Feminism and Post-Feminism in Mean Girls

After our discussion about the difference between feminism and post-feminism on Thursday, I immediately thought of Mean Girls.  (Most of how I come to understand things comes through the lens of Mean Girls.)

In this scene, Cady is introduced to Girl World, “and Girl World had a lot of rules.”  But the most important rule is the one that Gretchen Weiners had assumed was implied:

“His name is Aaron Samuels.”

“Oh no, you can’t like Aaron Samuels.  Regina dated him last year, and she was devastated when they broke up.”

“I thought she dumped him for Shane Omen.”

“Okay, irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to best friends.  I mean, that’s just like the rules of feminism.”

Prior to our class discussion on Thursday, I had always assumed that most feminists would disagree with the Plastics’ rules, such as: “You can only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays” and “You can only wear your hair in a pony tail once a week.”

But are the Plastics and feminists really so different?  From my understanding of feminists from our discussion on Thursday, the feminists viewpoint is that women’s actions are directly related to their past.  In the example mentioned, a feminist would argue that a woman wearing a scantily-clad dress serves as evidence of the hatred of her self.

When we think of the Plastics and their role in Mean Girls, aren’t the Plastics all just insecure about what the rest of their peers think of them?  They create a set of rules, a set standard to ensure that their display of the Ideal is in place.  When Regina is told that she can’t sit with the rest of the table when she is wearing sweatpants (on a day that isn’t Friday! Heaven-forbid), Regina remarks, “Whatever, those rules aren’t real.”  Karen’s response: “They were real that day I wore a vest.”  To which Regina responds: “Because that vest was disgusting.”  The Plastics can’t risk any imperfection (except on Fridays, apparently) as this would taint the notion of the Ideal they have created in their High School World.  Their insecurity forms from the possibility of others doubting their confidence.

So, aren’t these strictly defined Girl World rules more like the feminist perspective?  There is no notion of sameness and equality that there is in Post-Feminism.

Please feel free to clarify my understanding of feminism and post-feminism in the comments.

(Also, please comment with your favorite Mean Girls quote!  And in case you were wondering, because I know you all were clearly dying to know, some of my favorite “obscure” Mean Girls quotes are the following: “But I’m not going to do that because we’ve already paid the DJ,” and “The only guy that ever calls my house is Randy from Chase Visa.”)

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4 thoughts on “Feminism and Post-Feminism in Mean Girls

  1. Rather than thinking about feminism as a static category, I think it’s much more helpful to talk about multiple feminisms. There isn’t just one notion of feminism. To name a few; sex-positive feminism, radical feminism, equality feminism, socialist feminism, academic feminism, anarcha-feminism, black feminism – sure there is overlap between some of these categories, but they are all distinctive in their own ways. There are also very distinct ‘waves’ of feminism (this can be quite problematic at times, but broadly speaking, feminism has been historicized as having ‘waves’ i.e. second-wave feminism from 1960s-1980s). We are now either in the third or the fourth wave, dependent on your view.

    Post-feminism, by contrast, assumes that feminism has been successful, and that the majority of the struggles around gender have been abolished – that basically, there is no need for feminism anymore. This is contrary to those in within the larger feminist movement who still see and experience huge issues of gender inequity and discrimination. As someone who has been involved with feminist groups for a number of years (which have been broadly third/fourth wave in the issues they addressed & manner in which those issues were addressed), I have never heard anyone within these groups judge women for the way in which they dressed as reinforcing patriarchal standards of desirability as a manifestation of their self hatred. Although I do think a slight degree of policing does exist within these communities, the majority of policing of women’s bodies still comes from the outside of these groups. For instance, I have experienced a large amount of gender policing (which normally comes from men) who question my politics and political identity in relation to the way in which I present myself. As a very feminine woman it seems to be antithetical to them that I also identify strongly as a feminist, and that my feminism is a huge part of my identity, whilst I also enjoy wearing dresses and lipstick.

    I also think it’s worth noting that Tina Fey, the writer of Mean Girls, is very outspoken about her own feminism. Watching Mean Girls, for me, is a reminder of how women can actually be their own worst enemies in replicating the patriarchal systems of domination. As Fey’s character says, in calling each other “sluts and whores”, we make it ok for men to call us these terms. In policing appearance and sexuality, we make it ok for these things to be factors in which we are judged upon by others. The film itself is also based upon a self-help book about helping girls survive the all too often toxic cliques that girls form in high school.

    After all of that – my favorite quote is “That’s why her hair is so big, it’s full of secrets”.

  2. I love your use of Mean Girls. In class the other day I was thinking about this Mean Girls clip. It shows all the girls looking at themselves in front of the mirror criticizing various aspects of their appearances. I think this is interesting when we view it in terms of Lacan and the recognition of oneself through reflection of another. It takes this idea of the Lacanian recognition and makes it more performative. The women are criticizing themselves in reference to the cultural standard of beauty and the other girls in the mirror but it is also more complicated than that. The girls commiserate over their various flaws and expect each girl to participate in turn. Each one offers up a criticism of herself with the expectation that she will receive confirmation of the absurdity of her flaw in relation to the next girl’s offering. I love the moment when Cady is not responding and they all turn to her expectantly because she is not playing into their ritualistic activity. She responds so absurdly that it halts the activity all together.

    My favorite is
    “It is a joke… sometimes older people make jokes.” – Ms. Norbury

    “My nana sometimes takes her wig off when she’s drunk…” – Damien

    “Your Nana and I have that in common.” – Ms. Norbury

  3. Meg–I really appreciate your discussion of feminism! And I think it’s very important to address how women police other women, but I’m not sure I understand yet how it fits into feminism and post-feminism.

  4. I absolutely love this movie, and could probably quote half the screenplay. But I also find it problematic in its articulation of feminism. I think Meg is spot on in her comment about how ” women can actually be their own worst enemies in replicating the patriarchal systems of domination”. The Tina Fey speech toward the end of the movie points this out pretty explicitly – but I think it fails to acknowledge how utterly difficult it is to break out of this systemic (re)production of dominance within women’s own subject formation, when our (pop) cultural narrative is constituted by an almost exclusively masculine gaze. It’s not just a matter of “I will respect other women and not dress to please men”; it’s a matter of how do we even refrain from automatically judging women for how they dress, act, respond to the male gaze? As per Prof Parham’s challenge for this week, I was counting the number of times I *didn’t* automatically read a woman for the way she dressed/presented herself – and I came up with a grand total of 3 instances throughout the entire week. That’s deeply disturbing.

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