No matter who you are or where you live, you have probably heard stereotypes about what girls and women enjoy. Girls like pink. Dresses. Makeup. Chick flicks. Oftentimes, these statements are made in ways that are mocking and patronizing, implying that if girls enjoy any of the things listed above, they must be shallow, basic, or even stupid. It’s not a new phenomenon, either; for decades, women have chosen pants over skirts and blue over pink in an effort to be taken more “seriously” by the men in their lives.
Of course, if a woman wants to wear pants and like the color blue, that’s perfectly fine, but it becomes a problem when women feel that they have to change who they are for fear of experiencing sexism and condescension. Luckily, the reclamation of traditionally “feminine” ideas can be seen today by examining the art world, especially in the areas of film and fashion. The rise in popularity of “chick flicks” and corsets in the past two decades provide great examples of how women are taking back their power by embracing their femininity.
The “Chick Flick” Stereotype
The phrase “chick flick” may not have a very clear-cut definition, but we all know what comes to mind when someone says it: a silly movie with a female protagonist, where the main plot line typically revolves around a male love interest. Emphasis on “silly.” Unfortunately, this term has been so overused that it is frequently heard when referring to almost any movie surrounding women’s issues, silly or not. This is all too apparent when you type “chick flick” into Google; virtually any movie with a female lead will come up. And the negative connotation it carries only makes matters worse. One may not initially think that a little phrase could be so harmful, but the fact is that it communicates to women (especially young women) that the issues highlighted in
these films, which may be relatable to many women, are trivial or unimportant. Take Legally Blonde, for example. Even though one of the strongest themes in the movie is women’s empowerment, Legally Blonde was labeled a chick flick the second it was released, thus undermining many of the film’s important messages and reducing it to a comedy about a woman who wants her boyfriend back. And while the movie did enjoy significant financial success, its relevance in the feminist movement was not given as much thought as it should have.
Reclaiming Chick Flicks Today
In recent years, the feminist movement has encouraged women to embrace movies commonly labeled as chick flicks. If you relate to these films, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit it. Just because a movie stars a woman and focuses on women’s issues, that doesn’t make it automatically bad (and needless to say, it would be sexist to assume so). Hopefully, one day we will be able to destigmatize the term “chick flick” so that women and girls feel that their problems and aspirations are as valid as those of men. One crucial way this could be achieved is by making more space in the film industry for female directors; another is by increasing the portrayal of strong female characters in film, whether they enjoy traditionally feminine activities or not. The important thing is that women are valued and respected no matter what aesthetics they subscribe to; a woman’s worth is not determined by clothes she wears or the colors she likes.
Corsets: A Brief History
The corset as we know it today has been worn since as early as the 16th century. For hundreds of years, it has been seen as a garment meant to give women the “ideal” body shape (ie, a small
waist that accentuates features such as the breasts and hips). The wearing of the corset in past centuries resulted in both physical and mental harm: corsets had been proven to cause fainting spells, back problems, and even the crushing of internal organs, as well as emotional pain for the women who were forced to wear them, as the “need” to wear one signified a shortcoming for the woman in question. Thus, corsets have long been thought of as a classic example of the patriarchal nature of our society.
The Corset as a Staple of 21st Century Fashion
Given the sexist (and even dangerous) history of corsets, one might not expect them to become trendy again for a long time. On the contrary, the past decade has seen an exponential growth in popularity for the garments, with searches for them increasing by more than 100 percent in just
the last seven months. While of course not everyone wants to embrace the trend (as is their choice), many women are now viewing corsets as a sign of female empowerment; the fact that they get to choose whether they want to wear one is a departure from the misogynistic conventions surrounding corsets in centuries past. In fact, corsets today come in many different sizes and styles so that women, and anyone else who wants to wear one, can find a design they like. Not only is this a sign of women’s empowerment, but it also shows increasing acceptance for different body types that are often ignored in the world of fashion. With luck, the corset will be the first of many fashion trends that will help to empower people of all shapes and sizes, regardless of gender or appearance.
The Impacts of Art on Society
Oscar Wilde once said, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” If this is true, we can only hope that the increasingly feminist messages seen in the art world will have a positive impact on our society in the future. The more that art helps women to reclaim things once used to oppress them, the more change we will be able to see in our attitudes, as well as the attitudes of those around us. Conversations about sexism can often be hard to approach, but the help of mediums such as film and fashion could make these discussions easier to bring up; we all love and experience art in some way, after all. Chick flicks and corsets are just two examples of how women are reclaiming their femininity in the twenty-first century, but this reclamation is happening all around us. By examining these trends and others, it is clear that art can have much more of an impact on our world than one might initially think.
Isabel is a student from South Carolina who enjoys writing, drawing, and other artistic endeavors. She has a strong interest in the women’s rights movement, and hopes to contribute to that movement through her writing.