Maybe Re-Learning to Love “chick flicks” is a Radical Act

by Emily Blake

A little over a year ago, I moved to New York City. I was 18 years old and spent my last summer at home binge-watching “Sex and the City.” Previously, this show was only known to me via re-runs on the E! Network that I would watch when I was home from school during the day in junior high and early high school. I was reminded of how the show iconically represented the returning ’90s trends when I started following the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc. It made me think about how perhaps I downplayed the significance of the show growing up.

Moving to New York as a young adult made me identify with the characters in a new and visceral way. Re-learning to love shows and movies from our childhood and adolescence became a conversation topic with fellow classmates at Barnard — an all-women’s college with a deep and complicated history with activism. Our entire lives, we had been told shows like “Sex and the City” were trivial, but in one of the most transitional points in our lives, we needed its message the most. As young women in a city like New York, we are often confined by others into a type — something along the lines of “urban artsy girl,”’ “fashion girl,” “Ivy League girl.” Though New York has infinite and diverse realms for self-exploration, there is still a tendency to lean on types. I realized one of the most important elements of a show like “Sex and The City” is the depiction of nuanced female characters.

“Moving to New York as a young adult made me identify
with the characters in a new and visceral way.”

Take Charlotte York, for example. Preppy, Smith College sorority girl is an art dealer at a downtown gallery. Though in some episodes all she says are limiting, problematic things that date her as a ’90s WASP, she will surprise you the next episode with a statement about how maybe her female friends are her soulmates, and she shouldn’t rely on men. One of my favorite Instagram accounts, @everyoutfitonsatc, started photoshopping alternative and more progressive subtitles on scenes of Charlotte. At first, you think it’s funny, and you like or share the post because you love the idea of a great show like “SATC” being more progressive and relevant to 2019. But the more you watch and read into the show, you realize it’s not that far of a stretch — especially when striving to keep in mind how “SATC” is simply a product of its time. While being cognisant of the disconnect between minor elements of these shows and modern views on concepts like intersectionality, the premise of female narrative arcs in these shows and movies begin to reveal their value as cultural artifacts with timeless elements — groundbreaking for their time.

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I see these extremely popular, somewhat new Instagram influences like @ripannanicolesmith and @everyoutfitonsatc as more of a celebration of this nuance. Revising subtitles is not an effort to change or make fun of the significance of ’90s/2000s “chick flick” influences; it may even propose a radical idea. By recentering the influence of ’90s and 2000s “female” shows, we may be able to re-harness the potential of the “chick flick” to learn more about ourselves and what we have been taught. The dynamic of a nuanced, complex, realistic female friendship in and of itself have been restricted from most of us during our upbringings because of biased views on the “chick flick” — meaning anything centered around fashion, female-focused narratives, and overall just the lives of young, single women must be trivial.

“In reality, [Elle Woods] had a 4.0 GPA, an almost perfect LSAT
score, and probably went to a top prep school.”

The scene in Legally Blonde where the Harvard committee watches Elle’s admissions video is primarily funny in a, “Oh she got into Harvard because she’s hot” way. In reality, she had a 4.0 GPA, an almost perfect LSAT score, and probably went to a top prep school to end up at fictional CULA, based on top university, UCLA.* Legally Blonde is a classic “chick flick” for all the best reasons — iconic outfits, funny lines, and good people winning in the end. 

By unlearning that the cardinal rule of the movies like Legally Blonde exist solely based on “unlikely” characters and plots, we begin to unlearn how we have been taught that women can’t be nuanced.

*More on this topic: @ripannanicolesmith

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