Gender Roles – Women
Language and Sexual Content
Gender Roles - Women: 3.5 Stars
Cady Herrin starts the film with some substance and some sense of who she is. Unfortunately, within a few days of being subjected to the treacherous landscape of a typical American high school, she’s pushed and pulled in enough directions to break down that fragile confidence. She eventually bends under the pressure and conforms to the new value system that surrounds her. Cady still has some unique talents. She has a skill for advanced mathematics, even if she loses sight of the value of academics. In fact, Cady ends up failing the one thing she’s always been good at to get the attention of a guy that she barely knows. Cady eventually comes back full circle, regaining pieces of the grounded girl that began the school year at North Shore high. But it takes a long and difficult journey, and an incredible amount of drama, for her to find herself again.
Plot: 5 Stars
Mean Girls is a brilliant commentary on the ways that young girls communicate and relate to one another. Cady is initially drawn to Janice, the first girl that offers her any sort of kindness, but quickly finds that Janice wants to use her to exact revenge on Regina George. As Cady gets to know Regina, and “the plastics,” she has difficulty seeing why Janice is so vindictive. Until the moment that Regina “betrays” her by going after the guy she likes, presumably for no other reason than to prove that she can. Throughout the film there are multiple instances of girls stabbing each other in the back rather than confronting each other face to face. The end result is a twisted, but all too accurate portrayal of the hurt that can be caused by petty competitions for such small and fleeting feelings of superiority. The film does a wonderful job of bringing things to a climax, forcing the girls to put aside the rumors and air their conflicts openly, working through their emotions and learning how to communicate.
Character Development: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
Most of the film is dedicated to Cady’s morphing character - from who she is at the beginning, to how she grows and develops into someone we no longer recognize, and then tries to find her way back to a sense of purpose and basic human decency. Perhaps the most telling scene is when Janice calls her out for her lies, hurt that Cady didn’t make it to her art show and didn’t bother to invite her and Damien to her party. Cady tries to explain that she was pretending to be “plastic,” but Janice bluntly tells her that she’s not pretending anymore. That she’s become as cruel and self-absorbed as the infamous Regina George. It would have been a nice touch to throw in at least one scene where Cady begins to process Janice’s words. Where she actually sees and admits to the transformation that’s taken hold of her. But before she has the chance, the school erupts into chaos. She does find a way to make her apologies and set things right in her own time. All in all, Cady is a fully human and relatable character, someone that young girls want to be, and don’t want to be. Hopefully she serves as both a role model and a warning.
Language and Sexual Content: 4 Stars
The girls in Mean Girls frequently refer to each other as bitches, sluts, skanks and other degrading terms. Sometimes the exchanges are friendly and playful, but in most cases they are meant to deride each other. While this sort of language is rarely as instructive as it is harmful, in this film it’s used to highlight the ugliness that girls can wreak on each other. In the end, Ms. Norberry calls the girls out for their abusive language, warning them that when they use these kinds of words they only make it easier for men to do the same. While it’s uncertain how much weight her warning carries, few films geared at adolescent girls include such sage advice.
Mean Girls also includes some scenes that deal with teenage sex and lust, but there’s nothing in these scenes to suggest that sexuality reduces a woman, or that there’s anything unhealthy or inappropriate about female sexuality.
Friendship: 5 Stars
Mean Girls presents a horrifying picture of female friendships that is full of petty rivalries and backstabbing. While there is little that is positive in this portrayal, the story is also painfully realistic. The value in this type of film is not that it presents the sort of relationships that we’d like our daughters to emulate, but that it warns young girls how their behavior looks from the outside, and the damage that can result from poor communication and gossip. Rather than just another comedy or teen drama, Mean Girls holds up a mirror to the world of high school and points out the problems that plague young women, encouraging a healthier dialogue and happier, bolder young women.
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Men: 1.5 Stars
Mean Girls doesn’t devote a lot of attention to its male characters. Cady’s love interest, Aaron, is a typical teenage heartthrob who isn’t given much of a personality or even a lot of dialogue. He’s tall and good looking, and that seems to be enough to make him a worthwhile prize - something tangible for the girls to fight over.
Another notable male character is Kevin G., is the leader of the Mathletes. Kevin is an interesting character in that he is the sort of man that is generally thought of as a geek or a pushover, but Kevin doesn’t accept this role. To the contrary, Kevin has the same ego and sex drive as any other red-blooded teenage boy. He’s still competitive, aggressive and inappropriate with women. The only difference is that he considers his superior intelligence, rather than his physique, as grounds for conquest and bragging rights.
The only male characters that appear to be fair negotiators and male role models are Damien and Mr. Duvall. However, since Damien is “too gay to function” and Mr. Duvall is the school principal, it’s difficult to say how much sway these characters have with young audiences.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
Cady and the rest of the “plastics” that she hangs out with are flawless beauties, with terrible mean streaks. But despite their selfishness and cruel comments, they remain high school royalty. North Shore does include a host of average women, but they belong to the unpopular cliques. It was particularly disappointing to see that the “jock” girls were all a bit tall and manly, as if to suggest that attractive girls aren’t interested in sports. The movie dedicates more than a few scenes to Regina’s needless attempts to lose weight, and then pokes fun at her eventual weight gain - despite the fact that she’s still slender and attractive. This sets up some uncomfortable expectations about how little it takes to tip the scales from fat to skinny. Some of this is likely meant to highlight how ridiculous girls’ expectations of their own bodies have become, but that message doesn’t come across as clear as it should.
Mean Girls does counter some of the plastics’ superficiality by focusing on Janice Ian, one of the “art freaks.” Janice may not be gorgeous, but she’s likable and more sincere than Regina George. The film ends on a positive note, with Cady getting dressed for her Mathletes competition as the others are primping for the Spring Fling. She catches herself making fun of the unattractive girl across from her, but just as quickly realizes that putting down the competition isn’t going to help her win. In the end, Cady shows up at the dance in time to recognize the beauty in all of her classmates, though it may be a bit too late to undo some of the stronger messages that circulate throughout the film.
Love: 1 Star
There isn’t much of a love story between Aaron and Cady, or between Aaron and Regina for that matter. Aaron is more of a plot device than a character. He’s a tool that the girls use to hurt each other, but neither Cady, nor Regina seem to concern themselves with his feelings. Neither of them share any intimate conversations with him. As an audience we know next to nothing about him. He’s portrayed as someone relatable and down to earth, but he’s also shallow enough to move from Regina to Cady without much heartache or thought.
Family: 3 Stars
Family relationships aren’t a large focus of Mean Girls, but we’re able to pull a few helpful messages from the family dynamics that exist. Cady’s parents have always trusted her. They expect her to do the right thing, and have never given her the impression that her value is wrapped up in her pretty face or her body. Regina’s parents, on the other hand, have encouraged her self-obsession and cowed to her demands. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Cady is the one who finds the strength to own up to the damage she’s caused, and to find a way to re-ground herself in the aftermath.
Cady Herrin has been home schooled for most of her life and sheltered from the catty world of adolescent girls. When Cady begins her first year in a real high school, she is instantly pulled into the hazardous mix of social cliques and disingenuous friendships that surround her. Cady becomes friends with an outcast named Janice, who encourages Cady to spy on the most loved and feared girl at North Shore, Regina George. Cady quickly becomes conflicted with her double life, realizing that popularity comes at a steep price. In the end, Cady must figure out what friendship really means, and what sort of person she wants to become.
Kelly is a labor law