Sunday, January 15, 2012

Movie Rant: Why I Dislike the Term 'Chick Flick'

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
In the year since I got Twitter (@laura_grande13) I've become a bit obsessed. It has introduced me to a whole bunch of film fans from around the world and I'm grateful for it. It has also led to some interesting conversations, like the one I had earlier this week about the term "chick flick."

I recently got a comment from some guy who was writing in response to a tweet I wrote regarding the fact that I wasn't a big fan of the movie Love Actually and that I'd never actually seen The Notebook. The guy responded with: "Pfft. What kind of woman are you?" What the what?! Apparently, all women are expected to swoon over tales of romance and unrequited love. I guess we all love movies where a woman has to sweat it out for two hours before a guy finally admits that he loves her. Well, I never got the memo. I didn't say anything in response to the guy's tweet (which is very unlike me), but it irritated me to no end.

A few days later, I got into a Twitter discussion with a follower of mine about the term "chick flick" and we went back and forth discussing the reasons behind our intense dislike of the term (many other women, and some men, that I know also loathe the term). But before you say we're merely overreacting, hear me out.

First of all, I think "chick flick" shouldn't be classified as a genre (or sub-genre) -- most movies of this type arguably fall under the category of romantic comedy. Or even a romantic drama. A "chick flick" suggests that the film will likely be fluffy, formulaic, far-fetched and devoid of a decent script -- i.e. something only women will (and should) enjoy. It stereotypes women in terms of their sex, suggesting we all want the same things in life, i.e. marriage and kids. It's that assumption that only certain movies appeal to women and are, as a result, somewhat of a "lesser" film because of it.

That being said, I realize that not everyone objects to the "chick flick" label. I even know some women who use it themselves and don't find anything wrong with the term. But, I can't help my reaction towards it.

Gender specific genre terms are unnecessary. For example, Die Hard is an action movie -- it's not a "male action flick." Sure, most action films are lambasted by critics the same way romantic comedies tend to be (for a lot of the same reasons, too); however, an action film is never brushed off and dismissed with quite the same flippant attitude that comes with a movie labelled as a "chick flick." I think the label "chick" in and of itself to represent the female gender is derogatory, but that's a whole separate issue.

Naturally, there's our understanding that films are marketed to a specific target audience; obviously certain films will appeal to certain types of people. However, it should never be used to automatically assume an audience. But that is, unfortunately, what happens and the majority of the film-going public buy into it. For example, I love Die Hard but I really, really disliked Pretty Woman. So what does that mean? According to Mr. Twitter Guy, it means I'm not making a "regular woman" choice when it comes to films. But, what it really means is simply that I liked one movie more and didn't enjoy the other. That's it.

Bruce Willis in Die Hard
So, when I see a trailer for a movie starring Reese Witherspoon or Kate Hudson, they aren't "chick flicks", they are romantic comedies. And romantic comedies just aren't my cup of tea (with a few exceptions like Bridget Jones' Diary, for example). It's not because I'm rebelling against a stupid term, but because romantic comedies just aren't usually my bag, and that should be fine.

It's alarming how often movies that aren't even romantic comedies are considered "chick flicks" simply because the cast is mainly comprised of women, like The Help. Yet, male-dominated films, like something directed by Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese, for example, are films, not "prick flicks" (as Gloria Steinhem wrote).

I know a couple of guys in my life who enjoy the odd romantic comedy (Notting Hill, in particular, comes to mind), yet you'd be hard-pressed to see them admit that outside of their circle of friends. And that's just silly. Why does one's gender have to be a factor in which films we like?

Like what you want to like. Watch whatever film you prefer. Despite the fact that the Hollywood studio machine tells us that certain films are geared towards specific audiences, don't buy into it. I'm tired of people assuming I love Julia Roberts' romantic comedies simply because I'm a woman (it happens more often than you'd think). My favourite film is The Godfather -- because I love film and I think it's a great one. But I also love An Affair to Remember and I still bawl when I watch Titanic.


  1. A film is a film no matter what kind of audience it appeals to. I don't like the term "chick flick" either because I feel it limits the audience when someone else who isn't a fan of that particular genre can check it out. I think of something like Pretty Woman as a romantic film that is funny and romantic enough for the ladies but also have the kind of humors and every-man element that guys can go for. Mr. Twitter Guy obviously doesn't have the kind of taste that you and I have as far as the films we like to talk about.

  2. It definitely is limiting ...and unnecessary. And then it causes gender stereotypes when it comes to a film's audience.

    I think Mr. Twitter Guy will be his official name from here on in. ;) Thanks for the comment!

    1. The most disheartening aspect of the 'chick flick' thing is that you felt compelled to write an article devoted to why you don't like them or the term itself. I think that speaks to how...this is going to sound venomous, how simple minded a lot of people are when it comes to movies.

      Therein lies the consistent conflict when it comes to categorizing movies. It definitely helps in some respects, but at the same time can be incredibly limiting and be a function of stereotypes.

      I appreciate your article even though I wish you weren't in a position where you had to write it to explain yourself.

    2. What is more frustrating is when film critics use it. The issue itself was, interestingly enough, brought to my attention by a male film critic. He took objection to the term and, when I first read his article about why he hated it back when I was in high school, that's when I started noticing how frequently it popped up.

      I would have no problem if these movies were just categorized as what they were: romantic comedies.

      Thanks Edgar!

  3. haha I love this! I would have had the same reaction to that first tweet as well. By the way, I never got that memo either. It's funny because I used to be a huge fan of romatic dramas above any other. You know, the ones with a heavily depressing love tale that usually ends with at least one death. I grew out of that when I started expanding on the type of movies I watched. Now I almost always prefer a central story other than a romantic relationship. I don't mind it being connected in somehow but I've gotten tired of seeing the same thing over and over again.
    I think it's all an issue of being used to seeing too much of one type of movie, just like you have the guys who only watch action, sci-fi, or sports flicks. It's all stereotypical though. And you're right about that not getting quite the same kind of label.

    1. Romantic comedies/dramas do tend to be formulaic but I totally get the appeal. I enjoy quite a few of them myself, even though it isn't my favourite genre. I only object to their being termed "chick flicks."

      Thanks for the comment, Rebecca!

  4. We had a similar discussion about literature in one of my courses at university. Books written by women are usually considered to be directed towards a female readership, while books written by men are considered to be enjoyed by a universal audience, leading to the conclusion that 'female' literature isn't as important as 'male' literature since it is only relevant for one half of the population. It also indicates that there are 'female' subjects in contrast to universal subjects.

    I don't want my gender to determine my taste in literature, film - art in general. I love Love Actually and consider The Godfather to be an amazing piece of film. I think Pretty Woman is average, but had a lots of fun watching Casino Royale, and not because as a woman I'm expected to drool over Craig's abs, while the male population is supposed to enjoy the 'true' essence of an action film. People need to start thinking out of their boxes and accept that taste isn't linked to gender, even if this idea is still force-fed to us via the media and other institutions.

    1. Well, with regards to literature you can often hear the term "chick lit" thrown around, much in the same way as "chick flicks." Also, women are often referred to as a "woman novelist" ...instead of just a novelist. It's like saying: "well, this was written by a woman so it won't be *quite* as good as something a novelist writes, but you might find it somewhat appealing."

      Taste definitely isn't linked to gender but it's amazing how often people still think that way (case in point, that random tweet I got from that guy). Women, and men, are a lot more complex than that.

  5. I love this and completely agree. Why Hollywood production companies and publishing houses can't abandon the idea of gender specific audiences will forever astound me. The dollar signs shouldn't lie, at this point. When the bulk of the audience for a violent thriller from David Fincher comes from female ticket-buyers, why are they trying to jam schlock like New Year's Eve down our throats?

    Also, coincidentally, I just got into a massive argument about "The Notebook" at work. A woman I generally quite respect confessed it was her favorite movie and insisted that my complete disregard for it was 'weird' and 'unfeminine'. Um, yeah, right...

    Seriously, though, if you haven't seen it don't bother. Just pretend Ryan Gosling has always been involved with prestige projects and Gena Rowlands is still working with Cassavetes...

    1. Hollywood still sometimes works under the old assumption that movies have to made specifically for a female audience, i.e. romantic comedies. I don't dislike the fact that there is a romantic comedy genre ...I take exception to the fact that it's labeled a "chick flick" and comes with the assumption that all women prefer these types of movies.

      I definitely don't plan on watching The Notebook. It's frustrating when other women buy into those labels.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  7. "chick flick" is typically used only in reference to films that are heavy with emotion or contain themes that are relationship-based (although not necessarily romantic as many other themes may be present). This term is also applied to some films that reach general audiences. The old term "Women’s pictures" was derived back in the yearly 50's. I use the term quit often. I find myself enjoy a few chick flicks. This term has nothing to do with "only women". It’s there because it mainly attracts the female audience. And you ladies can't deny that. Just like shoot'm up action movies attract more men than women. I call them dud flicks. And just like chick flicks it mainly attracts men. And I'm sure this also attracts women too. My wife calls them chick flicks because she understands the term. She is not separating the word "Chick" in reference of a female. Like most of you.