Not Quite a “Feminist Masterpiece”: Re-Assessing the Characters in ‘Clueless’

April 3, 2021 by Essay Writer

It has been 24 years since the official release of Clueless, the 90’s romantic comedy that is still loved by teenage girls now in 2018. In general, the action centers on best friends Cher and Dionne as they take new girl Tai under their wing. What began as a chick flick is now being viewed in a different light – some claim Clueless is a movie oriented around the empowerment of women and is a “feminist masterpiece”. However, in a movie that centers around a female protagonist that goes to extreme lengths when she wants male attention and an emphasis on the desire look like a “supermodel” throughout it is hard to class it as anything that demonstrates feminism and would appear to me more damaging on a teenage girl’s attitude.

However, there are some aspects of the movie that are empowering to women. Heckerling presents the audience with a scene where the three main females discuss sex; In which each girl shares information about their experiences free of judgement from the others. While Tai has has multiple experiences and discusses her likes and dislikes – “I don’t really mind unless his you know what isn’t crooked”. Dionne claims to be “technically a virgin”. What is empowering about this scene is the fact there is no judgement towards either Dionne or Tai. However, Cher is a virgin and claims it is because she is picky “You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.” Neither girls make fun of her for this and Dionne respects that Cher is “saving herself”. Normally in a film it is men that talk openly about sex, so it is both empowering and refreshing to see female characters be able to do so, free of judgement.

Similarly, the scene after the Valley party when Elton tries to initiate physical contact with Cher – “I knew it, I knew it”, “you’ve been flirting with me.” Then he tries to kiss her several times much to Cher’s protest she responds with her signature phrase “ugh as if” but also makes it very clear that no means no and that she would never have that kind of relationship with him. She gets out of the car and although this is a very empowering moment as she refuses to be around a man that has made her feel uncomfortable the scene ultimately ends up being disempowering. Elton leaves her on her own far away from her home, then Cher is robbed of her money and phone. So this cannot be argued as a scene that empowers women, when Cher is the one who has to suffer the consequences of Elton’s actions.

While it is unfair to dismiss Clueless as a “feminist masterpiece” solely because of the girls love of boys, shopping, makeup and beauty; this is not disempowering, they are able to enjoy all of those things and still be strong independent females. The problem lies within the lengths they go to, to impress boys. Cher feels the need to go to excessive lengths when she likes someone – she sends herself flowers, “draws attention” to her mouth and uses other bizarre methods of getting attention. This can be damaging towards teenage girls as it gives the impression that you have to act in certain ways for a boy to like you, rather than being yourself. Also, when Tai finds out Elton isn’t interested in her the first thing she says is “it’s my hips isn’t it?” How can this be empowering to women if they believe themselves and their physical attributes to be the problem, rather than a male who tries to force himself upon a girl who makes it clear she is not interested?

Another flaw in the movie is the development of Tai’s character. Although Cher and Dionne risk their popularity for no personal gain to be friends with her this is not very empowering towards women. While Dionne claims Cher’s “main thrill in life is makeovers” which is perfectly fine, the problem is in the emphasis that Tai is only accepted after she has a makeover. The most genuine boy in the movie, Travis is the only one to notice and like Tai before and after her makeover. Whereas the rest of the characters, even the girls only notice her and want to be friends with her after she dresses like everyone else. This is major disempowering towards the women in the movie as it suggests they have to look a certain way just to be liked.There is no doubt that Cher is a strong character, she always goes after what she wants at full force and is confident in her abilities. When Josh asks “what makes you think you can get teachers to change your grades?” She confidently and proudly replies “only the fact I’ve done it every other semester.” She is very empowering and independent for teenage girls , when boys throw themselves at her she has none of it at all responding with “ugh as if!” It is not until the movie goes on that the feminist undertones fade when Cher feels the need to be and act a certain way for Christian to like her, then Josh.

Dionne is another character in the film who Heckerling presents as strong willed. Whilst in a relationship she is not afraid to stand up for herself, especially in front of people. In a scene between Dionne and Murray she expresses her dislikes “I hate when you call me woman”. This shows she will stand up for herself when there is something she isn’t happy with. This attitude can be seen as empowering for a teenage girl watching the film.

Clueless illustrates three interesting main female characters, and at some points in the movie they each do show empowerment. However, the whole movie is not a “feminist masterpiece” as there is too much emphasis on the characters needing to dress a certain way and to do certain things just so boys will like them. The characters don’t have any other goals other than getting the boys to like them. While Cher is an independent, driven character who at the start seems to empower women then goes on to obsess over the way she looks and ends up giving Tai a makeover, turning her into something similar to herself in order for her to be accepted rather than accepting her for who she is. While Clueless can be enjoyed for nothing more than its lighthearted comedy and happy ending the undertones throughout the film could be very damaging on a teenage girls perception of how to impress boys, how to look and act.

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