There are many problems to tackle when it comes to women and Hollywood; if it was all tiptoeing and daisies, this column wouldn't exist. To make things even peskier, most roadblocks can't be destroyed by one simple action. Each has a complex universe of factors keeping any seemingly simple desire -- like better female protagonists or women behind the camera -- from being fixed by one, two, or even three steps.
But there is one small, yet horribly irksome problem that could be fixed pronto. It does not require overhauling the studio system. It's just a simple change in phrasing -- one that doesn't require new language, and doesn't make any cinematic wording any more complicated.
It's time to abolish "girl films," "guy films," and any variation thereof. (Yes, "chick flicks" too!) Let's "use our words," people.
While my biggest pet peeve in life is probably the terrible pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists that impede travel on a daily basis, this antiquated notion of "girl films" and "guy films" is definitely in the top five. It's been a thorn in my side for as long as I can remember -- not just for the nails-on-chalkboard phrase itself, but for the attitudes that come along with it.
Whether interested in a film or not, I would usually choose to go along with the guys. This was not because of a complete affinity to all things "boy" -- my interests rest somewhere in the middle -- but because I wasn't going to let people assume my tastes based on what was in my pants. I had quickly learned that this system of categorization was a flawed, as I gushed over The A-Team just as much as Grease 2. Over the years, this defiance led me to gems like Evil Dead 2, while also leading me to suffer through grody fare like Faces of Death.
To add to the irk, I was sick of the assumption that went along with any interest or appreciation of something classically girlie. I had to be armed with hardcore favorites at all times -- my defensive shield against the nod or condescending "of course" if I professed a love for Girls Just Want to Have Fun or other romantic fare catered to the young girl demographic. Out would burst dialogues about the Kumite, Arnie popping out his eyes in The Terminator, or how the Ricky the Dragon Steamboat needed to beat Macho Man down for the ring bell attack to the throat. There seemed to be no room to love both. If you professed love for "manly" fare, you were one of the guys, and if you liked something romantic, it wasn't surprising because you were a girl.
My Pulp Fiction-laden dorm room circa 1995.
Sometimes I wonder if my Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs posters were just as much cinematic fandom as they were gendered rebellion.
It's no different today. Either way. Girls are shuffled down one avenue and boys down the other. Of course, the rationale behind the use of the "girl films" and "guy films" differentiators is understandable -- when a mob of Twi-hards are mostly girls, or a number of male children of the '80s flock to Transformers, that pesky moniker gets attached. When the majority skew one way, it gets labeled by sex.
But that not only invalidates or questions those who don't fall into neat sex groups, it's also unnecessary. To say, for example, that Twilight is a film for girls says nothing more about the series than "overwrought teen romance." In fact, the latter says a whole lot more. (Not to say that "girl films" and "overwrought teen romance" are interchangeable, of course, but that in the minds of those who divide tastes by sex, those descriptions will lead to the same opinion without faulty discourse.) This isn't like the challenge of coming up with pronouns that aren't sex dependent, or those who want to change words like "women" to "womyn" to avoid the "men." It's simply removing a useless phrase that never adequately describes a film, and always manages to then invalidate or marginalize those that don't fit within the pesky barriers.
What drives me the craziest is that this isn't some example of misogyny, or a complaint that can only be lobbed at ignorant or narrow-minded folks. It's everywhere. I see feminists define women's experiences as distinctly different from men's experiences, and argue that men and women like different things -- that those preferences are not interchangeable -- as if it's all that neat and tidy. It isn't. It's not that hard to look around and see any number of men and women who defy the barriers of sex. Take a look at the Cinematical roster and you'll see die-hard female geeks, horror fans, action freaks, and more. There are women who love The Hangover just like there are men who pay to see Nicholas Sparks films. (And let us note Sparks' sex as well. This tear-wrenching writing doesn't come from a woman.)
I'm not a man because two of my favorite cinematic experiences were seeing Bubba Ho-Tep or Snakes on a Plane live, with a mass of fans throwing small snakes in the air or hooting at penile sores. Likewise, I may be a Gemini, but I'm not some multi-sexed person with split personalities that make me a boy at times and a girl at others. The same person who is desperate to see Evil Dead: The Musical in the splash zone again is the same gal who saw Love Letters twice on-stage in one summer.
If we can't resolve this simple issue, how can we expect any other troubles to be fixed? In this day and age, we should be able to like what we like, hate what we hate, and -- most certainly -- be able to tease people for their tastes without resorting to lazy sex insults and categorization.