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Coming of age movies

I love them. I love the journey, I love how the protagonist finds himself, I love that he learns something new, I love the friendships in them and I love how the hero emerges somehow older and wiser.

Note, though, that I have said ‘himself’. I’m not trying to be gender neutral here. I’m not saying that I love how the protagonist finds herself. I wish I were. Here’s what I hate about coming of age movies. I hate that hardly any of them are about women. And the ones that, arguably, are – tend to define the woman’s ‘coming-of-age’ against her love for a man. They are rom-coms. I have nothing against rom-coms (well, not much). But romantic relationship does not define a girl’s journey to adulthood.

Think about some coming-of-age movies:

Stand by Me
Back to the Future
Boyhood
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Way Way Back
Good Will Hunting
The Kings of Summer
Rebel Without a Cause
This is England
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
American Beauty
The Graduate
The Breakfast Club
Dead Poet’s Society
Rushmore
The Karate Kid
Life of Pi
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Risky Business
Wonder Boys
About a Boy
Kes
American Pie
Napoleon Dynamite
Teen Wolf
Billy Elliot

And I could go on…

All of them about boys. All of them define themselves through action. Which is to say, the boys find themselves through doing things.

Now try to think of some coming-of-age movies about women.
Now eliminate all of the movies that are really about a girl getting a boyfriend / husband.
Now twiddle your thumbs.
Now try to think of any coming-of-age movie, about a girl, that does not focus on her discovering who she is via relationships with boys/men.
Twiddle your thumbs some more.
How’s that list coming?

Does it look something like this?

Juno
Whale Rider
The Virgin Suicides
Mean Girls
Pan’s Labryrinth
Ghost World
Dirty Dancing

Notice something? It’s not a big list is it? And if you examine this list more closely, it gets even more worrying:

Juno (the girl gives birth. Yep. It’s a great movie but we can’t forget that her biology is key)
Whale Rider (a film about a girl fighting for acceptance despite her gender)
The Virgin Suicides (well – they figure themselves out in death)
Mean Girls (a boy is important here. Oh, and pretty girls are mean)
Pan’s Labryrinth (finding yourself in mythology / death)
Ghost World (hurray! Mostly not about a boy)
Dirty Dancing (about a boy but at least the power is pretty even between them)

Why should this matter I hear you cry? Firstly, I’m not saying that all those movies about boys shouldn’t exist. A lot of them are great movies and they should definitely be around. But there needs to be more movies about women defining themselves through action. Action. Not biology, not gender, not romantic relationships. Why is this important? Why should this matter? Because it’s true.

And saturating boys and girls with a message that says: ‘boys do, girls are done to’ helps no one.

So come on filmmakers. Show us a bit more truth please.

Author:

I lecture in creative writing, games and education. I write. I make the odd game. I work with the odd school to make learning more like playing a game...

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