By Elizabeth Smislova
My favorite books and movies feature the likes of drug cartels, prostitution, mad women locked away in attics, devastating heartbreak, violent war scenes, horrible mass deaths, extreme poverty and intense sword fights. Despite their heavy subjects and prestigious standings as award-winning and historical works of art, all of them are continually considered “chick-lit” or “chick-flicks.” I happen to be a woman, and also happen to enjoy the small amount of art that actually features strong female protagonists—call me crazy. My joy in seeing someone of my own gender struggle, love and somehow succeed on the screen or page means, regardless of the work’s sophisticated content, more often than not it will be dumped in a pile of something deemed only worthy of female enjoyment.
This so-called “chick-flick” genre typically implies an abundance of overwhelming emotional scenes, romance, a predicable plot and, of course, a happy ending. This final component is subjective in and of itself, but in our increasingly cruel and sad world, even if it were true that all “chick-flicks” ended happily, what is so wrong with that? Even those without the happiest of endings (like Jane Eyre, which concludes with suicide, arson and blindness, but also love) are almost more satisfying because they are real. Even when life is not as perfect as we hope, everything is still okay.
My most treasured movie is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a deeply complex and glamorous film that is frequently featured on lists of must-see “chick-flicks.” Audrey Hepburn has always been, and continues to be, one of my most profound sources of inspiration. She epitomizes what I believe a “chick-flick” really is at its core: girly, classy and therefore, infinitely strong and powerful. Audrey’s famous quote that begins with, “I believe in pink,” has helped me accept that being a girl is not something to hide: it is something to flaunt and be proud of. Being a woman is my core identifier—I adore everything conventionally associated with femininity and douse it in even more sugar and glitter.
Anyone looking at a poster or trailer for Breakfast at Tiffany’s might only see the glitz and glam of a beautiful woman living in New York with her cat who is inevitably going to fall madly in love. But there is so much more, as there is with anything lumped in a category of material suitable for women.
I admit most “chick-flicks” are more overtly emotional than films in other genres, but I do not understand why this means women are delicate and simple-minded, when it actually means the opposite. Breakfast at Tiffany’s overflows with emotion, or the buildup of it, in the actions of Holly Golightly who refuses to face whatever reality people pressure onto her. The movie deals with the intense fear in all of us that no one wants to recognize or give a name to.
Golightly calls it the “reds,” the feeling “when you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” She then goes to Tiffany’s, a place where nothing truly bad can happen. The film does not necessarily have a happy ending, but it does end with the acknowledgment that no one really knows what to do with the enigma that is life.
People get scared and run but always end up running into themselves. Sometimes all you can do is accept the fear and make the most of the love we can find, and that is enough. Such an act takes tremendous courage, and is more comforting to see than a story that ends in untainted and perfect pleasure.
Everyone gets the “reds,” and we all have different ways of dealing with them. Watching a film with a female lead is a reminder I am not alone in my fears and desires. “Chick-flicks” are emotional, but so are people. When people identify with something they see in art, the art has fulfilled its purpose. If seeing someone I identify with on screen makes it a measly “chick-flick,” then so be it. This designation will not deplete the sense of belonging with all people, not just women, that I feel when I hear the first chords of the opening song to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Moon River.”