Charlie’s Angels: Feminism or Fauxism?
Contributed by: Molly von Berg
The resurgence of Girl Power in the early 2000’s was heavily supported in pop culture. Destiny’s Child, The Powderpuff girls, TLC and many others were present on the Girl Power front. My personal favorite Girl Power Trio was Charlie’s Angels. I absolutely idolized Charlie’s Angels as a little girl and wanted to grow up to be a crime-fighting-cool girl. Charlie’s Angels (the film reboot of the show) came out in 2000 and functioned to reinforce girl power, but this girl power had many new conditions for women to meet. The new type of feminist seen in this film was a perfect role model (or so I thought). She was an example of how to be really cool and independent and strong while holding on to my femininity and still having boys find me attractive. The film encourages the audience to accept the social ideal of what a desirable feminist looks like.
Recently, I decided to watch the film again as it used to be one of my favorites. WOW! There was a lot I missed the first time. Charlie’s Angels was rich with innuendos, submissive contexts, and stereotypical male fantasies. The biggest act of blind submission found in the film is idealizing and obeying Charlie, an offscreen voice that delivers missions to the three women. His control over these three ‘uncontrollable’ girls is parallel to the idea that women can be strong as long as they are doing so for a man, or the man is the one really in charge. The trailer shows the women doing multiple stunts and actions as the narrator, Charlie, says, “…but they only answer to me.” Many feminists have defended this film on the premise of the free reign and expression of sexuality for the three women in the film, but it is unlikely that they would’ve chosen stilettos to fight crime if it weren’t for the pressure to be desirable in the male gaze. For instance, there is a scene in the trailer of Barrymore licking the steering wheel of a car a man is driving as a narrator says “techniques never used before.” This was so alarming to me, how could I have not seen these undertones of oversexualizing and objectifying women that were so blatantly put forth in this film, and why did I want so badly to fulfill this role?
Misty Harris of the Edmonton Journal, who evidently hated the film, argues that females are “empowered by education” and that Charlie’s Angels as an example of empowerment is pure baloney (Harris, 2003). I agree that education is an outstanding way to be empowered but I feel that empowerment is a unique experience that each girl and woman could achieve in their own way. The show, as well as the movie, had mixed reviews from feminist critics. Charlie’s Angels seemed to create a standard for up and coming third wave feminists stating that a woman could be strong and sexy all in one and that was okay. However, there was a significant emphasis on the need to appear sexy.
I fear that Charlie’s Angels and films like it are used to persuade young feminist women to conform to this specific idea of what a powerful strong woman looks and acts like. This can be detrimental because a powerful strong woman looks like any woman that feels and knows she is powerful and strong!
The main issue this causes for women and young girls is that it provides a false ideal for what they should act like if they want to feel powerful. It continues to focus on the best interest of males. George Gerbner’s cultivation theory (1976) suggests that the viewing of this movie, and other media that reflects these specific and narrow female ideals, may cause the public to expect strong women to match up with this perception of what a strong woman should look and act like. George Gerbner’s theory does not mean feminists won’t be attractive unless they are wearing tight leather and doing martial arts, but it does set a trope for what an acceptable feminist looks and acts like. Understanding the way this film is used to reinforce the patriarchy helps young women to think clearly about what being a strong woman means to them individually rather than in the view of the patriarchy. Because a strong woman can be any woman.
Chidgey, Red. “Feminism, Inc.: Coming of Age in Girl Power Media Culture (Book Review).”
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 1015–1018.
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Harris, M. (2003, June 28). Charlie’s Angels: Full throttle feminist hooey. Edmonton Journal, p.