The Troubling Feminism of Teen Fantasy Films: Exploring the Erotic Empowerment of Easy A (1/2)

Due to (positive) personal life circumstances, I am very behind on my blogging for the week – I still owe Laz and CD comments on both of their eloquent posts, not to mention responding to the Beyoncé comments. I have a lot to say about the feminist issues this movie raises, so I will definitely be returning to this topic at a later date. Please consider this part 1 of at least 2 posts on Easy A.

I was excited about this movie from the minute I first heard about it last year. As a female, heteronormative pop-culture-consumer only three years out of adolescence, how could I not be? Plus, quite separately from the feminist glee, I appreciate a good literary joke, especially about something as boring as The Scarlet Letter. (Note: I do not consider all high school assigned novels boring.)

I am glad to report that Easy A lived up to my moderately high expectations. This movie could not have succeeded without Emma Stone’s charisma and endearingly clumsy grace, and they were very, very lucky to cast her. I hope she has a long, successfully feminist career in movies. Lord knows the industry needs more like her.

I would also like to compare Easy A to Juno, another well-made feminist teenage fantasy. Many reviewers before me have no doubt connected the two, but probably not in the way that I do. The movies are alike in tone – the irreverent, self-aware attitude of the 21st-century teenager – and in female empowerment – exploring and encouraging the sexuality of young women. The moral and social conclusions the feminist viewer can draw from them, however, are very different. More on this will have to go in the next post. Extra credit if you can figure out what conclusions I draw from Juno before I write them.

LINK TO SOURCE: YOUTUBE TRAILER


 


+ FEMINIST POINTS

• The movie is hilarious. Why is this important? Because Christopher Hitchens thinks women aren’t funny. (I refuse to link to that sexist “article” and give him the page hits.) And he’s clearly not alone, so any successful example of females being funny is a punch in his eye.
• Her parents are class acts. They clearly both love and support their daughter, even when they completely don’t understand her. It is so rare to find a piece of teen fiction/fantasy where the (living) parents aren’t demonized.
• The scene with her mother on the car at the end of the film gets special mention, because it is lovely. And poignant. And funny. And completely believable. And thus totally feminist.
• The fight with her best friend is also surprisingly realistic, given the conventions of melodrama. Everyone has at least one friend-by-convenience in high school, and if you’re a loner/invisible, then it makes complete sense that you’d stick by that friend until drama happens to divide you. I am also glad they didn’t slap a Seventh-Heaven-style make-up scene at the end. Alert viewers will notice that the screenwriters left hope for reconciliation but no conclusive proof. And that’s exactly true to life. Poor Aly Michalka had such a horrible tan, though.
• I was completely surprised and pleased by the guidance counselor’s storyline. What an unusual choice regarding female high school administrators – and Lisa Kudrow knocked that performance out of the park. Too bad teen comedies never get noticed at the Oscars.
• I was also completely surprised and pleased by the storyline for Micah, the male Jesus freak. They opted out of any of the clichéd fates for him, and instead gave him a nuanced, sympathetic problem. Unless you’re a militant atheist, you will watch this film and want him to succeed. (Why does this count as a feminist point? Because I think you can argue that his character is a feminist, or at least that his actions are.)

 

– FEMINIST POINTS

• Emma Stone is much too pretty to play Jules. I know, I know, this is a convention of teenage film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating. It takes serious suspension of belief to accept a gorgeous girl (with professionally-managed hair and makeup) as an invisible loner.
• Emma Stone is much too skinny, period. Yes, some teenage girls really have such frames, but the Viewers At Home do not need more body-dysmorphia-inducing images. Ellen Page in Juno looked much more like an average teenager, albeit a thin one.

• Far too many of the male characters are portrayed as Evil one-notes. Yes, the dad and English teacher are excellent (almost too excellent), but does that make up for the gross actions and attitudes displayed by: the principal, the Fat Nerd, the Popular Jock, the Indian Nerd, the Horndog, and all the other dudes except the Gay One and the Love Interest? No, no it does not. Easy A is far better at rounding out peripheral characters than the average chick flick, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to let anything slide. Real teenage boys are much more conflicted about their sex drives, and their characterization here was a little unfair.

• The plotline for Brandon, the Gay One. The screenwriters had an agenda to push, and I’m not sure I agree with it. I’m more sympathetic towards Brandon’s choices than was the chick who wrote our school newspaper’s review of the film [[will be discussed in the next post]], but I still feel like his decision to run away was a cop-out.

• OMG the plotline for the Love Interest, Todd. WHAT A F’ING FANTASY. I’m sorry, no real teenage boy is that “perfect”. Gorgeous, socially confident, kind, and willing to wait? Yeah, right. You can definitely find three out of four in a given adolescent male (depending on how strict you are on things like “gorgeous” and “kind”), but they don’t all coexist unless you have a really rare specimen who’s mature for his age/already worked out his issues.

• Todd’s plotline gets extra demerits for that scene in his car in the rain. NO WAY IS THAT REALISTIC OR FAIR. GK and LND, who saw the second half of the movie with me, thought I was seriously overreacting. Maybe I’m overemphasizing, but that’s my right as a feminist critic. Todd was incredibly patient with Jules throughout the film, and he had just done her a huge fricking favor by DRIVING HER HOME. FROM A DATE WITH SOMEONE ELSE. IN THE RAIN. The least she could have done was kiss him.*

*Let’s be clear – I don’t advocate a system where relationship partners trade sex for favors, monetary or otherwise. But I also think it’s incredibly unfair to men (and other sexually desirous individuals) when women (and other sexually reticent individuals) continually push off sexual intimacy and expect their partner to be OK with it. If the two of you have had an honest discussion about it, then fine, whatever. Do whatever you want. Don’t tell me the details, please.

I strongly disapprove of the way Hollywood and the romance industry in this country have created an expensive, toxic fantasy out of virginity and the supposed beauty of Your First Time. Most organized religions have strict rules about sexual intercourse, but that is not what I’m talking about. Millions of secular American girls have been raised on books and films and TV shows that tell them one shouldn’t give up the sacred jewel of her virginity unless He Loves You Back. This is a pretty crappy argument. [[Let me know if you want me to say more about this in the next post.]] If you don’t want to have sex with your partner, then don’t. But please also don’t lead the other individual on. It’s rude and possibly even cruel (if you’re doing it knowingly).

If you still disagree with me, think about it from Todd’s perspective. He is the good guy here, pining for Jules over the course of several years (or so we’re told). They’ve been developing a friendly flirtation over the course of the film. She seemed really interested at that party. He has behaved like a gentleman regarding all those rumors about her sexual prowess (despite secretly getting excited). He sees her crying after the Horndog proves a horny misogynist (which IS actually a surprise) and goes to play the White Knight by driving the Damsel In Distress home. She’s not drunk or high in the car – in fact, she accidentally admits that she likes him back. She is obviously really hot, especially when wet. All the signs are there. So he leans in for the kiss and then – SHE REJECTS HIM. Gurl, I know you ain’t got yo’ shit together, but that there is just mean.

We can all predict what happens next — clearly a deleted scene. Jules goes inside and her storyline goes on, excited that the Good Guy likes her. Todd drives home, confused and frustrated (and slightly sweaty from his shift at work + all the, uh, excitement). By the time he gets back to his house, he’s still totally blue-balled. He goes to take a shower to cool off, and you can fill in your own euphemism here.

See, girls? Don’t do that to your man/sexual partner/love interest. Kiss the boy or leave the race. Give him something to believe in.

 

What do you think, dear readers? What have I left out or inadequately examined? Next week I’ll continue to problematize this film, particularly its attitude towards slut-shaming and high school social politics (as opposed to the individual characterizations I discussed above). The week after that, it’ll be time for some teenage Female Warrior analysis, courtesy of Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games trilogy. Oh, that love triangle. Were you Team Gale or Team Peeta? Reread the books if you need to and get ready to argue with me.

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15 thoughts on “The Troubling Feminism of Teen Fantasy Films: Exploring the Erotic Empowerment of Easy A (1/2)

  1. Christina says:

    I am very excited for discussions of high school politics and to argue fiercely about the Hunger Games.

    I’m going to have to watch this movie and get back to you on the other things, but for now, one point:
    +many many points for your oh so secret sex-positivity coming out when you refuse to play the No Sex or Kissing Ever is By Definition Ok and Men are Asshole Horndogs If They Don’t Like It game.

    P.S. Since when are you heteronormative?

    • LadyG says:

      I am so glad you actually watched this movie, although I disagree wtih you and Laz (see below).

      I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on what sex positivism actually is. 🙂

      PS I’m more heteronormative than you, that’s for sure. :-p I like my romantic partners A) male, B) straight, and C) societally recognized as masculine. If that’s not enough to be considered heteronormative (since I present as a straight feminine female), what is?

  2. Alice says:

    I am SO SO excited about the Hunger Games stuff like you would not believe. They’re my new YA series obsession 😛 Maybe we’ll be of similar opinions? I feel like what’s great about those books is that there isn’t really ‘team’ stuff. IDK, I always saw romance as a backburner plot for Collins.

    Also, I get irrationally pissed off whenever I see the word “Team [insert name here]” just because of Twilight, especially if it’s for a couple I’m rotting for.

    Really agree with all your comments about this movie thus far. I feel like while it was an enjoyable movie, parts were clearly unrealistic, esp with the romance storyline which felt extremely rushed.

    Erm, hope you know who this is. I used my other name (and probably will continue using it for here).

    • LadyG says:

      I can’t wait to find out if we agree, ALICE (of course I know who you are, dummy), but for the sake of all our high school battles, I hope we actually disagree. We’re much more eloquent now, although I’m not above a tumblr flame-war if necessary.

      I agree that using “Team [male love interest]” is both lazy and gives Twilight too much legitimacy, but it’s also the easiest way to describe a situation for readers who weirdly enough do not devote all their time to YA fiction and shipping wars. :-p

      Glad you agree so far. Go make MLE and Jack (from Will&Grace) read the next one and report back to me if they refuse to comment.

      • LadyG says:

        Oh, and I wouldn’t call the love triangle a back-burner plot. A B-plot, perhaps, but not even that. Katniss spends way too much time dealing with her romantic relationships in both public and private for it to be a back-burner.

        The whole racism thing? Definitely back-burner. I didn’t even notice that Rue was intended to be black the first time I read it — my dad had to point it out.

        OMG I HAVE TO STOP TALKING ABOUT HUNGER GAMES. THIS IS AN EASY A THREAD.

  3. Emmy says:

    Allow me to chime in here and +1 on the future Hunger Games post. (Ha, now I am starting to feel old, having to “catch up” on the new “lingo” of all the youngins and their “+1″s).

    Anyhow, thanks for writing this review. I basically hate high school films that aren’t Mean Girls, since I hated high school, but it’s thanks to you that this one did not simply pass under the radar and maybe now I’ll Netflix it. Not having seen the movie (only the trailer), I don’t know what to make of what you are saying about the girl’s apparent failure to “deliver the goods,” if you will. What I can’t get with (heh) is the expectation that the friendly action of giving someone a ride home in the rain is something that deserves of that kind of thank you, even if one finds said beneficiary passenger particularly attractive. Even when she lets slip that she likes him back, it does not, to me, set in motion any form of physical obligation. If only people had such sense these days, to not kiss everyone they like! Even – actually, no – especially, as someone who has been buuurned by the whole “leading on” thing, I think something should be said for allowing and enduring sexual tension at this point of interaction, if only to prevent a further descent into the realm awful ethical situations. A kiss should mean something, and it should mean a lot more than “thanks for the ride” or “I think you’re cute,” especially if this guy in the movie is actually infatuated or in love with this gal. If there’s nothing more that, I’d it’s better to refrain, because that is, for some people, and I’m assuming this guy would be among them, a much more hurtful, emotionally demanding, oxytocin-spiked, and I’d argue ethically significant, form of leading on! A sincere “no” is better than 100 reward kisses, in my humble opinion. I think you’re right in that it is not a standup thing to do to flirt with someone with no intention of going anywhere, but I think an insincere intimacy is 10x more hurtful in the long run. Were this to be taking place in the context of some form of committed relationship, in which certain forms of intimacy have been established as regular parts of their interaction, I’d be more on the side of “aww, man, don’t leave him hanging” but I think this is a completely different ballgame.

    Awesome post.

    Yours,
    Emmy

    P.S. I want to hear moar about your thoughts re: virginity and magical first times.

    • LadyG says:

      Eloquent as always, Emmy. Thanks for disagreeing with me!

      [If the “+1” is a Google+ reference, I will hereby ignore it. I refuse to let a Benevolent Overlord turn into Big Brother.]

      I totally understand hating high school movies. I transferred into a public high school that I loved, but whose culture I also found completely alien and fascinating. I was so obviously a religious dork that no one even bothered to tell me about the weekend ragers that I therefore only experienced in the movies. It wasn’t until the second half of senior year, when I made a few non-nerd friends, that I found out where they were generally held.

      On the whole blueballing issue: let me know if you stand by this after you’ve seen the movie. I totally agree that A) sexual tension can be a good thing and B) the concept of “sexual obligation” is srs business that can end in disaster. My main objection to this scene is that I don’t think she articulates clearly enough why she’s refusing to kiss him (ie that it’s situation-based and not interest-based). I think that her DECISION not to kiss him was perfectly valid, but her COMMUNICATION sucks.

      I am actually more angry at the screenwriters for having Todd accept her decision than at her for making it. PERFECT FANTASIES DO NOT EXIST IN HIGH SCHOOL. Don’t raise unreasonable expectations for teens, Hollywood.

      • Emmy says:

        I’ll let you know once it’s’ on instant watch.
        Wait, “accept her decision” not to kiss him? I always thought that was one of those things that doesn’t really require acceptance. What else does one do in those situations?

    • LadyG says:

      Also, I am legitimately contemplating a post entitled “Let’s Talk About [Heteronormative] Sex, Baby”, as inspired by the Salt-n-Pepa song.

      Y/N? Alternate song suggestions?

      It won’t happen before the end of August; there is too much else to talk about. Especially regarding masculinity in films and TV.

  4. Christina says:

    Emmy,

    I think you make a great point about the power of kissing and the ethics of implicit promises for the future. Having now seen the film, I am squarely in your camp, as only hours prior, on the above mentioned date from which Cute Boy drove her home, the Horndog was really pretty disgusting. An experience like that would certainly make me wary of physical contact, especially of a sexual nature, for at least the rest of the night.

    Q. Christina

    • LadyG says:

      Do you have a preferred nickname? I like calling you CD, but I’d call you Chris if you like that better. or The Queen for formal discussions. (Since you abdicated, I think I now outrank you.)

  5. Achilles says:

    Just realized there are TWO posts on Easy A. The other one makes a lot more sense having read this one. For now I’ll just ask what underlies your criticism of the evilness of the teen boys? Is it that you find it unrealistic, or you think it needed more representation of positive male figures, or what?

    To me, it seems logical that one downside of Olive’s choice to set herself up as a “prostitute” is that it will tend to bring dodgy people into her life, so I didn’t see it as unfair to teenage boys as a group. I also felt some possibly undeserved sympathy for Fat Nerd, so that may be why it didn’t seem so bad to me.

    • LadyG says:

      I am planning a third post on Easy A to clarify some of my thoughts, as I’ve gotten quite a lot of feedback on this. Even the negative feedback has been constructive, which I appreciate.

      My analysis of Todd-The-Perfect was a bit too short, but it speaks to a larger issue in female-oriented fiction/narratives about Expectations put on teenage boys (and to an extent, men in general) which I do not agree with. I think there can and should be a balance between the “lovable” shlubs of Judd Apatow’s oeuvre and the Colin Firth fantasies of chick flicks. So yes, I find it both unrealistic and unfair; I think there should have been more problematically positive male figures, just as Olive, her mother, and the guidance counselor are problematically positive. And the female antagonists are problematically negative.

      I understand undeserved sympathy all too well, but I stand with Olive re: Fat Nerd. His behavior was out of line, and I’m disappointed that he was rewarded for it later.

  6. Achilles says:

    Okay, found the text but it won’t let me post the same text from two accounts. maybe adding this disclaimer will help.

    I don’t count “gorgeous” against Todd. It’s pretty clearly fantasy gorgeousness which isn’t actually part of his character. I mean, nothing in the movie makes any sense if we assume that Olive is as good looking as Emma Stone, so i think we have to assume that Todd is substantially homelier than the actor playing him. So you’re looking at “socially confident” “kind” and “willing to wait.” I’d argue that in the case of someone who has just been sexually harassed and is crying in your car, “kind” necessarily implies “willing to wait.” So really the question is: Can you find a popular, confident, well-adjusted teenage boy who is willing to wait?

    I admit that that’s probably relatively difficult, but I’m not going to call it impossible. I think
    it’s important to note that Todd has been interested in her for a while, but has by no means been “pining.” In fact, he’s explicitly been having sex with other people which is probably a big factor in his willingness to wait on Olive. Once you’ve gotten rid of your unwanted virginity the pressure is substantially reduced.

    I do think that the plot only makes sense if they do, in fact, have (some kind of) sex at the end of the film. Otherwise it does beocme unclear what Todd’s motivation is supposed to be. They simply can’toutright state that in the movie because it would undermine their critique of adult fascination with teen sexuality.

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