The Dickflick Defined

The Dickflick Defined

by Janis Hashe

Two twentysomething women reviewed the movie, Terminator Salvation, in my local Chattanooga paper earlier this summer. “Generally one of three things was happening on screen,” wrote one, “something was exploding, a robot was attacking someone, or people were beating each other. Loudly. Very loudly.”

The other reviewer commented, “Why would the paper send two young women to review a film that is clearly geared toward men”

I was profoundly disappointed that neither of the reviewers put Terminator Salvation into its real genre: Dickflick.

For years I have campaigned (so far fruitlessly) against the contemptuous phrase “chickflick,” primarily because I have a real problem with the term “chick.” Reclaim “crone” if you will, and more power to you, but in my eyes there is no reclaiming a designation — “chick” — that implies weakness and servility. And even those who dont mind being called chicks cant deny that “chickflick” connotes a film only of interest to women because “relationships” are involved, and its unlikely that anything blows up.

Crones, sisters and chicks: Wake up. As long as you allow the things that are of interest to you to be so cavalierly devalued, you will be devalued right alongside them. You have only to look at the right-wing firestorm over “empathy” (classically a female quality) to understand that anything feminine is still viewed not only as less-than, but also very likely subversive and threatening.

This stands if, of course, the film is at all serious. No one is threatened by yet another Sex in the City because its easy to say, “Well, we knew all along that women only really care about clothes and how they appear to men.”

One culture shock for me in moving from Los Angeles to Tennessee three years ago has been the relative absence of independent and foreign films, which I depend on for my film fixes. Luckily both Milk and Slumdog Millionaire made it here. Often, though, I find myself staring at movie listings that are one dickflick after another.

Of course, the reasons for this are simple, at first glance. A) The vast majority of producers, directors, screenwriters, and so on are male. B) Pre-teen and teenage boys will see a movie they like over and over, creating boffo box office. Neither of these things is likely to change in the near future.

Yet somehow Milk and Slumdog managed to find world-wide audiences, and while their “take” will never be more than a small percentage of something like Terminator, they were recognized as superior films.

It’s interesting to note that both of these films feature mostly men. Milk’s one significant female role was important, but small, and Slumdog’s heroine occupies the traditional role of the damsel in distress.

What sets them apart, however, is that the male protagonists’ view of the world and what is important in it are, by American male standards, feminine. People, relationships, love dominateand violence, far from being idolized, is shown for the dehumanizing force it is.

I’ve got a message for the American movie industry: I am not, nor have I ever been, a 14-year-old boy. But I see movies, too. And I would see a lot more of them if there were more out there that represented the stories I want to see. I urge women to support movies that are written by women, directed by women, produced by women, and most important of all, about women.

And beyond that, I urge you to stand up for your choices. The next time people, male or female, refers to a film as a “chickflick,” challenge them. If someone is trying to browbeat you to see a dickflick because all your choices are “boring,” stand your ground. Personally, I would rather be waterboarded than see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

That quiet conversation, ideas, and yes, compassion and empathy, are “boring” to Americans is a scary thought that goes far beyond movies.

But let the boys have their dickflicks. (And by the way, there might be some hope in the trend to “bromances,” brainless as most of them are.) In a summer that will likely be dominated by Transformers and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, bring on Cheri and Julie and Julia.

August 4, 2009

Janis Hashe is a freelance journalist, the contributing editor of an alt-weekly in Chattanooga, TN, and producing director of Shakespeare Chattanooga.