April 28, 2021

ONONYE | Can “Chick Flicks” be Feminist?

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Last week I hosted a dorm event in Flora Rose House about romantic comedies titled “Can ‘Chick Flicks’ be Feminist?” As an Undergraduate Resident Fellow, I usually tailor my semester events to conversations about gender justice and equity. Romantic comedies are my favorite movie genre and I was interested to see what other residents thought about the idea. We had a great discussion ranging from whether the term “chick flick” is misogynist to tropes in the genre that promote fatphobia, racism and homophobia. 

Romantic comedies are (more often than not) a place to get strong and independent female fictional protagonists. Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) is a strong advocate for her friends, a harassment survivor and a powerful attorney. Andy Sachs (The Devil Wears Prada) abandons a life of fashion glamour to pursue a career in journalism. Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) presents a relatable high schooler who is trying to rationalize with her race, relationships and coming of age. 

There are particular ones that stand out as bad to me, such as Sierra Burgess is a Loser which presents problematic views on body image and justifies catfishing. But for every rom-com I can’t watch again, I recognize that there’s 50 I still watch overlooking their problematic presentations of women and gender marginalized people. Rom-coms are my guilty pleasure, with a major emphasis on the word guilty. 

Is it hypocritical to watch movies that go against what you stand for? I like to think of myself as someone who cares about gender justice. I read all the right books, take the right classes and follow the right organizations. But, at the end of the day, my happy place is watching rom-coms where characters hardly ever look like me, women are almost always in toxic relationships with men and where gender norms run rampant. 

This hypocritical feeling is the same way I feel about listening to rap music and R&B, two of my favorite genres that explicitly target women. As a woman, there’s no way to escape the hypocrisy of supporting a genre that oversexualizes and promotes problematic stereotypes about women except by lying to myself by saying that “I care more about the beats than lyrics.” It’s also the same way that I can’t stand how much I love reality shows like America’s Next Top Model, Love Island and Love is Blind, that pit women against each other based on their physical appearance. 

For the most part, my favorite media content does not represent who I am and the values that I care about. In full honesty, I’m not sure if that’s the worst thing. Maybe we’re allowed to live our lives with little hypocrisies.

Anuli Ononye is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at aononye@cornellsun.com. Womansplaining runs every other Wednesday this semester.