Signifier: A sign or symbol that conveys specific cultural meaning. Signifiers connect to larger discourses that work together to construct that meaning.
Another typical character and plot sequence is in the subgenre of romance movies (often called “chick flicks”). The script usually follows the fairy-tale story line: The main character is a young woman who is a selfless caretaker (Me Before You, The Wedding Planner) or ultra career- oriented (27 Dresses, The Proposal, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Boss, The Intern) or she is too involved in her work/school to realize how wonderful she is “inside and out” and doesn’t “fix herself up” or “accept herself for how special she is” (Miss Congeniality, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Holiday, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually, La La Land). Perhaps it is she who does not realize that he is really a prince in beast’s clothing, a beast that she will tame with her love or risk her life trying: (Beauty and the Beast, Fifty Shades of Grey, King Kong). She is often encouraged by her friends (or sister or gay best friend) to get out more, try something new, take a chance, and/or fix her hair and makeup. Despite her career success, family commitments, and fulfilling friendships, this state of being without Prince Charming is presented as problematic. She is not as beautiful, desirable, or fulfilled as she could be were she to also have that perfect man in her life. When she meets Prince Charming through a serendipitous encounter, she often does not realize that he is “the one.” He must break her coma in order to complete her life. After Prince Charming breaks her coma, she becomes more beautiful, which is signaled to the audience through improvements in hair, makeup, clothes, and softer lighting.
Mainstream movies, as well as many reality makeover shows, normalize the idea that it is important for women to transcend their race and class status and realign with traditional notions of femininity. Prince Charming facilitates her transformation, as through him, she acquires access to an improved life, self-esteem, and often a better wardrobe. These movies reinforce the ideology that women are fundamentally incomplete without a man. This man brings not only personal fulfillment and definition, but also increased social status through heterosexual marriage and a middle- or upper-class consumer lifestyle.
Just as we might find ourselves laughing at a racist joke, we might find ourselves enjoying a film that reproduces sexism. Indeed, it’s likely that due to how normalized these narratives are, we won’t see them as sexist at
all. Yet the more a narrative appeals to us (especially if we are women), the more important it is for us to be able to think critically about it so that we can resist its effects. Recall the concept of internalized oppression and that minoritized groups often collude with dominant ideology. Thus, no socially constructed text can or should be off-limits to a critical analysis, regardless of how popular or enjoyable it is.