We all love a good chick flick every once in a while, no matter our general preferences. High school dramas centred around teenage girls and their eventful lives always make for fan favourites- whether it be Mean Girls, 10 Thing I Hate About You, shows like Gossip Girl, and countless more. Sure, they’re great watches, each with classic storylines and unforgettable characters. But the common link connecting movies and shows of this genre is the reoccurrence of young girls being subject to classifications and tropes rather than having independent, well-rounded personalities.
This is not limited to the screens, whether we realise it or not. Keeping in mind all social hierarchies that exist in high schools such as those of jocks, nerds, band members, etc. there are some special tropes reserved just for women. I’m sure we all know a Regina George or a Sharpay Evans- one whose hyper-femininity and boldness are seen as signs of a catty, manipulative person out to destroy others, but whom we still worship and attempt to please anyway. Or maybe we know a girl who’s different, like Kat Stratford, not like other girls- reserved, cares about school and not her looks or boys- as if those things are mutually exclusive. Then there’s the airheads and the gossips, good for nothing besides spreading rumours and dressing up. The nerds and band kids are on a whole lower level, as caring about school too much is looked down upon- it isn’t cool, and therefore we must never pay attention to the nerds. Additionally, we have the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ archetype who exists merely as a catalyst for the development of the male protagonist, reducing girls to the idealised versions of the male fantasy.
How does this stereotypical thinking manifest in our school culture in the first place? It’s quite simple, really, and we’re all guilty of it. We make assumptions. We see a girl, our peer who takes great interest in her looks and enjoys posting on social media and we end up assuming something along the lines of, “Oh, she must really enjoy the attention. How desperate.” or that she doesn’t necessarily do well in an academic sense. On the other hand, we might see girls who are consumed with books and the scholarly life and we prematurely decide that they’re boring individuals, probably not worth talking to. It’s as if no matter what your interests are, you can’t win because in the end you will be confined to a stereotype, and you will be looked down upon for the things you do. Much of the time, such bias is not conscious, but rather something that we’ve been conditioned into believing and accepting.
Next, it comes down to the trope of the ‘not like other girls’ girl. The characteristics may differ and evolve over time, but the idea remains the same- refraining from engaging in mainstream female interests or behaving in a way that is not traditionally feminine makes a girl ‘special’ and that it is a quality to adore. “She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts. She wears high heels, I wear sneakers” as young Taylor Swift once said, however good the song may be, pushes the idea that embracing feminine norms makes you superficial and less interesting than girls who, per se, prefer video games over makeup. This whole idea links down to the internalisation of misogyny as young women are led to believe that girls are way more dramatic and shallower and that they would be better off being ‘one of the guys’. “You’re not like other girls” is not a compliment, but rather an insult to women.
What is the outcome of all this? What happens when we chain young girls to a certain character like those we see in the movies? We put femininity in a box, when in reality it is a spectrum. Femininity is not limited to the colour pink and short dresses- and liking pink and/or dresses does not make a person shallow, bitchy, girly or slutty. It is possible to love being fashionable, studying philosophy and playing sports simultaneously, one needn’t cancel out the others. Additionally, not all girls wish to be feminine or identify with traditionally feminine norms, and this doesn’t call for the ‘tomboy’ label, and neither is it a determinant of their sexuality.
No matter how much we try and convince ourselves we’re different from our peers, it is undeniable that all of us, at some point in our school lives, partake in the casting of labels and placing our classmates into categories. We see people not as individuals but as parts of a pre-existing class or group. Our generation is quick to make judgements- the reason for this is not clear. Perhaps, we lack the patience to understand the individualistic characteristics that make a person. Getting to know someone is a time-consuming process, and taking into consideration the busy lives of today’s youth, in simple words- ain’t nobody got time for that. Or maybe we find it easier to relate with someone if we think we have them figured out. Maybe, dividing people into a social hierarchy makes it simpler to decide who gets special treatment and who gets ignored walking past in the hallways. We’re too quick to judge and confine girls to the ideas in our head of what they should be or act like, which in my opinion, makes people seem one-dimensional. This process is not only harmful to the girls who are unable to express their interests without being subject to judgment or classification, but also to ourselves- as we miss out on getting to know the most interesting details and multi-dimensional personalities of those around us.