Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Condoleezza Rice, Christiane Amanpour, Oprah Winfrey, Tina Fey. What do they all have in common? They are considered to be some of the smartest, most accomplished, and most inspiring women of our time. Each has been wildly successful in her chosen field, showing that talent and ability are not bound by gender.
Movies have been a little slow in catching up with this fact. Many folks have lamented the comparatively few meaty roles available for women in film. Actresses are often cast as either “Generic Wife/Girlfriend” or “Hot Chick.” Unless your first name is Meryl, the good parts can be hard to find. An equally big problem is that so-called “chick flicks” — those movies ostensibly intended to celebrate women — often do the exact opposite. Especially the comedies, which tend to portray women as mentally unstable. Yes, it’s true that, like men, women can be completely deranged lunatics. Just look at Nancy Grace. The movies would have you believe that this is the rule rather than the exception. But maybe it’s time for female moviegoers to unite and rise against.
The latest offender in the “chick flicks that hate women” category is The Other Woman, a comedy in which a loving wife (Leslie Mann) discovers that her husband is cheating on her with two different mistresses (played by Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton). This fact completely pushes her over the edge, and she vows to “make him hurt.” Most women, in this situation, would confront their husbands, then file for divorce and take half of everything. Mann’s plan is quite different, as it includes slipping female hormones into her hubby’s drink so that he grows breasts. Stop and think about that for a moment. Surreptitiously putting a foreign substance into someone’s body in order to cause an unnatural change is psychotic behavior, and yet The Other Woman wants us to view it as a perfectly reasonable option for a scorned woman. Twenty-three years ago, audiences were watching Thelma and Louise defiantly drive their convertible over a cliff, in a move intended to show that they weren’t going to let any man dictate their lives or how they felt about themselves. Today, we get Leslie Mann hysterically trying to give her husband boobs. This is progress?
The Other Woman is one of (too) many movies to portray woman as perpetually being a step away from having a complete mental breakdown. In 2009’s Bride Wars, two best friends utterly lose their minds when they learn that they’ve both scheduled their weddings for the same day, at the same time, in the same location. All About Steve stars Sandra Bullock as a woman who obsessively stalks a blind date after he tells a white lie to avoid going out with her again. The mother played by Diane Keaton in Because I Said So is so distraught about having a single daughter that she orchestrates a series of desperate, meddlesome manipulations designed to find the girl a suitable man. You Again is the story of a young woman who comes unglued and tries to sabotage her brother’s wedding after learning he intends to tie the knot with her high school rival. And let us not forget about the endless number of dippy rom-coms in which an uptight, unlucky-in-love harpie is loosened up only after falling for a carefree, down-to-earth good ol’ boy (The Proposal, Fool’s Gold, The Ugly Truth, Life As We Know It, etc.). These are only a few of the most blatant examples. There are many more. In fact, there’s probably one example for every woman who has ever lusted after Channing Tatum.
These pictures don’t exactly carry the torch for feminism, do they? In Hollywood’s view, women will lose their you-know-what if they can’t have a dream wedding, or find the right man, or hook up their daughters. What’s really pathetic is that many of these films were made by women! Bride Wars, Because I Said So, The Ugly Truth, and The Other Woman were all written by females. Many of the above-mentioned films also have female producers. So what would cause women to create movies that make members of their own gender look like certifiably crazy people? One possibility is that women in Hollywood are woefully out of touch. The more likely, and infinitely more depressing, option is that the easiest way to get the green light on a major motion picture is to feed into antiquated, male-centric notions that women are the “weaker” sex. This is not to say that there aren’t smart women making good pictures about competent heroines, but you’re much more likely to find them in the independent world than in the studio system. And while plenty of comedies make men look dumb, there’s a much higher ratio of studio-produced films making them look heroic, so that balances out.
Trying to sell crazy-woman movies to women is disingenuous and just plain bad business. Insulting your customers isn’t exactly the soundest business strategy, despite what US Air’s Twitter feed would lead you to believe. There’s also the question of what message such films send. Most chick flicks are rated PG-13, meaning teen girls can get into them. A steady diet of stories about females who behave like crazed imbeciles could potentially cause impressionable girls to believe this is what’s expected of them. Like it or not — and most of us don’t — stereotypical gender roles continue to be pervasive in our society. Would you rather have your daughter emulate the sensitive, competent, moral woman played by Brie Larson in Short Term 12 or the shallow, narcissistic, insane psycho played by Cameron Diaz in The Other Woman? The former has problems, but uses her resiliency to solve them. The latter solves her problem by putting a laxative in her cheating boyfriend’s drink so that he soils his pants in public. (Side note: there is a lot of slipping things into the guy’s drink in this horrible movie.)
At the end of the day, it is up to the audience to choose wisely when buying tickets to chick flicks, especially the female members. Patronize movies in which women are portrayed as buffoons who mentally unravel when faced with a dilemma and Hollywood will crank out more of them. Patronize ones in which women are shown to be able to handle their issues with dignity and grace and Hollywood will get that message, too. The lesson is simple: women are smart, and they deserve smart entertainment that reflects well upon them. And, for goodness sakes, if you’re a cheater, don’t drink anything handed to you by Leslie Mann or Cameron Diaz.