(SPOILERS I know it’s difficult to believe there are people out there who haven’t seen Mean Girls but they do exist and their rights to a spoiler free existence must be catered to. If you are one of these unenlightened few I urge you to rectify your position at once, you need not continue living this dreary Mean Girl-less existence, a mere 90 minutes and you too could know the wonders of Tina Fey’s masterpiece. No trigger warnings required, to which I think the only reasonable response is YAY)
“And evil takes a human form in Regina George. Don’t be fooled because she may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing slut faced ho-bag, but in reality, she’s so much more than that.” – Janis Ian
I do not wish this to be a blog of doom and misogyny, nor a rating system which all films are somehow designed to fail, so here is a healthy 7 star review of a glorious film written by a glorious woman and starring many other glorious women. It’s also a bit Christmassy so that’s another plus. I do think the idea of Mean Girls is dangerous. A film elaborating the ways in which girls are mean doesn’t sound like a starry delight. Indeed Rachel McAdams in one of the many featurettes on the DVD – all of which I have watched due to my studiousness and avid devotion to the truth – quotes Chris Rock saying “Women would run the world if they didn’t hate each other”. Clearly she believes this nugget of supposed wisdom has some pertinence to the film. I do not. I do not believe it is women’s ‘hatred’ of one another which limits female success. I believe it is the patriarchy which does that. Why I love Mean Girls is that it demonstrates, not how girls are bitches and women are each other’s worst enemies, but because it shows us that patriarchal values are so embedded into our culture that women become their own oppressors. That we enforce, upon ourselves and our peers, the very structures that constrict our lives. But that we don’t have to, and that even while we do that doesn’t mean we’re not real people with real lives deserving of respect and attention. I believe that’s what Rosalind Wiseman, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, the book Mean Girls is based on, believes (and when I say I believe she believes that I mean I’m really pretty sure, I’m basically paraphrasing her). And I believe that’s what Tina Fey believes too. I believe Regina George is more than your typical back-stabbing slut faced ho-bag. Because Mean Girls is really really funny in a way that a film about two dimensional bitches wouldn’t be. Women being funny, women being mean and still funny, women being mean and still human, it all adds up to a film where women are just people and yet all the pressures of being a woman are still acknowledged. Have I mentioned how glorious this film is? This is a glorious film.
STAR: The Bechdel Test
– STAR: Developed Female Relationships
(There are no questions regarding these stars. It’s not just that Cady has a mum, a teacher and many friends (and enemies) who are women. It’s that every female character has another woman to relate to in a meaningful way. Regina also has a mum. Karen and Gretchen have their own relationships with Regina and each other. Every clique has its problems. This is a film teeming with women and their relationships and it delights me)
STAR: Non-stereotyped Female Characters
– STAR: Developed, Prominent Female Characters
(Again all is obvious. These women have full, rounded lives, favourite subjects, interests, jobs, friends. And they are funny. Very funny. See this isn’t actually that demanding a system, stars for everyone!)
STAR: No Excessive Air of Misogyny
– No Rigid Adherence to Gender Norms
(Ok I can’t give it 2 here. The gender norms star is probably the hardest one to get because it requires active subversion. The absence of misogyny in this film is great, there’s a lot of slut shaming talk and the fat shaming is a problem but it’s a lot more about power than it is about size, at least in my opinion, and I don’t think anyone would describe it as excessive. However Cady’s main thing is still wanting a boyfriend and the plastics’ goals of being pretty and being fashionable and being thin are not the goals of characters designed to shake rigid gender norms to their core. Maybe if Janis was a more major character. Maybe if Janis was gay. I do have to take issue with Janis not being gay. Not that the whole Kevin G thing isn’t funny, but the fact that Regina’s ‘lesbian petition’ thing is seen as a crime so foul we cannot speak its name, coupled with Janis’s quick coupling off with a boy after she’s made her magnificent Lesbian Crush speech seems to cut out the possibility of actually being a gay woman. Here I feel the chink in Mean Girl’s otherwise stalwart armour lies)
No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation No Objectification of the Female Body
(Sadly more chinks are appearing. These young ladies are pretty young. Clearly pretending that teenagers are not having sex is stupid. And similarly pretending that they do not dress in a sexually provocative way is stupid. I do not even think these are necessarily things to be condemned. But we cannot take the position that this film is just telling it like it is and so is not complicit in the sexualisation of young women, and of women’s bodies full stop. At very few parties which I attended in high school was anyone wearing only lingerie and animal ears. The one exception was inspired by Mean Girls)
STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women
– STAR: No Threat of Male Violence Against Women
(And we’re back on form. The only violence in this film involves women fighting each other. How lovely that there is no more to be said)
How I wish this film had got 4 stars so this line would be more accurate but I’m going with it anyway. 7 for you Glen Coco! You go Glen Coco! Ok I feel better now. Mean Girls also gets 6 Bonus Points. 1, and a very important 1, for a female writer, that is the lovely Tina Fey. 1 for BME women of whom there are many even if they are minor characters. Here is probably the moment to bring up the whole “Africa” situation. Africa is not a country. Saying “I’m from Africa” is not the same as saying “I’m from the USA”. Cady is from a country in East Africa, which one is unknown. If you went through this film and replaced every mention of Africa with the word, for example, Kenya, it would be a better film. Just saying. 1 for disabled women, that is Jessica Lopez (nice almost reference) in her wheelchair, 1 for ‘unglamorous’ women. There are overweight students, students who do not appear to be wearing very much makeup and there is Janis. The person who managed to make Lizzy Caplan, master of sex that she is, look anything other than incredibly beautiful (not that Janis isn’t hot but you know what I mean) can do anything. 1 for women in traditionally masculine roles. Cady is a Mathlete, and having a heroine Mathlete is actually quite rad. And a final 1 for explicit discussion of feminist issues, as seen above. Ms Norbury also gives the wise advice that we should stop calling each other sluts and whores. That is some good advice right there.
So. 7 Stars. 6 Bonus points. A rave review. This is girl world in the best possible way. In that it’s actually about girls. It’s nothing more or less than the good and the bad of being a girl in high school. And I could ask for nothing more.
*A note on Rosalind Wiseman. Basically she’s cool. She runs or did run something called the Empowerment Programme where she dealt with bullying in high schools and how our perceptions of people directly relates to our opinion of their worth and our willingness to be violent towards them. That sounds like a cool programme. Here is her Ted talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrUXWRHRAlk) it’s not really about gender but it is I think very solid on the importance of the dignity of young people which is, obviously, a feminist issue*