Is Mean Girls A Film About Empowerment?
Before social media, before dating apps, before millennial pink, Tina Fey's 2004 screenwriting debut defined the tone of a generation. And although its exploration of the nuances of female friendship seems to have effortlessly moved into the subsequent zeitgeist(s), is its portrayal of sex, power and womxnhood an accurate depiction of where we are now?
Hyper-sexualised femininity spans generations in Mean Girls. From Kylie, Regina's younger sister, who we see gyrating in front of the television soundtracked by Kelis's Milkshake, to Regina's Juicy tracksuited and booted mother, with her boob job and 'cool mom' mentality ("you need anything? Water? A condom?"), and of course amongst the Plastics themselves.
Even the memorable, "on Wednesdays, we wear pink", presents this binary of naive femininity colliding with intentional sexuality. Here, pink is taken to mean feminine, and amongst these girls, feminine is taken to mean 'sex'. When Cady arrives to lunch in Damien's oversized pink polo shirt, she represents a threat to this concept of sexualised femininity, and therefore deemed as a 'work in progress'; someone who must transformed and 'fixed'.
Janis Ian, arguably the hero and saviour of the film, is a more clear and less palatable threat. Cloaked in darkness, visually Janis is the antithesis of this hyper-sexualised femininity.
And although she fends off assumptions about her sexuality with comical candour, I can't help but wonder what an impact it would have had if Janis had owned her queerness instead.
Perhaps the 14-year-old queer girl watching Mean Girls would have felt more seen and heard, instead of feeling like her/their sexuality was less important than that of cis-gendered heterosexual teenagers depicted in the rest of the film.
There are more explicit examples of this feminine sexuality being wielded within various power dynamics; the two barely-clothed Chinese students who fight over Coach Carr (perpetuating the stereotype of Asian womxn as sexual objects playing into the hands of predatory older white men); the trope of the 'dumb blonde' seen in Karen; the Halloween outfits and party culture that hinges upon girls dressing like 'sluts' to impress boys.
So, what does Mean Girls teach us about empowerment and sex?
It isn't a film that aims to dismantle the male gaze or challenge ideas about sexuality. It does, however, give us an insight into what happens when sex gets caught up in gendered constructs, and how dangerous it is play into these binaries. If Mean Girls was written now, would we see these young womxn be portrayed as more sexually empowered beings? Perhaps; but maybe Coach Carr would still be propagating the same patriarchal theory that sex will only lead to three things: chlamydia, pregnancy and death.