What the Movies Say About the Modern Girl/Woman

ButterflyHave you heard how three-of-a-kind makes a trend? I’ve seen three movies in the last few weeks that collectively are giving me a sinking feeling. It’s making me wonder: does modern cinema reflect our culture? Do the movies hold up a mirror to who we are? Or do the movies simply force upon us story lines they think will appeal?

Here’s the theme that’s bugging me: post-modern girl as controlling and regimented, a woman who has planned her future long before she stands at its steps. A woman who manipulates the world around her to conform it to who she thinks she should be. Who she expects to be—or who others expect her to be.

The movies? Leap Year, about a desperate, successful urbanite planning to propose to her boyfriend to force marriage upon him. Post Grad, about a driven girl who’s always been able to get exactly what she wants—until she finds herself unable to land a job after college. And Vicky Cristina Barcelona, about two friends heading to Spain for the summer, one of whom has her plans for a white-picket future turned upside down when she meets a sexy painter.

In each of these stories the young woman’s set-in-stone plans for her future—marriages, careers—are thrown into question when she encounters unexpected challenges. Or, as she and we come to realize, opportunities. Interestingly, both Anna in Leap Year and Ryden in Post Grad end their stories happily, completely differently than they had expected. But Vicky, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, ends her story in true Woody Allen/European film fashion—unsettled, unclear. Like life sometimes is.

Anyway, it gave me pause. Do we modern women—we who carry the triumphs of our feminist forbearers—we who live in a day and age where all options are open to us—do we still feel so contrived as to decide our futures long in advance, blind to all forks in the road, dragging or stampeding anyone in our path?

Don’t get me wrong, I speak as one who always saw a pretty clear path: go to a good college (UC Davis), marry a great guy (which I did), and start on my career wholeheartedly, right after college (marketing coordinator in a high tech company at the age of 21). Yes, I did all that and never regret any decision I made. It was the absolutely right thing for me. But I ended up in high tech quite accidentally, something I never envisioned for myself. And I had children after 10 years of marriage–not the original plan, but it worked out perfectly.

Here’s the thing. I want to believe that our girls are awake to all the possibilities that life can bring to them, whether or not life delivers against their Grand Plan. Especially because chances are it won’t.

Today I took a tour at the middle school my first-born, my daughter, will attend in the fall. The principal there has a great reputation; I liked her right away. She talked about how fortunate we are that our kids have many electives to choose from here in our public school district: foreign language, leadership, music, drama, journalism, engineering, library science and much more. She also acknowledged that sometimes kids don’t get their first choice and instead end up in electives they thought they had no interest in. And those unelected electives often end up being the best class they take in middle school. What a great opportunity to start learning about the gift of an altered plan!

Watching these movies made me want to cry out to the young women of today: your plan is not always the best plan! Life throws you twists and turns! Some of the greatest experiences you will ever have in your life are the ones you don’t plan! Enjoy every minute of it!

As John Lennon famously said in his lovely song “Beautiful Boy:” Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. So go on, make plans. Plans are good. But keep your mind open when life interrupts them.

  1. Shannon Rigney Keane

     Thanks for the post. The character you’re describing – the young woman hell bent on success, meeting her timelines, and "having it all," even if makes her miserable in the process – is pretty common. I’ve been noticing it lately, too. I wonder when she started making her appearance. Is she meant as a cautionary tale? Or just a caricature? Comic relief?

    I most recently noticed her in the film "Up in the Air." The character is a young woman who goes to work at a company that helps corporations lay off their employees. She thinks she knows it all – about work, about life, about relationships. She’s made some bad choices in the name of meeting her deadlines about family and work before she hits 30. Of course, she falls apart when things don’t turn out as she’d like, but we get the sense that she might be putting herself together again in more realistic and balanced ways.

    It’s natural for ambitious people to make ambitious goals.  Men do it all the time, which makes me wonder if there is a double standard at work here, similar to when successful guys are called brilliant or focused while successful ladies are given a bad rap if they are focused or "bitchy."  Are these characters telling us that it’s really un-feminine and un-appealing when women get too ambitious?  People will laugh at us if we try to have it all?

    I agree with you, Stacy, that we grown women have to teach (and model for) our daughters knowing when to throw the plan away, whether it’s a major plan, like when to have kids, or a minor one, like where to go on a trip. In the process of teaching them, we might just rediscover for ourselves what accidental joys life holds in those unanticipated – and unplanned – moments.  

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  2. Melissa

    I love this article! While I haven’t seen any of these movies, I certainly appreciate the sentiment you’re getting at. Women–myself very much included–seem to portray a sense of “having it together” at all times, meaning we never allow ourselves to be caught off guard without a plan. After recovering from sexual assault and an eating disorder, I’ve found my life totally without a set plan–completely contradicatory to my attitude during my most guarded years, in which I finished college a year early, got engaged to my boyfriend of 7 years, bought a house and moved to a different state. Now, I’m currently unemployed (after realizing that what I truly want to do with my life was NOT what I was doing!) and I’m loving the thrill of every new day without a plan. It’s freeing, for once, to not know where the next day will take you!!

    Cheers to a great article!! I’m an official GLI fan!!

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