a specific, money-spending, popcorn-buying demographic.

Chocano's story is exciting in part because it's beautifully written and incisive, and in part because it feels like another strand in a post-feminist discussion of language and gender that seems to be heating up. In the past two months we've seen Ariel Levy's book "Female Chauvinist Pigs," Jill Soloway's "Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants" and, last week, Maureen Dowd's "Are Men Necessary?" -- all of which are making waves with women and men anxious to talk and write about this stuff. Chocano quotes Molly Haskell and Roger Ebert interrogating the term "chick flick," and one need only do a quick search to find recent conflagrations over "chick flick's" sister slam, "chick lit."

"The thing about coming of age in the era of post-feminism," writes Chocano, is that as "a kid throughout the women's movement, I thought feminism had largely to do with whether your mother was anti-Barbie or Barbie-neutral ... So I forget that things weren't ever thus. I forget that the culture seems to have reverted to a binary system, at least in matters of taste."

With any luck, there will be more and more pieces like Chocano's as those of us who were kids during the women's movement feel moved (or just pissed off enough) to raise our voices about what the hell has transpired in the years since.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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