May 31, 2003


How do chick flicks make women weep?: University study says it's all about the 'power of emotion' (Chris Lackner, May 30, 2003, National Post)
The common, stereotypical definition of a chick flick is simple: a film that will reduce its female audiences to tears while keeping men away in droves. How and why this exactly happens is the subject of ongoing research at the University of Manitoba.

According to a study by Brenda Austin-Smith, a professor of English and film studies, classic chick flicks act as a psychological release for their female audience, even though women realize they are being manipulated by Hollywood gender stereotypes and emotional cues.

"A lot of research has been done on the patriarchal stereotypes and pop-cultural messages in films that [cater to a female audience], but they never directly talk about the power of emotion," said Austin-Smith. "What makes women weep?"

Her research focused on classic Hollywood weepies produced between 1920 and 1940, such as 1939's Dark Victory featuring Bette Davis as a woman battling blindness, 1937's Stella Dallas starring Barbara Stanwyck as a mother fighting to provide her daughter with a future, and Madame X starring Lana Turner as a scorned wife forced into prostitution and charged with the murder of a crook.

These films always portrayed woman as a tragic heroines, battling issues such as the loss of a child or spouse, raising a child on their own, or terminal illness, she explained.

Austin-Smith has done extensive interviews and film screenings with 37 women whose ages range from 35 to 83. She focused on women who either lived in the era in which classic weepies were released or who may have grown up watching them with their mothers.

These movies had the tendency to be more reality-driven, and often captured the life experience of the women who lived during their era, she noted.

"These films gave women a safe place to cry," she said, adding her study also set out to determine whether such films still have the same emotional impact on modern audiences. "I found these films still have their weepy mojo."

Most women can not afford to be emotional because they need to be strong for their families, partners, children or careers, but weepies offer them a cathartic release from life's burdens, she explained.

Is there a man anywhere who wouldn't build a special room onto his house so his wife could have a "safe place to cry" if she'd just stop making him watch these insipid movies? Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2003 11:21 PM
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