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For this discursive essay I would like to answer the question: In relationship with feminism, how did the portrayal of lead male characters in chick flicks change in the past decade? Chick-flick is a slang term used to refer to films that deal with personal drama and relationship-based stories, often appealing to a young female audience. According to Cuthbert, this particular genre of film is very popular among women because in chick flicks women are allowed to be successful protagonists of their stories. It gives the audience hope that they, too, will be successful and will find their perfect match. However, filmmakers and producers tend to oversimplify the stories, following formulaic plots of what they think their consumers would watch. They think that the female viewers prefer the traditional masculine, pretty boys so the lead male characters they include usually have those characteristics. A lot of these lead males were even in the military – just to emphasize that ‘manly man’ character (we can see this pattern in Nicholas Spark’s famous movies). We can rarely see male characters who show emotion and vulnerability. To quote a young adult romance novelist, Emma Grey, “The thing about rigid, prescriptive gender roles is that they rob all of us of our chance at full humanity. So, while women are told they can’t truly understand things like video games, rock music, or sports, men are likewise told not to enjoy things like dancing, fashion, and big-hearted love stories.”
When we try to re-watch the movies from 1999-2009, we can observe that a lot of them follow the Taming of the Shrew master plot. We can see rich, brooding boys paired with the gentle girl. Usually, these boys are captains of the varsity team and if not, they are closely associated with the captain. They’re one of the jocks who date cheerleaders or the group of alpha bitches (women who usually boss around and set the trend at school). The usual plot starts from an accidental meeting or disagreement and somehow, they eventually spend more time with each other and fall in love. In this process, the gentle girl is supposed to see the golden heart of the brooding boy in spite of his rude, often violent behavior. Afterward, she will try to ‘fix’ him – bring out the better person in him, and because the guy already likes her at that point, he will actually change. Some of the movies that follow this plot are the very famous A Walk to Remember and 10 Things I Hate About You. A Walk to Remember features a rebellious teenager, Landon Carter, who, because of drinking on school grounds and hurting another student, was punished with community service and required participation in a play. In this process, he became close with Jamie Sullivan, another schoolmate who he asked to help him out for the play. In spite of Landon’s behavior, Jamie still liked him, saying that she saw something good in him. Eventually, Landon changed and their relationship strengthened, but it ended sadly because apparently, Jamie had severe leukemia. Meanwhile, 10 Things I Hate About You is about Kat Stratford whose sister asked for someone to date Kat so that their father would also let her date, someone. Patrick Verona, a guy in their school who was rumored for doing illegal and mature things agreed to be paid to date Kat. They started with disagreements especially when Kat found out about the deal, but as expected, in the end, Patrick was revealed to be a good person and they became happy together.
This kind of story may seem cute or harmless to some and argue that the male character’s previous actions are okay because at least he has changed. Others may even justify the rude actions and say that if it were not for the initial disagreement, they wouldn’t have fallen in love with each other. However, stories like this are not completely harmless. There are cases where female viewers tend to dream for having relationships with “bad boys”, leading them to settle for unhealthy relationships. Those who say that stories from films should not be taken too critically because “it’s just a movie” do not understand how powerful the influence of popular culture is. Media communicates social norms and values and when the same thing is always presented, it becomes normalized, legitimizing the acceptability of such values. With the rise of feminism, women are getting more informed when it comes to noticing red flags. In line with this, they now point out possibly problematic points in films and advertisements, not condoning the commodification and sexualization that has been going on for years. On a good note, more people are accepting the rise of feminism positively and we can now see a change in the gender roles in movies and in the pattern of characters. According to Radner, there is a parallel transformation in the preoccupations of the so-called woman’s film. She said that the meanings of terms like chick flick are not static and that “they evolve as society’s understanding of gender evolves”.
As years went by, the popularity of these “Jerk Jock” characters has reduced. Observing the movies from 2010-2019, this kind of portrayal seems to be shifting. We can see the change of personalities in the characters of some of the most famous young actors of this generation – Noah Centineo, Timothee Chalamet, and Freddie Highmore. Contrary to the previously popular traits of male leads which are vulgar, dumb, and athletic, their characters are a bit awkward and anxious yet smart. They also admit to be unsure of themselves, making these coming-of-age films more realistic and relatable for the audience. To understand this seemingly rising trope, I have decided to analyze three films – The Perfect Date, Miss Stevens, and The Art of Getting By. The personalities of the lead male characters in these films differ but all of them charm the viewers in their own way. Brooks Rattigan from The Perfect Date represents funny high schoolers who are easy to be with, Billy Mitman from Miss Stevens represents the emo kid who turns soft when he is with someone he likes, and George Zinavoy from The Art of Getting By represents that awkward kid that people date because they turn out to be very kind and interesting. In comparison to the traditional masculine depictions that feature a military background, sporting contests, and outdoor activities, these male characters are more into arts and theatre. They can also be seen being emotional and sentimental, showing extreme expressions when they are happy or when they are really frustrated. However, while the range of male characters has somehow improved, there is still much to change in how the female characters are presented.
In order to improve these chick flicks and for it to properly represent women, filmmakers can start by trying to understand how diverse our society really is and how the people’s struggles and interests differ. Other than the stories of the white, middle-class, heterosexual females, chick flicks can show lesbians and/or indigenous women. Chick flicks may also have males as target audiences and feature characters who break the stereotypes of masculinity, normalizing men who show emotions.
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