Yes, I’m kicking this series off with a movie from 2004 because I’m kinda old, okay?!
It’s not perfect by any means but one that I found was a really good conversation starter with my own teenagers, because it’s supposed to be about girls close to their own age. (We won’t go in to how old the actors actually were at the time!)
The issues of groups and cliques in high school, the potential bullying, the image-consciousness and the popularity contests are just some of the issues that our girls are facing. It might be an over-the-top representation but it’s still a good way to raise these issues and compare to see what they are going through. If you haven’t seen it (you have only had 12 years) then maybe you should!
Mean Girls- What’s it all about?
Cady grew up in Africa with her zoologist parents and was home-schooled before returning to the U.S. as a teenager. Apparently, she grew up completely unaware of American culture.
She arrives for her first day at public high and quickly makes friends with Janis and Damien, who start to educate her about the various groups and cliques at the school. Janis takes particulate care in warning her about the Plastics, the coolest and meanest girls in school. For some reason, the Plastics, lead by Regina George, take an interest in Cady. They invite her to hang out with them and she learns how they manipulate and bully everyone- even each other.
Meanwhile, Janis, who has a longstanding grudge against Regina, sees this as a chance to get revenge. She hatches a plan to have Cady infiltrate the Plastics and take Regina down from within. Cady agrees to it. Before too long, things are further complicated by a boy- Regina’s ex boyfriend, Aaron. Cady likes him, but Regina, knowing this, “takes” him back.
Cady spends a lot of time trying to be just like the Plastics, especially Regina. She loses sight of who she is and who her real friends, Janis and Damien, are. She’s too invested in sabotaging Regina; tricking her into gaining weight, damaging her relationship and so on. Cady finds out about the Burn Book, a book kept by the Plastics that they fill with nasty gossip and rumours. She even makes her own fabricated contribution about a teacher who has only ever tried to help her. She’s more concerned about fitting in than doing what she knows is right, becoming one of the mean girls without really meaning to.
As Regina’s world begins to crumble, she decides to release the Burn Book, which brings everything to a head and a near riot. The school gets involved and makes the girls confront their issues head-on which culminates with a confrontation between Janis and Regina. Regina runs out, followed by Cady, who is trying to apologise to Regina. Unfortunately, Regina is so busy arguing that she doesn’t notice the bus on the street before it hits her. Everyone assumes Cady pushed her.
Cady is shunned by just about everyone and is forced to re-evaluate her choices and how she sees people. She learns that judging people on their appearance is pointless and tries hard to reconnect with her real friends.
Pass: Although the there is a crush in the mix, there’s lots of conversation between female characters. A lot of it is nasty gossiping, but it’s definitely not all bad. Discussions about friendship, school work, respect and more are peppered throughout the film.
Sexy Lamp Test.
Pass: Cady could not be replaced with a sexy lamp and neither could Regina or Janis. There are a few less central characters that don’t seem to have a huge amount of substance, like Karen and Gretchen, but replacing them with lamps would definitely impact the overall story.
The Mako Mori Test.
Pass: The male characters in this movie are not the focus. The narrative arc is primarily Cady’s. Her story is not supporting the story of the male characters. Rather, they are supporting her story.
Problematic Bits in Mean Girls.
- This is not an especially racially diverse film. While there are non-Caucasian people represented in the student body, they are often identified by their race, like the “Cool Asians”. The primary cast is made up of white people who are thin and able-bodied.
- Stereotypes and some non-PC language/slurs are used for comedic effect.
- LGBTI representation is low but present, with one gay character (Damien) who, although a great character, also plays into a number of stereotypes. Janis is often referred to as a lesbian throughout the movie, which she never denies. She ends up with a boyfriend, though, trafficking a tired old belief that lesbian women “simply haven’t met the right guy”.
- There is a scene that always gets me shaking my head. The sports teacher is caught in the act with students and it’s glossed over as if it’s a joke. Um, what?
- At one point, Tina Fey’s character, Miss Norbury, tells the girls that they have to stop calling each other sluts because doing so makes it okay for the boys to call them that. It’s a great line but it also demonstrates the one thing that is really lacking in Mean Girls, from a feminist viewpoint. There’s no talk about or exploration into where these attitudes come from. The male characters in the film are all pretty beige and benign. It seems like the girls themselves are coming up with ideas like being desperate to lose a couple of pounds or pretending to be unintelligent to get a boy to talk to them, under the guise of needing their help. The body-shaming, judgment on appearances, competition and nastiness between girls doesn’t just appear on it’s own. There’s no mention of the patriarchal culture that inspires these things in the first place. No discussion or even implication of the society-wide expectations of women on everything from what they weigh to what they wear and say.
Have you seen Mean Girls? What did you think?
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.