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!)

plastics

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.

from-africa
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.burn

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.

bus

It’s okay- she survived!

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.

Bechdel Test.

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.
Errrmmm.

Errrmmm.

  • 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. mean girlsThere’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.

mean-gilrs-feminist-film-friday

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  • Yep. Seen Mean Girls. It’s one that has been watched a few times over the years in our house. That and Clueless. Seems to be a teen staple.
    I’m always disappointed that US high school movies focus so heavily on segregation and stereo types (the cliques). I don’t know if the culture is feeding the films or the films are feeding the culture.
    I can’t believe I just said “films”. How old am I?

  • LydiaCLee

    I really liked Mean Girls. I guess I didn’t think too much about it. I do think high schools fall into cliques, and having just read Teens (by the boy in Berlin), it seems pretty universal….

  • Yes I’ve seen it. It’s ok but a bit stereotypical.

  • This film is used as critical literacy text in Year 9/10 English classes in some schools in Queensland. It’s a great starting point for discussion on social groups and how actions and words can affect others. Not particular inclusive though, you’re right.

  • I have used this film many times with my own children, boys and girls. I fear my step daughter has the traits to potentially become a “mean girl” so we do lots of educating around how it makes others feel and this move has been quite helpful for that.

  • Do you believe I’ve never seen this movie. It’s been on TV a gazillion times but haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it. Love Tina Fey though.

  • I only saw this movie for the first time a year (maybe two) ago. I think while it has obvious lacking points that you mentioned, it’s actually sort of a good thing. I think it was made for middle class white girls in US high schools so if it looked too diverse maybe they wouldn’t have watched it? A thought, anyway.

  • I only saw it for the first time earlier this year. I “got it”, (and now I get the pink on Wednesdays thing on Instagram) but I think I was too old to find it seriously entertaining or amusing. It would be like trying to watch Empire Records, Clueless or The Craft for the first time in your late 30s (ooh please can you do one on The Craft?!?!)

    • Just read your comment after I wrote mine and I can’t believe we wrote almost the same thing! Definitely The Craft! May/may not have tried to start our own “coven” after that film 🙂

      • Haha it’s a sign, Robyna! Also may or may not have dyed my hair black after watching 😂

  • Totally agree with your appraisal of the movie! It’s a good conversation starter but it doesn’t really explore WHY girls do this to themselves and to each other – like the big patriarchic why x

  • I can’t think I’ve ever seen it, or if I have I’ve forgotten! I’ll have to check it out. That said, anything with Tina Fey gets my vote 🙂

  • I need to watch it again. I only watched it the once. I didn’t like the manipulation between the girls when I watched it. But it’s one of those movies you forget which actors are in it and kinda want to watch it again so you can seem them act when they were younger.

  • Bree

    I still can’t believe it was that long ago that Mean Girls came out! I agree Ms Norberrys line about sluts and whores is a fantastic message and being in my young teens when this movie was released, that quote has stayed with me.

  • It’s been a long time and I tended to put in the same basket as Clueless and not even touching Empire Records and The Craft (please do that one!) but I do think it’s a really accessible film for young girls and an important conversation starter. Saw embrace recently and that’s definitely a must see for all women and girls.

  • It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, but I love this movie. It’s almost a caricature of life as a teenage girl, and while it achieves great comedy (I like that you pointed out though that it’s sometimes at the expense of the right thing), like all caricatures it does reflect some confronting truths. We need to stop pretending to be something we are not, we need a strong sense of identity and self-value (and as parents need to foster this in our kids) because these are always questioned in the teen years, and friendships can’t last with manipulation and jealousy. Great first review.

  • I think stereotypes like how this film portrays them, can be helpful for explaining things that are more subtle in real life. There’s a great film, though very daggy, called “Barbekuaria” which looks at what the world would look like if Aboriginal people were the majority culture in Australia. My kids have become very aware of the effects of white privilege through a satirical use of stereotypes.

  • Helen King

    I haven’t seen it (sounds like I should) and my kids are still a little young but we found The Princess Diaries was good in terms of raising what the role of women was, how stereotypes still exist but need to broken down – plus still funny (for 8 year olds, anyway).

  • I love this series idea already! Mean Girls was never a favourite of mine but I have watched it quite a few times. I’ve never heard of the Sexy Lamp Test but I can see myself using it a lot when evaluating a character.

  • Sarah @sarahdipityblog

    Gosh I haven’t watched this movie in years! Love your review…makes me want to go back and watch to again and look at it from a different angle.

  • Lisa Shearon

    Can you do Grease next? I always had SUCH a problem with Grease, even when we were putting on lunchtime stage shows of it at primary school (maybe cos I never got to be Sandy). I haven’t seen Mean Girls, but I like what you’ve done with it. Good work Ahearn.

  • I love Mean Girls! It’s a great movie and great choice for your first review!

  • Grace

    Interesting review. I’ve never seen Mean Girls but knew it created quite a bit of hype. For some reason I never would’ve thought it would be a movie to pass the Bechdel Test but am pleasantly surprised. Ill have to check if it’s on Netflix.