“Girls Particularly Cautioned”: Separate Spheres for the Status Quo

Sometimes you see something that makes you run to calendar
to make sure that we still live in the 21st century.  No, not the rantings and ravings of
fundamentalist Christians who want women to relinquish their shoes and their
birth control pills.  That they want to
roll the clock back surprises no one.  Rather, it’s when you see something like this disclaimer at the bottom of a New York
Times movie review.

"17 Again" is rated PG-13 (Parents
strongly cautioned). Girls are particularly cautioned.

Yes. Girls are
cautioned. Why?  Does
the reviewer think that young women have a delicate constitution that prevents
them from being able to handle juvenile sex jokes of the sort you find in a
PG-13 movie?  Does she assume that girls
have too much going on to waste their time with the stupidest movie cliché
ever–the magical-event-causes-boring-adult-to-become-a-teenager storyline?  Or is it that girls will be so soaked in
hormones after watching Zac Efron for 90 minutes that they will be unable to
conduct themselves like proper young ladies afterwards? It’s hard to say, but
it seems that the sexism is what really offends Manohla Dargis.  She singles it out as particularly noxious in
this film:

Given the story’s obnoxious
implications – sex, meaning girls, can ruin your life – it’s no surprise that
Scarlet doesn’t get the chance to revisit her past and tell her boyfriend to
put on a condom.

Even assuming that Dargis was being cheeky when she said
that girls were particularly
cautioned, I have to ask, why the double standard?

My curiosity piqued, I dropped the $7 (who knew it cost that
much to see a matinee now?) to see "17 Again" and find out if it was just as
full of sexist humor as the review implied. 
What I found was less "Superbad" with more misogyny and more something
that seemed derived from an abstinence-only text, but with injected with some
pseudo-hip humor in order to make it seem relevant.  It’s a world in which our protagonist makes impassioned speeches about the
importance of abstinence, which makes all the girls love him (instead of tuning
him out just as they mostly tune out abstinence-only messages coming from
adults).  He also delivers a stern
lecture about "respecting yourself" to young women who commit the sin of openly
displaying sexual desire, because apparently you can have sexual desire or you
can be treated like a human being who deserves basic respect, but not both.

We’ve definitely seen this movie before. Spout
lists many of the dozens of movies where adults become teenagers, either by
swapping bodies or regression to their younger selves.
  In this variation, the hero Michael is an adult
pushing 40 and hating his life, which he feels was ruined when he gave up a
chance on a basketball scholarship and college to marry his pregnant girlfriend
at the age of 17. As
Jill at Amplify said
, the movie doesn’t acknowledge any middle ground where
someone can have sex without it turning into a life-altering disaster.  Not that condoms are never mentioned.  They are, in a scene where all the girls
reject them as foul and unromantic as the school bully hoards them all for
himself.  The message is clear–only bad
people use condoms to have sex for pleasure. 
In fact, during Efron’s impassioned pro-abstinence speech, he openly
states that you should wait not just for marriage for sex, but until you are
ready to make a baby that very first time.

Like most abstinence-only materials, the movie is
incoherent.  On one hand, we’re supposed
to cheer Michael’s successful attempts at preserving his teenage daughter’s
virginity, on the grounds that she needs to go to college (as if these two
goals are mutually exclusive).  But most
of the movie is about how the protagonist and his wife made the best decision
of their lives in having unprotected sex and forgoing college for marriage
before they could vote.  It’s not
surprising.  Most abstinence-only
programs put nominal effort in highlighting the value of avoiding pregnancy in
your adolescence, but as the Bristol Palin situation demonstrated, the
anti-choice right lines right up to cheer for teenagers who choose pregnancy
and marriage over higher education.

As you can imagine when dealing with a movie pushing right
wing attitudes about sex, sexism comes right along. Dargis was right about the
misogyny.  Even though Leslie Mann’s
character comes across as much less a harpy as she did in "Knocked Up"  (she has to, or we can’t root for their happy
ending), the rest of the movie bundles up some ugly assumptions about
women.  There are good girls (who are
virgins or happy teenage mothers) and every other woman is a horror show, a
slut and a monster all rolled into one. 
Michael’s female coworkers are all bimbos who get promoted over him,
because of their sluttiness.  The wife’s
friend is a slut who has the crazy idea that divorced women should feel free to
date, even if they have children.  And of course, you have the "slutty" teenage
girls who pursue young men, who are presumed to be broken and stupid
besides.  And even though we’re told that
Michael’s daughter is smart and has a future, we see no evidence of this, and
only know that she’s a bad girl with bad taste in men, and she’s only redeemed
by keeping her cherry intact.  Even then,
her whole performance of sexual desire is treated as grotesque in and of
itself, which fits with the rest of the film’s horror at assertive female

But I must take issue with Dargis’s pronouncement that girls
particularly are cautioned.  Boys need
this kind of vicious stereotyping of women and shaming of female sexual desire
even less than girls do.  If they’re
straight, they’re going to have to deal with female sexuality without thinking
it turns women into monsters, at least if they want healthy relationships.  In this movie, it seems the only way a woman
can have sex and be respectable afterwards is if she gets pregnant right away.

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  • invalid-0

    In the little trailers that you see. Most American movies are so been there, done that stupid, I am surprised anyone goes to them at all. This one sounds like a real stinker. Boycott, anyone? How DARE the abstinence only (one wishes THEIR parents stayed abstinent by joining the monestary or becoming nuns)spew out such garbage. Women and teen girls have just as much a right to have sex as do boy teens and men, if they so choose. They also have a right to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease, and should feel as empowered and confident as boys/men, and should NOT be treated any differently. Women have production companies now, they need to make their OWN honest movies that are the opposite of this crap. Something most people would actually want to see. This Patriarcy/mysogomy should be answered with a boycott from enlightened girls and women. I for one, will tell everyone (including the young women I counsel) NOT to waste their money on this junk, and the reasons why. Thank you!

  • http://www.afterglowcosmetics.com/organic_mineral_foundation/ invalid-0

    I also fail to understand why girls are particularly cautioned. What is the mind-set that works behind such special caution? :-(

  • amanda-marcotte

    The entire odious subplot where the main character’s best friend gets a girlfriend by stalking her and refusing to take no for an answer.

  • harry834

    Thank you again Amanda for giving me some good male education after a day at work. I can take my nap a little more enlightened than before.

    Keep the dirtbags nervous in your fight for what’s right. You always will be there for the hopeful ones to see.

  • invalid-0

    So you watched this movie with the specific purpose of being offended. You basically just went and took anything and everything you could, even out of context just to pretend that it’s evidence for your “point”. While you sat there trying to find faults, twist ideas and put words into other people’s mouths the rest of the world just enjoyed the movie. Yeah the movie is not particularly about particularly deep, politically correct or revolutionary messages. Not everyone, especially women/teens are as stupid and easily manipulated as you seem to assume either.

  • invalid-0

    “In fact, during Efron’s impassioned pro-abstinence speech, he openly states that you should wait not just for marriage for sex, but until you are ready to make a baby that very first time.”

    Oh by the way, I love how you actually decided to ignore major plot points just to make your idiotic analysis. That entire speech was done so he could stop his daughter that was in that class to not sleep with the schools resident douche bag who also seemed pretty pushy in having sex and rather forcefully made outwith her everywhere. The very same douche that is a delinquent and attacks his son. It’s kind of how real fathers react.

    Considering both the main character and the wife very obviously had pre-marital sex, a brainless buffoon could figure out what the character’s real views were on the topic. Unlike you.

  • invalid-0

    Yes there are some problems in this movie. But I think you seem too prone to blaming motivations purely on a sexist agenda instead of even beginning to try to understand character motivations. Also I think there were some rather empowering moments too. And you can’t decry the negative ones without admitting the positive ones.

    Things I appreciated were the wife who stands up and decides to make her agenda and her interests a priority. The husband who realizes how much of his wife he never knew or appreciated and how much of a doofus that makes him.

    Also, I think it is awesome that the daughter stood up to her douche of a boyfriend and chose breaking up with him over allowing him to force her to have sex. Sex should be on our terms (although yes, I think they should have had Maggie verbally come to the conclusion that she doesn’t have to abstain as long as it is her choice.)

    I think when anyone tries to overzealously pick something like this apart, they sort of send a message that we are too stupid to pick up on and neutralize those things ourselves. It says we need an intermediary, not unlike the priest in medieval times, to tell us what to think since we can’t read Latin ourselves.

    Why should we trust you? Let me think what I want about this movie.

    I am an independent thinker. I am empowered to have my own ideas, to make my own choices… isn’t that the concept of feminism. So why does anyone who fancies themselves a feminist feel they have a right to tell me what I am supposed to think or the expectation that I should believe it blindly?

    I believe the principal message of this movie, to appreciate and take joy in what you have been dealt in life instead of complaining about it, as well as the other positive smaller messages far override the negative messages.

  • 6zak

    Near-Eastern initiatives of the US president represent real chance for world achievement in region, the Minister of Defence of Israel has declared on Sunday in Cairo.The Near East had now serious chances of realisation of peace initiatives of American president Obamy, – the Israeli minister following the results of negotiations with the president of Egypt has told. Thus it has specified in possibility of achievement of progress not only on Palestinian, but also on other directions of Near-Eastern settlement. At the same time the head of the Ministry of Defence of Israel recognised existence of disagreements with the American administration concerning freezing of building of the Jewish settlements.We have some remarks under the maintenance of speech Оbama in Cairo in that, as to the termination of building of settlements, – the Israeli minister has explained.It has expressed hope, that disagreements do not become an obstacle for movement to a peaceful settlement in region.In the recent reference to Muslim world Obama has promised to make efforts for settlement of the Near-Eastern conflict on the basis of peaceful co-existence of two states – Palestinian and Israeli. Thus the US president has urged Israel to stop building of settlements in the Palestinian territories.Obama has informed also, that at negotiations with Мubarak the destiny of Israeli captured soldier Gilada Shalita which Palestinians wish to exchange for prisoners in the Israeli prisons was discussed. Thus it did not begin to make comments on concrete steps on clearing of the Israeli.

  • http://www.spinletslab.com/ invalid-0

    Heyyaa…. jus saw a very same blog somewhere else too !!! guess somebody’s been copyin ur stuff…