Thursday, June 26, 2014

Welcome to Girl World

Mean Girls is a 2004 teen comedy film directed by Mark Water, director of Freaky Friday, and written by Tina Fey, “Saturday Night Live” former head writer. Recently the film celebrated its ten-year anniversary and has become a classic film that is still quoted today. It is based on the book “Queen Bees and Wannabees.” The film stars Lindsey Lohan as the protagonist and features a supporting cast of Tina Fey, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, and Lizzy Caplan. This comedy is about the alternately funny and terrifying pecking order among teenage, high school girls. Cady Heron (Lohan) begins high school after spending most of her life in Africa and was home-schooled. Cady then gets introduced to all the different stereotypes of the student body: the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, and so on. Cady eventually finds herself involved with “The Plastics,” three rich, popular girls led by Regina George (McAdams). The film takes the viewer further into the world of high school girls with back-stabbing, name-calling, spreading rumors, and so on. The Representation Test is a tool to evaluate onscreen diversity, engage in conversation about representation in film, and to encourage broader diversity in and surrounding the making of movie ( There are a total of 27 possible points, resulting in an alphabetical grade. Although Mean Girls passes the Rep Test with a relatively high grade of a “B,” it does not break much ground in raising the level of diverse representation in the film. Also worth discussing the film’s merits and drawbacks in this area, the Rep Test fails to give an accurate, fair picture of whether this is a high quality, inclusive picture.

            The result of the Representation Test for Mean Girls was a “B”, which was not surprising at all. Starting with evaluating “Women,” the protagonist of Mean Girls is a woman, Cady Heron. The film follows her experience into the girl world of high school after being home schooled her entire life. The women in this film are represented more than “objects for the male gaze.” Although some of the women, primarily “The Plastics,” are definitely “objects for the male gaze” and look like Barbies, this film primarily deals with girls of all shapes and sizes and their journey in finding their place in a clique. There are women in the film with speaking roles who have diverse body types. Apart from “The Plastics,” another main woman character with a speaking role is Janis Ian. She is completely opposite of “The Plastics” with black hair, dark colored cloths, lesbian rumors, and more. Janis plays a huge part in helping Cady destroy Regina throughout the film. Mean Girls also passes the Bechdel Test, a test for female representation in movies, because two or more women talk to each other about more than just men. The film actually has more female characters with speaking roles than male characters. Even though this film receives quite a few points for the category “Women,” the protagonist is still a white woman who is under the age of forty-five, and there is stereotyping of every girl in the film. It does not really matter what color the girl is or whether they have a speaking role or not. Every girl is stereotyped, especially in the “Burn Book,” a notebook filled with rumors, secrets, and gossip about the other girls and some teachers. Mean Girls passes the Rep Test when it comes to portraying women, but just barely. While the movie definitely plays into clichés, and stereotypes about women, Lindsey Lohan as Cady avoids becoming the typical screeching, selfish teen. She is centered and shows a quiet self-confidence and maturity that helps the movie up its rating.

            Mean Girls receives a few points for the category, “Men,” on The Representation Test. The film definitely avoids “glorifying violent men.” None of the men in this movie are violent at all. The only violence seen in this film is between all the angry girls in the hall who find out what their stereotype is. The principal of the high school, Mr. Duvall, is a black man with a speaking role who does not get reduced to racial stereotypes. He is a man that the girls take seriously, and even stops the riot Regina causes in the hallways among all the girls. The film also includes men in non-stereotypical roles. A great example would be Damien. Damien is Janis’s best friend and on of the funniest characters in the movie. According to Janis, Damien is “almost too gay to function.” He is also the only guy who is featured in the “Burn Book,” This means that Damien almost passes for a girl, which shows that he is not a male character in a stereotypical role. Even though not all the males have that ideal look for men with muscles and “eye-candy” for women and never directly says anything about “an extreme and unhealthy body ideal,” the film does not avoid perpetrating that. Cady’s love interest and Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels, has this body image for men. When Cady sees him, she is instantly attracted to him and wants to talk to him. The most popular girl in the school, Regina George, also dated him before and during the film. This could be an indirect pressure to guys to look a certain way if they want to date beautiful, popular women like Regina. With a title like “Mean Girls,” one would expect the focus to be on the girls. The men are represented in this movie in a surprisingly positive way as teachers and friends. However, some of the representations of the boys as boyfriends and prospective boyfriends is the reason for not achieving more points in this area.

            Mean Girls did not score any points in the sections “Race, Ethnicity, and Culture,” “LGBT People,” and “People with Disabilities.” Although different races and ethnicities are represented as students and teachers, every girl is stereotyped about all different ways. The film cannot possibly avoid stereotyping people on race, ethnicity and culture. This even shown in the scene where Janis is telling Cady about all the different cliques where two of the stereotypes mentioned were “unfriendly black hotties” and “cool Asians.” There were not any LGBT people in the film. Cady, the protagonist, was not lesbian, gay, bisexual, or a transgender person. Gay and lesbian were only mentioned a few times during the film: one was the rumor that Janis was a lesbian, and the other was Janis calling Damien “too gay to function.” Since they kiss at the end of the film, it is hard to tell whether Janis and Damien are actually straight or not. The film does not feature anybody with disabilities who really has a big story line. There is one girl in a wheelchair who says one line in the film, but that is minor. In addition, Cady does not have any disabilities.  The movie tries to be inclusive in the area of LGBT and disabilities, but these characters play such a minor, confusing, stereotypical, and almost invisible role in the film that it fails to score any Rep Test points. Damien surely could have been portrayed more sensitively and believably as a gay male since he was a good friend and had a strong role in the movie.
            According to Understanding Movies, “Today there are about two dozen women… working in the mainstream Hollywood film industry, and their presence has made a difference” (432). The movie does score bonus points because a woman, Tina Fey, who uses her comedy talent to teach young girls while making them laugh at themselves too, wrote the screenplay.

            This film deserves a rating of three clipboards simply because it is a waste of time to concentrate on whether Mean Girls, or any other movie, really deserves an “A” or “D” according to some checklist. There are many sensitive, inclusive movies that would achieve a low grade on the Representation Test for reasons that have nothing to do with the scoring method. They simply might not have many characteristics or a broad representation of characters, or by being male action figure oriented. The Rep Test is clearly a goal for what movies must achieve if they want to avoid being labeled sexist, racist, anti-gay due to its writer, female lead protagonist, inclusion of a gay person and those of diverse color, race, and ethnicity, it is clearly filled with clichés and stereotypes by design. It is meant to be a “Chick Flick” aimed at and showing girls behaving badly, and to be thought provoking for teens. It is also meant to be hilariously, wildly, and even stupidly entertaining at the same time in the eyes of its teenage audience, so it can get its message heard whether it passes the Rep Test of not. Maybe that is not a good thing for a movie, but it achieves that particular goal.

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