Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Language and Sexual Content
Gender Roles - Women: 4 Stars
Sydney White is an unlikely character for a teen romance. She was raised by construction workers, adores comic books and doesn’t own a dress when she sets off for college. She is thrown into the cutthroat world of female comradery, vanity, and jealousy when she attempts to join her mother’s sorority. We never get to find out if the tomboyish Sydney White would have found a way to fit in with the Kappas, because she’s singled out and bullied by Rachel Witchburn before she’s given much of a chance. When Sydney is rejected by her “sisters,” she calls them out for their superficiality and finds a place where she can be herself, and still finds love with a charming frat boy.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 4 Stars
Most of Sydney White takes place in a sorority full of beautiful young women. While this setting doesn’t allow for much variety in terms female appearance, it does make Sydney’s personality stand out. It’s clear that Tyler is attracted to her down to earth nature, versus the dozens of gorgeous, superficial women on Greek Row. Sydney also sets a brazen example while she’s living with Kappas, eating a healthy breakfast every morning and encouraging the other women to do the same. Once Sydney is removed from the sorority and decides to run for student council president, she takes the opportunity to make friends with a variety of women, including Asian/Pacific Islanders, band performers,ROTC, Goth, Jewish, and transgendered students. Unfortunately none of these women are given much screen time or dialogue, but there is a faint message that intriguing women (and people) come in a variety of shapes, colors and social statuses.
Plot: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Sydney White is a terrific example of a motivated young woman struggling to find herself in an unfamiliar place. She thinks she knows exactly what she wants at the beginning of her journey, but ends up forging a completely different path. By the end of the film, Sydney has learned something about leadership, friendship and injustice. She delivers a rousing speech that inspires the different social classes on campus to come together and acknowledge their similarities and awkwardness. The only thing that might have made this ending stronger is some mention of Sydney’s future plans as student council president, or a more solid reference to her academic goals.
Character Development: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Sydney White begins her college experience in a sorority full of malleable women who blindly take direction from Rachel Witchburn. Sydney is too strong a character to survive in this environment, but the film does a good job of explaining why Sydney was drawn to the Kappas in the first place. There is an unfortunate missed opportunity when Sydney encourages the seven “dorks” to run for student council, rather than volunteering to take on Rachel herself. While her encouragement of her new friends is sincere, it would have been far more satisfying to see Sydney challenge Rachel from the beginning - to see her recognize her obvious potential and voluntarily step into the leadership role.
Love: 4 Stars
The love story between Tyler and Sydney is simple, but convincing. Their romance isn’t all powerful and they’re not headed for the altar, but they’ve found each other in a confusing and intimidating social environment. Sydney is never placed under a spell and she doesn’t need his kiss to bring her back to life (though she does pass out in the library after pulling an all-nighter - requiring an unexpected kiss to wake her up in time for her debate with Rachel). Sydney and Tyler spend some time getting to know each other, and even have a brief argument over his involvement in having the Vortex condemned. If anything is missing from this love story, it’s a bit more back story on Tyler. Sydney shows him her vulnerabilities and shares pieces of herself with him, but we have little information on how Tyler fits in so well on Greek Row, and if he ever questions his place on campus.
Family: 5 Stars
Sydney’s relationship with her father is comical and endearing. He’s raised a caring, independent young woman who thinks for herself and doesn’t simply follow the crowd. He allows her to solve her own problems and trusts her to make sound decisions, but is also on hand to help her navigate the brutal social terrain of her first year in college. From the very beginning, it’s clear that he’s never given her the impression that being a “girl” should limit her choices in life.
Gender Roles - Men: 3 Stars
Tyler Prince is predictably wealthy, confident and attractive. To his credit, he easily sees past Rachel’s blonde hair and blue eyes and recognizes the selfish and mean-spirited person underneath. He takes Sydney to the homeless shelter where he volunteers, and later spends an evening at the Vortex getting to know the seven “dorks” that have become Sydney's closest friends. All this helps to show that Tyler has a heart and some substance to him, but he never truly deviates from the cool, sophisticated archetype.
Sydney’s friends at the Vortex add some contrast to Tyler’s frat boy swagger. They’re shy, socially inept, and uncomfortable with girls. For the most part, these characters are their own stereotypes and mainly included for comic relief. But at least one of the dorks, Lenny, is given enough heart and dimension to qualify as more than a caricature. It’s not enough to win over Sydney, but he does catch the attention of one of Sydney’s Kappa friends, Dinky.
Language and Sexual Content 3 Stars
One unsettling feature of Sydney White is the repeated use of derogatory sexual terminology among the Kappa sisters, like “skank,” and “ho.” Most of this is done in a light-hearted manner and not in reference to any particular female, but still suggests that there is some legitimacy in demeaning other women for their sexuality.
Sydney White also includes some light jokes that portray college men as stereotypically crude and sex-obsessed animals, but these moments are brief and well-balanced against the film's more complete male characters. In addition, Sydney White doesn't shy away from including a few jokes to remind audiences that women have similar sexual instincts.
Friendship: 1 Star
Despite the overall positive message of Sydney White, the film paints a relatively bleak and oppressive picture of female friendships. Sydney’s only real friend of all the Kappas is Dinky, who doesn’t have the courage to stick up for Sydney or to continue their friendship after she’s been removed from the sorority. The women in Sydney White are only concerned with their looks and social status. The one redeeming quality in all of this, is that the Kappas eventually turn on Rachel, making it seem as if it were Rachel alone that was driving this mindset.
The male friendships in Sydney White aren’t much better. The “dorks” that live in the Vortex are all outsiders, and yet we don’t see any evidence that this has brought them closer together. No one pays any attention to Lawrence's experiments, no one ever reads Gerken’s blog, and Lenny never shares with anyone how Sydney humiliated him the night they first met. Their friendships are based on stereotypical conversations about pirates and video games, with no real substance or heart to them.