September 23rd, 2020


In defense of the 'chick flick' label

Sonny Bunch

By Sonny Bunch

Published April 19, 2019

 In defense of the 'chick flick' label
There's something tiresome about being lectured at by a service you've purchased to deliver you entertainment options. I don't go to McDonald's to have the cashier inform me of the omnivore's dilemma; I'm not interested in the liquor store clerk's opinion on which distillery is best for Mother Gaia. Similarly, Netflix's woke Twitter shtick is getting old.

The #brand's injunction against using the term "chick flick" is its latest foray into advertising disguised as advocacy. In a brief thread, the site's official Netflix Film Twitter account said that the phrase should "absolutely be retired" in part because it suggests men aren't interested in romance and because we don't describe certain types of films as "man movies."

The phrase "chick flick" also "cheapens the work that goes into making these types of films," rendering them "trivial" entertainments despite their ability to make you "feel 1,000 emotions."

"Overall, there's nothing inherently gendered about liking a lighthearted film with a strong female lead and emotional arc," the thread concludes. "So next time you call something a 'chick flick,' you better be referring to Chicken Run."

Well, one problem with this suggestion is that it doesn't really make any sense - "Chicken Run," after all, is a stop-motion animated comedy, not a chick flick. We use "chick flick" as common cultural shorthand because it is a remarkably useful phrase: pithy and memorable, the simple rhyme evokes a clear image of what is intended by the person who utters it. We all know what a chick flick is because a chick flick is a common term that calls to mind a very specific sort of movie: a rom-com or a lady-buddy pic; something that will invoke tears; something that might spark feelings of empowerment.

Similarly gendered descriptions are nothing new, though the specific phrase "chick flick" is; a scan of Nexis shows no results for the term in the 1970s or 1980s, though "women's picture" gets a few mentions. Like "chick flick," the now-archaic "women's picture" calls to mind a very specific sort of movie from Hollywood's studio system, as Angelica Jade Bastién highlighted in 2016 for Vulture.

"To be the center of a women's picture means the characters had to be strong, transfixing, and willing to traverse social boundaries, even if just for a little while," Bastien wrote, noting that the movies "weren't afterthoughts for the industry. In some ways, they were given the type of prestige treatment we've come to expect from superhero films today."

"Chick flick" rose to prominence following the smash success of Nora Ephron's 1993 hit "Sleepless in Seattle." That film featured a brilliant little scene during which Suzy (Rita Wilson) breaks down while describing the plot of "An Affair to Remember" - only to see it dismissed as a "chick's movie" by Tom Hanks's Sam Baldwin.

Sam counters with an example of a guy movie: "The Dirty Dozen." Like the chick flick (or pornography), we know guy movies when we see them: brainless action movies featuring muscle-bound dudes committing acts of heroism we mere mortals never could manage. The much-maligned guy movie is as much a genre as the chick flick; an entire generation of stars in the 1980s, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis to Dolph Lundgren to Jean-Claude Van Damme, made a solid living off the guy movie. Don't even get me started on the sad fate of "Fight Club," a brilliant critique of not only consumerism and also reactionarily fascist anti-consumerism, which some dismiss out of hand as a guy movie beloved by college freshmen because some of its fans are a bit too bro-tastic.

Plus: There's nothing wrong with chick flicks. Or, to be more precise, there's no reason to allow "chick flick" to serve as pejorative rather than a descriptive. Reclaim the slur! Use it to proclaim your love for "Mean Girls" and "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Baby Mama." No one can tell you what you can and cannot like.

The demand by a corporation's social media puppet that movie lovers quit using a term for movies they love grates for a pair of reasons. The first, more reactionary, reason is that it is yet another narrowing of the language, a castigation against pithiness and accuracy in the hopes of avoiding offending someone somewhere who lives for taking offense. The other, more progressive, reason is that it represents one more effort by a multibillion-dollar enterprise to woke-wash its image, to trick the left into ignoring its rapacious capitalism because it mouths the proper platitudes.

So watch your chick flicks. Enjoy your chick flicks! And feel free to ignore the busybodies who gussy up marketing efforts by pretending they have social value.

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