Pop-Culture | Posted by Sarah F on 07/31/2009
The Fatal Generalizations in the Teen Movie
Teen movies very obviously base themselves on harmless stereotypes: the jock, the bitch, the nerd, etc.– stereotypes so deeply rooted into our expectations of the genre that we can’t be bothered to think about other possibilities. However, after re-watching the awesomely awful Whatever It Takes for the first time in at least four years, I started to see something recognizably offensive that I had not yet noticed before: it seems that the typical teen movie’s female characters are, more often than not, projections of the archetypal male’s virgin/whore complex. Characters can only be one or the other, and there is no inbetween.
While teen movies are generally oversexed as a selling point, there’s an underlying tone of moral retribution that has been used to the point of becoming cliche. This easily brings to mind the classic horror movie rule of sexually active characters being gruesomely killed off, a tradition less explicitly carried out in the similar rule of the archetypal whore “getting what’s hers”.
This is the case for Jodi Lyn O’Keefe’s character in both Whatever It Takes and She’s All That, not to mention others in Cruel Intentions, Jawbreakers, Sixteen Candles(to a point). To make matters worse, O’Keefe’s desperately sluttish character in the former is so blind in her horniness that she ends up sleeping with the biggest nerd in the school. Meanwhile, the end of the movie suggests that the prototypical, romance-obsessed good girl, Marla Sokoloff, loses her virginity to the boy-next-door. The message beneath it, whether aware of itself or not, seems ridiculous when thought over: sex for anything but love is outlandish.
Notorious screenwriter Diablo “Honest to Blog” Cody shows an awareness of this when discussing her upcoming teen horror movie Jennifer’s Body in the August/September issue of BUST. The virgin and the whore are both present in her story, but instead of portraying the former (played by Amanda Seyfried) as naive and consumed with love, Cody gives the character an honest sexuality. “She has sex for pleasure in this movie, and that was important to me. She’s this wide-eyed, innocent blonde who’s trying to protect the town, but I wanted to show at the same time that she can have an orgasm, she can get excited about having sex.”
To be fair, Cody isn’t alone in creating female characters who don’t suffer from the virgin/whore complex. The golden age of the teen movies brought forth time-tested classics that avoid such cliched characters– notably in Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, American Pie, Can’t Hardly Wait and The Breakfast Club– instead portrayed as either perfectly normal, virgin teenage girls taking their time or reveal sexually active women as independent and in total control of what they do with their bodies. Not one, nor the other, but both make for good representations of a sexually healthy teenage girl.
But it’s almost understandable that these stereotypes are presented to us at such a young age. Teen sex is never a light subject– it’s one of the most obvious portals into adulthood, and the carefree use of young adults as caricatures can take some of the gloom away. Yes, it’s a big deal, and yes, it has, on occasion, ruined some lives– but this doesn’t leave sex for sex’s sake to the prototypical harlot. Sex for love isn’t always perfect (if ever), and sex for pleasure doesn’t always make a girl feel sick the morning after. Teen movies, by typecasting women, can promote unrealisitic ideas of what makes a positive sexual experience, of what side a woman is supposed to take.These concerns will follow a sexually insecure woman for a long time, which makes it important to distinguish the utter bullshit of the virgin/whore complex. After all, we’re all virgins at some point, all of us riddled with sin. So if we can’t take both sides, then who are we?
Sarah F also writes for her own blog – Lolita Hazed
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