Don’t You Feel Cheated?: Why Chick Flicks Are Bad for You and Bad for Society

When we hear the term “chick flick,” we generally think of the standard romantic comedy or a heavily emotional drama focusing on so-called female issues concerning relationships and/or family. Personally, I have always found these films to be particularly insulting for a number of reasons, including the fact that the movies of this “genre” aren’t well made. They are formulaic in plot, character development, theme, and have virtually no creative merit. But the main issue and interest that I have with these movies is that they represent an extreme social problem. Chick flicks continue to uphold degrading stereotypes, preach to women how they are to behave and what is expected of them, and contribute to distorted ideas of romance.    

In actuality, chick flicks have been around for a long time, originating in the 1940s as “the women’s film.” The main difference between then and now is the films of the 40s, such as Mildred Pierce (1945), Now Voyager (1942), and Rebecca (1940), try to discuss female struggle through class issues, repression, and lack of options. Many of the films today gloss over such things and instead focus on romanticism – and false romanticism at that.

Not to say that the treatment of women in the films of the 40s was perfect – far from it. Rather, the films of today are not as socially aware as the films of the past, and this lack of awareness is even reflected in the change of terminology used to identify such pictures. The term “women’s film,” which may be sexist in notion, still upholds a certain respect for women because it identifies the target audience as being a part of the human race. The term “chick flick,” on the other hand, is dehumanizing and possibly offensive, referring to women as small and brainless beings. 

This aside, the themes and outcomes of the women’s film and the chick flick are remarkably similar. Typically the focus ends up on a heterosexual romantic relationship – that is, in finding solace and validation through a man. This ending is a staple of the genre. Whether the female characters are spunky and independent or down trodden and scraping by, their answer for finding happiness is always in men. For example, in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding (2002), Toula (Nia Vardalos), a shy, unassuming woman, doesn’t really come into her own until she finds “love.” In Juno (2007) the protagonist of the same name (Ellen Page) walks to the beat of her own drum, but in the end she still needs validation from a boy. Sex and the City (2008) tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), a successful freelance writer who simply cannot function until her ultimate dream of marriage is realized. I could go on forever. 

The fact is that these films, targeted toward women audience members, are a direct reflection of how our society views the female gender. Stereotypes reign supreme in these films, and the abundance of them poses a problem. Collectively looking at films of this genre, we can see that our ideals and standards of behavior haven’t changed all that much from what they were before the feminist movement: women are supposed to be primarily interested in romantic relationships, getting married, having children, and not having much of a life of their own.

Some of the movies are even hostile in their portrayal of successful career women, often stripping them of their humanity until they are tamed by love – which implies that the situation has actually gotten worse. The first example that comes to mind is the Sandra Bullock vehicle, The Proposal (2009). Margaret Tate (Bullock), publishing queen, is a nightmare of a person. She’s mean, uncaring, and self-absorbed; to put it bluntly, she’s a bitch. But love softens her black heart and saves her from deportation.

And there are countless other films that do the same thing, dating back to the 80s through today, which make a clear message that women who seek independence and careers are failures as human beings. They are not redeemed until they take their proper place in domesticity.

Women alone shouldn’t be the only ones to take issue with their portrayal in these films; the treatment of men (which often goes overlooked) is typically equally problematic. Men are frequently portrayed as dishonest cheaters and incapable of commitment. This portrayal has the potential to simply perpetuate a vicious cycle of distrust between the two genders that is all too tiring. Some women believe that most men are liars and they have to “trick” them into a relationship, and some men are led to believe that women are clingy, shallow, and dying to tie them down. 

The chick flick robs people of their humanity and validates the worst stereotypes for both genders. In addition, it fuels the vapid and materialistic side of our society, with its unrealistic expectations of love and twisted view of what romance actually is. People tend to see romance as giving and/or receiving flowers, fancy dinners, vacation getaways, and a tiffany engagement ring. The chick flick certainly indulges in these beliefs and fantasies and even takes them further through climatic scenes in which one character must travel a great distance to reach the other simply to say “I love you” after a stupid misunderstanding or before some other life-changing event happens and the loved one is lost forever.

These films do everyone a disservice not only through their reliance on stereotypes but also through supporting the Valentine’s Day value that love is material. True romance isn’t found in expensive jewelry, the planning of engagement photo shoots, and fairytale weddings. It’s when someone holds your hair back for you when you’re throwing up; it’s being comfortable sitting in silence and simply enjoying the other’s company; it’s helping the other out with something that may be incredibly inconvenient for you at the time. These things are real.

On a positive note, there are some good films that, without relying on stereotypes, emerge from the saccrine sludge formula of the chick flick to create something enjoyable and meaningful. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) is a classic for a reason. A friendship develops into a romance after a good stretch of time, and the reasons why this happens make perfect sense because of the great character development. Both perspectives are taken into account and a very honest portrayal of relationships unfolds before us. In addition, Benny and Joon (1993), starring Johnny Depp, is an off-kilter romance between a shy eccentric genius (Depp) and an assertive paranoid schizophrenic (Mary Stuart Masterson). The basic premise of the film is set up early with the question, “What does it mean to need somebody?” While You Were Sleeping (1995), moreover, is rather predictable but quite funny and has its sentiment in the right place. Also, As Good As it Gets (1997), which in my opinion has one of the best scripts ever written, explores all types of love and the human need for connection over common romance. And, more recently, the terrific Waitress (2007) is more about finding your own personal bliss than romantic love, and the lesser known Ceremony (2010) takes a sincere look at unrequited love without the Hollywood ending.

Stereotypes abound in all film genres, but the chick flick is certainly a gross offender, particularly in the portrayal of women. The very name of the genre sums up the films that it’s used to describe and the attitude toward the women in them: brainless.

What I wonder, though, is why do we not have such a term for the action film? They are primarily geared toward a male audience, focus on macho ideals of what makes a “real” man, and are loaded with testosterone fueled explosions and gun fights. If romances are primarily known as chick flicks in our culture, then surely action films should be called “dick flicks.”

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8 Comments

  1. "What I wonder, though, is why do we not have such a term for the action film?"

    The term 'broflick' can start here and now.

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  3. Pingback: Feeling Manly?: Defining the “Dick Flick” | Cultural Transmogrifier Magazine

  4. You seem a woman obessed with stereotypes. The actual genre you are discussing is romantic comedys, and either you lack any sort of emotions, or you must have had a horrible life. All humans spend their lives searching for companionship. Comantic comedys have a variety of characters, plots, and concepts and most people can relate in some form or another. You're "writing" seems to have a very negative tone, condescending and bitter, not just in this article, but all of the ones I have read. Maybe you need to find something you enjoy and write about that, not just bash things that make people happy because you are miserable.

  5. A previous comment attacks the author rather than her points. It accuses the author bashing things that make people “happy”. Just because something makes someone happy doesn’t mean that there don’t exist legitimate faults worth discussing.

    Perhaps the author hasn’t had a horrible life and is capable of feeling emotions. Perhaps it is possible that someone just is curious about the ideas that are presented implicitly in some movies; and that it may be productive to present constructive criticisms in a logical discussion.

    I agree that many romcoms teach young women to value the wrong things. I believe that many in Hollywood would rather cash-in on outdated and childish ideas of romance. I enjoy movies such as Mulan and Enchanted. Movies that portray women as strong individuals rather than emotional wrecks whose only hope is convincing or tricking a strong man to pull everything together for her with some cheesy dialogue and flowers.

    The implicit ideas that poor romantic comedies propagate I feel put the genders at odds and thus get in the way of women finding true companionship. Companionship based on real things. Companionship based on things such as shared experiences, common interests, and mutual respect.

  6. Pingback: Heather Hudson » Chick Flicks: What’s the Big Deal?

  7. They are dangerous but not really for the reasons u say. They are dangerous because they say ‘find the one’ and all else will follow. They always end at the start of a relationship I e the honeymoon part and show nothing of the realty of relationships. They encourage women to think that there is a true one love which is baloney. So in real life when the honeymoon part wears off a lot of women become bored etc and look elsewhere for ‘the one’. These films are as damaging to men as to women.

  8. This is a great article. I believe these chick flicks are portraying an unrealistic picture of relationships. As guy who used to watch these, I would often romanticize to a level where all common sense would go out of the window, because it was the idea of having found the one.

    It was so crazy, because the other person often lacked any basis of character to sustain a long term relationship. At some point in time I realized something needed to change. Because there is no way the way I thought would have sustained a marriage. I did not have a foundation for healthy conflict in relationships because you always had to keep up the facade of perfection and romance. My change was to identify where the influence was coming from to think like this. Of course, I would lay it on the door of chick flicks, but there surely were a diet that was defining my thought processes.

    These shows influence society and people. I have many friends in their 30 who are still single and are not proactively searching for healthy companionship because they maintain the belief that the one will come. I walked into the a house of older girls in their 30’s watching a chick flick, and I thought – this is the reason why they are in the predicament they are in. Single and not doing real life to cause real relationships. What about those who materialistically rejected us in their 20’s … Now they are in their 30’s and single because they let these movies idealize life and relationships.

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