February 11, 2011

Female bonding movies absent during violent times, surge during safe times

In the comments to an earlier post about the degradation of romantic comedies into chick flicks during falling-crime times, someone mentioned the rise of a certain type of chick flick that I hadn't thought of -- the female bonding movie. That's probably the most extreme example of a cultural work that depicts sex segregation.

I googled around for a list of I-can't-even-write-it kind of movies, and found this one with 201 entries. Aside from two movies from 1937 and 1945 (both part of the falling-crime era of 1934-1958, by the way), all of them are from 1980-2010. I don't know how recently it was updated. Here is how these 199 movies were released over time:

There is a consistently low level during the high-crime times of the 1980s and very early 1990s. After the crime rate peaked in 1992, the culture began sissifying itself, and part of that was the re-segregation of the sexes, as I explained in the romantic comedies post. It's like after the end of the Jazz Age (another piece of soaring crime history), when females began to shut themselves in the kitchen and felt more like vacuuming the living room carpet in high heels rather than driving cars around to look for boys, dancing to wild music, and smoking and drinking. Sure enough, the recent falling-crime period is when this sort of movie exploded in numbers.

The picture would be more accurate if I weighted each movie by how much money it brought in at the box office, adjusted for inflation. That would tell us how much money people paid in a certain year to see this genre in the theater, not just how many such movies were made. But that's extra work, and the picture is already clear.

These movies are one counter-example to the tendency during falling-crime times for people to become infantilized, as they perceive a safer and more predictable world and put everything off until much later. Even pre-pubescent girls have some interest in boys -- especially like the ones I went to school with when crime was soaring, but even the ones today. No, the social world inhabited by the characters in these female bonding movies is more like that of a post-menopausal woman -- not wanting much excitement, seeing only a small number of people socially, and all of them females instead of noisy, smelly, and bothersome males. Again, even elementary school girls want to mix in with the boys to some degree, even though they too think we're made of slime and snails and puppy-dog tails.

Another big reason why females bond a lot more during falling-crime times is that they've abandoned their promiscuous ways from rising-crime times. It's hard to bond when you're competing more aggressively for male attention, but easy when you respect each other's claims on who belongs to who.

But just wait till the crime rate inevitably enters the upward phase of its cycle in the next 5 to 25 years, and girls will realize that they can't get through real life by sequestering themselves away from boys, and that it's not enough to just keep a few gay pet-friends. Plus we'll happily see an end to these menopausal group-hug movies and a return of out-of-control girls eager to play with the boys.


  1. That list isn't so good since it includes a lot of foreign films, low budget indie movies, and some that just plain don't fit, e.g. Miss Congeniality.

    As a whole the genre isn't a huge moneymaker. My guess is that's because they are usually aimed at middle-aged women, not a broad target audience.

    Here are the three early ones (89-91) that had the biggest buzz at the time:

    Steel Magnolias (1988) - $83 million; 1 Oscar Nom.

    Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) - $119 million; 2 Oscar noms.

    Thelma & Louise (1991) - $45 million; 1 Oscar win (best original screenplay), 5 noms. (2 for best actress)

    Honestly I'm not sure what conclusions to draw. The first two are about younger (Southern) women who learn how women in their mother's generation relied on each other through adversity.

    I'm shocked at how little money Thelma & Louise made given how much press it got.

    The biggest grossing one of all was The First Wives Club (1996) at $181 million. Definitely for middle-aged women.

    The only ones that really seemed aimed at millenials are the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies (2005; 2008). Not terribly popular, each made about $45 million. But then again they're based on really popular book series for tweener girls.

    Wait, did the Sex and the City movie really gross $415 million? The apocalypse is surely nigh.

  2. Just had a thought about a potential gold mine of data for you: book series aimed at tweener (6th to 8th grade) girls.

    Specifically, Babysitters' Club (1986 -2000; 176 million copies sold) and Sweet Valley High (1983 - 2003; 250 million copies sold).

    Because they span the rising/falling crime divide, looking at how they changed would be interesting. When I was in 6th to 8th grade (1989 to 1992), I don't think there was a single girl in my class who didn't read these religiously.

    The only thing I remember about them is that Sweet Valley High was supposed to be a little racier than Babysitters.

  3. I think you've covered this ground before but, as a comparison, look at the the "best guy movies". As the number of chick flicks/bonding movies rise, movies men revere decline. A quick search found these:


    For the sake of this specific argument, I would throw out movies women enjoy as well, such as "The Usual Suspects", "Office Space", and "Dumb & Dumber". Then the list gets even more bleak past 1990.

    Recently, I've asked myself two things: 1. What movies do young males revere (anyone 25ish and below) and 2. am I just getting too old to appreciate their tastes? To answer 1, I have primarily my association with gamers to go off of. My direct peers and I will spout lines like "Get to the choppa!", "Kahn!!", and similar, and then revert into a actor/character quote association just about anytime we play. We're often in the minority, age-wise, when playing games online, yet there are no alternative quotes being offered up by he younger players. Interestingly, our Arnold and gangster movie rap, "Say hello to my little friend!", is picked up by the youth, either because they do know what we're referring to or they want to know. It's not uncommon for us old guys to plant the Netflix research seed and have a young player come back fresh off of a "Full Metal Jacket" or "Predator" viewing.

    For #2, maybe I am getting old, but, despite my enjoyment of comic hero movies and a few action movies like the Bourne and Bond series, they're not offering dominating performances, one-liners, and overall remembrance (epic movies like Gladiator, Braveheart, and LOTR series aside). I don't think there are movies and characters for young males to rally behind, and it shows. When I casually poll them as to what movies they really love, I usually get back the "Doofus Comedy" list, not action movies.

  4. "Sweet Valley High was supposed to be a little racier than Babysitters"

    Oh, this still holds true today, I can ask women in their late 20's if they read Babysitters or Sweet Valley High, and invariable the sluttier girls were into Sweet Valley and the Good Girls were Babysitters Club readers... without fail!

  5. You've got only one peak. This could have been one fad that came and went. What you say sounds sensible, but in order to get any real data, I would try to figure out a keyword you can search imdb with so you can go back before 1980.

    Heck, ask Steve. He's into movies, he's old enough to have an idea, and he likes your blog. ;)

  6. Hmmmm, interesting. I'm a female and I still hate chick flicks!


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