The Chick Flick Fact…er, Myth (TV/Film Myth #4 About Women

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Posted by Firebird.

My earliest exposure to the Chick Flick Myth came from the murder mystery series, Diagnosis Murder. It starred Dick van Dyke as a doctor cum detective and Barry van Dyke as a policeman. In one episode, Barry van Dyke’s character met a woman he really liked, and for one of their first dates they ended up at a video rental store.

And here was presented The Chick Flick Fact… er, Myth. The policeman finds some rip-roaring action flick and is met by the erstwhile girlfriend who is holding Sleepless in Seattle. I don’t remember how they resolved the dilemma, but I learned my lesson well. Boys like police cars and robbers and guns and explosions, and girls like… well, whatever kind of movie Sleepless in Seattle was. When I was a little older and learned what a chick flick was, I retained that impression in the back of my mind where all the other filters and prejudices of ignorance reside until challenged.

Flash forward to about six months ago. I was on the phone with a guy that I’d agreed to go on a second date with. He was suggesting movies, and his suggestions were: some movie with “dance” in the title that was apparently about a dance instructor who has an affair with a married student, and another drama/romance type movie. I suggested tentatively that neither of those movies sounded very interesting, and we ended up seeing Saw, which is about a serial killer who plays games with his victims. Once my date caught on that I wasn’t going to make him see a chick flick, he got this relieved sound in his voice and told me how rare I was. I accepted this statement without question; both of us were good little brainwashed TV watchers.

But is it really true that women prefer chick flicks to any other type of movie, on all occasions? Am I the only woman in the country that would rather see Saw than a movie about a dance instructor and a married person having an affair? It occurs to me that TV is not necessarily a measure of reality; just because every woman on TV likes Chick Flicks doesn’t mean every real woman does. Rather it means that TV writers think that every woman likes chick flicks, which is a different matter entirely.

I’ll be honest. Most of the time I go to the movies with a guy friend or a group of guys, and the last time one of my girl friends watched Star Wars with us, she fell asleep (it was after 11 on a Friday night though). But when I think about the women that I’ve known and worked with, I find that there is much more variety than you might think. Some women I talked to while I’ve been thinking about this said that they liked comedies, romantic or otherwise. Another likes dramas and history and “things that could really happen, like the Exorcist“. (Remind me not to use her as an objective sounding board for reality!) My mother liked Star Trek and bequeathed to me a love for all things sci-fi. Another girl I know watches only documentaries, and my roommates have seen every movie that has ever come out, I swear. My best friend loves tragedy in romance, the dark and morbid tales like The Phantom of the Opera (and she’s happily married with a baby).

My favorite story is the time I went into a movie store and decided to see if the store clerk could give a recommendation of a movie. So I asked for a Chick Flick, because she was a teenage girl and I assumed that would be an easy category for her to suggest. I didn’t really want a Chick Flick you understand; I just wanted to know if the girl was able to recommend a movie appropriate to a customer’s request.

Not only was the girl at the counter unable to recommend even one Chick Flick, there were a total of seven teenage girls working in the video store – talk about overstaffed! – and not a single one of them was able to recommend a movie. The original girl finally recommended a horror movie she’d seen recently and liked “if you like those at all,” she said.

I was shocked, not so much that one girl might not like Chick Flicks, but that an entire store full of them couldn’t come up with a recommendation. And of course, good customer service would have required them to know how to recommend movies whether they liked a genre or not. But what I failed to recognize in that situation is that there is nothing inherently strange about a group of girls not liking Chick Flicks outside of the assumption that all women like Chick Flicks all of the time.

I’ll admit, I do rent and even enjoy romantic movies sometimes, when they aren’t silly. But I think from now on I will refuse to accept the mental guilt of being a strange woman”¦’cause the fact is, women are different and different is good.

Comments

  1. redbyrd says

    See, I never got chick flicks. My sister and I were always first in line for every action or SF movie going, and we rated them on the number and quality of explosions not to mention whether they had good martial arts.

    My s.o. and I went to the movies on one of our first dates- we had to decide between Titanic and Deep Impact and a few other forgettable selections. So Titanic would be the perfect date movie, right? Wrong.. we said, ‘hey, the boat sinks at the end.. let’s go see the Earth get blown away instead’. No surprise that we’re still together (even though I have been known to ditch him and go out with a couple of his friends to see Jackie Chan.. good fighting isn’t enough for him by itself).

    I’d say there are a lot of women who watch things other than chick flicks- (And yeah there are women who do like them. I worked with a bunch of them)- but I also think that you’re going to find more of the non-chick females on this forum. The kind of person who prefers chick flicks probably isn’t someone who thinks deeply about how female characters are portrayed.

    Yeah, I’m generalizing. But visual media is insidious. It requires nothing of the viewer- the viewer can *choose* to watch intelligently, question what is going on, and think about the implications. But I believe that a lot of people just open up their brains and let whatever is on the screen pour onto their synapses.

    Contrast this with reading. Reading, no matter what you’re doing, always requires at least some participatory brain activity on the part of the reader. [Lois Bujold ( in her collection Dreamweaver's Dilemma) wrote a lovely essay on how books live as much in the brain of the reader as they do on the page- the writer only creates half the story. ]

    So how does this relate to the topic?- simply that I have to wonder if TV writers, by portraying women in this fashion, may actually create the phenomena they describe. Possibly the first writer to use this was thinking of it as a characteristic of one particular woman or character, but as it grew into a stereotype it began to educate generations of viewers as to what the ‘default woman’ must be like.

    One of these days I really need to sit down and write the article ‘TV as as an agent of cultural entropy’…

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I do believe TV writers are generating and perpetuating their own fantasies – such as “all women need men to be happy”, for one example.

    It seems to me a lot of people are happy to have their brains programmed by someone else – they often seem to think letting someone else do their thinking absolves them of responsibility for their own actions. I don’t agree, and I’m afraid I’m not very sympathetic to people who ascribe to myths and stereotypes because they’ve seen them on TV. I treat them like I would treat someone who says, “I’ve studied and researched carefully, and arrived at the conclusion that women are inferior to men”.

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