Should These Classic Movies Be Hailed as Iconic or Sexist?

These five movies may be on a lot of must-watch lists, but I cannot help but notice how damaging these movies can be for young viewers. Some of these movies center around high school-aged characters which is one of the most impressionable times in someone’s life. These movies tell people what a woman is supposed to look like, how she is supposed to act, and where she belongs. Even though these movies were made quite some time ago, the stereotypes are still alive and well today. We have to be better. We have to challenge these stereotypes and sexist tropes. That means that if you do choose to watch these movies, notice the stereotypes and call them out. 

1. The Devil Wears Prada

While this movie may seem like it is all about women and women’s empowerment, it actually has a lot of harmful stereotypes that could be detrimental to female viewers because it sets up a false narrative about what being a successful and strong woman is. Let us start with Miranda Priestly (the boss) who has to be a mean boss and has to have marriage problems! I guess successful women really do have to choose between family or career (actually they don’t). Then, there are Emily and Andy (her assistants) who are in a constant battle with each other, showing that women cannot support women in the workplace (actually they can).

Also, throughout the movie Andy (Anne Hathaway’s character) is made fun of for her size and looks, and is only shown to be ‘worthy’ when she is given a makeover. Finally, I am still confused as to why Andy got back together with her boyfriend. He got all whiny when she became successful and called her materialistic! I hope in another universe Andy ended up with someone else—Emily?

2. Grease

I love singing and dancing to this movie as much as the next girl, but we have to talk about the problems it poses and the sexist tropes that play out. In the beginning, Danny pretends he does not know Sandy to try and look cool in front of his friends. Even though Sandy is mad at first, she goes back to Danny soon after, thus showing that if a guy is mean to you it means he likes you (actually it does not). Then, there is one of the grossest song lyrics in history in “Summer Nights," during the male part of the song when they sing ‘did she put up a fight?’. When I first heard this song, I did not know what this line meant but now that I do, I am ashamed to have been singing it for all those years. 

Another sexist trope that appears in this movie is that women are either prudes or sluts. Sandy is shamed for not having sex and Rizzo is shamed for having sex. And both characters do not get along, once again illustrating how women cannot support each other. Finally, the biggest problem Grease poses is that the girl completely changes herself for a guy. While Danny swaps out his leather jacket for a varsity letter (switching one aspect of toxic masculinity for another), Sandy has to change her hair, clothing, way of talking, AND she starts smoking! This so-called happy ending is teaching young girls that to be happy, you have to get the guy and to do that you have to change everything about yourself which is detrimental and unrealistic, BTW. 

3. Sixteen Candles

Ah, Sixteen Candles, the hallmark rom-com of the '80s. Not to burst your bubble, but this movie is actually really messed up. Its blatant racism is shown throughout the movie with the offensive portrayal of Long Duk Dong. And throughout the movie, there are rampant displays of sexual assault and harassment. 

First, there is the nerdy character, Ted, who makes unwanted advances on the main character, Sam. He bets that he can get her underwear so he can prove to his friends that he is a ‘man’ and has had sexual conquests. Somehow, this is treated as okay because Ted is the nerdy character who is nice and poses no real threat. Later in the movie, he meets Jake Ryan, the heartthrob jock, who is tired of his girlfriend and gives her to Ted. The girlfriend, Caroline, is extremely drunk and goes in and out of consciousness. And yet, Ted makes out with her. Both guys are still treated as amazing male characters who have done nothing wrong. People still want their own Jake Ryan, believe it or not!

4. Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman is another classic movie that people love to keep watching over and over again. I don’t know about you but whenever I watch it, I only see the sexist stereotypes and attitudes towards women that should have been left in the '90s (along with this movie). The whole movie is about how Vivian, who works as a prostitute, becomes a ‘pretty woman’ with the help of a rich, white businessman, Edward. Without her newfound clothing and nice jewelry, Vivian would not have been deemed worthy to be in Edward’s world. Once again, a girl completely changes herself to get the guy. This movie also glamorizes what sex work is really like, which is not waiting for Mr. Right to come sweep you off your feet. 

5. She’s All That

She’s All That can be summed up in a simple equation: JOCK + GEEKY GIRL + MAKEOVER = HAPPY ENDING. While this equation is present in a lot of movies, it is especially blatant in this movie. First, the main guy gets broken up with and then bets that he could turn any girl into a prom queen—without her knowing of course. Laney, the introverted painter, is chosen because she is seen as a social outcast since she wears glasses. Later, she receives a makeover and is completely transformed—a.k.a. she literally just brushes her hair and takes her glasses off. But of course, the main guy, Zack, instantly falls in love with her. Fast forward a school dance and a small fight later and you get to the end, where Laney and Zack share a make-up kiss and a beautiful relationship (built on lies and betrayal) begins. 

Wow, I am so tired of the female character having to change herself completely just to get the guy. Ladies: you do not have to change yourself for ANYBODY! Also, can movies please stop doing that thing where the girl takes off her glasses and she becomes pretty. She was pretty before and she is pretty after. And, newsflash for anyone who did not know: women support women! Whether it is in the classroom, workplace, or even at the grocery store, we want women to succeed. We know that when one of us succeeds, that helps all of us succeed. So, stop pitting us against each other in movies!


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