Looking into the Female College Student Mirror
By Amber Bennett
In most media sources I have seen, the typical female college student is in a sorority or band and doesn’t seem to care about getting good grades or learning. She pretty much just cares about guys, hooking up, and drinking. My analysis revealed that when women are shown to hook up with men, we are looked at as promiscuous. But in comedy movies, such as 21 and Over and American Pie 2, hooking up is portrayed as cool and expected which may be because it is aimed towards a male audience. Thankfully, Gilmore Girls and Liberal Arts show a completely different side of the college student, especially the smart, studious, female college students.
Gilmore Girls is a show that came to my mind first as being a source which breaks the stereotypical portrayal of a female college student. Instead of the typical college female portrayal, the main character Rorie Gilmore is going to Yale, on her way to becoming a journalist. She has a few rough patches throughout but the difference is Rorie regrets her mistakes and faces her consequences of them. Whereas, this is not the case in the comedies American Pie 2 and 21 and Over. The movie that was the exception to any stereotypical college student usually portrayed in movies is Liberal Arts. This movie showed a more realistic version of a college student. Zibby is a drama major, loves to read, “doesn’t want to “hook up” like other others at her college do”, She explains in the movie. She wants a long lasting relationship with someone she truly cares about. I feel this is more representative of the majority of college students or at least another identity being portrayed, that others like myself can relate to.
In Liberal Arts, Zibby is even portrayed to be a virgin in her sophomore year of college and it is because she wanted to wait for the right person, which people do still do, despite what media usually teaches us. I waited until 19 years old and for the right person just like Zibby does so I felt like my identity was being portrayed in a very positive way, unlike other movies where that part of my identity being shown is non existent. Liberal Arts shows a realistic view of daily issues and real life problems. For example, it showed the struggle of a college student battling with mental illness, which is another identity others would connect with. I quickly realized while watching this movie that this is one exception in the media that truly breaks the stereotypes for college students. It shows a wide range of identities that college students possess. College is more than just sex, alcohol, and partying, which is the only things that happen in other forms of media that are created.
No matter the type of female college student, whether it be the band geek, sorority girl, or quiet and studious, the media I analyzed other than Liberal Arts, portrays women as promiscuous. When watching and analyzing 21 and Over and American Pie 2, I noticed that the main girls are extremely sexual and either in sororities or in the band. The female band geek who plays flute is a stereotype especially depicted in American Pie 2. She is really experienced and extremely sexual, she gives her friend lessons on sex because she is very experienced. There is not much character depth for the band girl other than her being very sexual and a flute player. I found it interesting that women with these college identities are shown to be so experienced and obsessed with sex, but usually in comedy movies that seem to be aimed at a male demographic. In addition, the girls in these comedy movies do not have much to their character because they are just focused on sex, partying, and drinking. However, in Liberal Arts and Gilmore Girls, the women are more studious and wanting to wait for the right time to have sex with the right person.
Zibby and Rorie’s characters are depicted as more important and thought out, probably because they are dramas as opposed to comedy. These dramas are aimed at a female demographic and shows consequences of actions along with character development. Rorie in Gilmore Girls does end up sleeping with her ex boyfriend who was married. However, at least the show portrays her as being regretful of those decisions as opposed to not caring about consequences at all in the comedies. I found this to be revealing because I wonder if increase of rape on college campuses could be related to these comedies, usually aimed at a male demographic, to be portraying females as hyper sexualized. This is portrayed so intensely in media that could lead men to think women always want sex and want to sleep with any guy available.
The two comedies also portray all students as being heavy binge drinkers, which many sadly are, but not all students are. No one in these movies were abstaining from drinking which many students do in real life. Since drinking is so popular and normalized, however, students that do not drink are looked at as weird and not normal. Researchers Herman-Kinney and Kinney explain that they “learned early on in their research that being an abstainer from drinking at college was a topic that many of these students chose not to make widely known” (69) because it is to the point that media portrays it as the norm. Media makes it binge-drinking and partying seem so normal that when real life college students abstain from drinking, it is looked at by other students as abnormal. These researchers use pussies, nerds, losers, and freaks as examples of what some abstainers from drinking have been called. For these reasons, I believe media is to blame for this stigma placed on non drinkers, as it is portrayed as “cool” and the purpose of college.
These researchers also report “that while some students (especially females) regretted hooking up while intoxicated, others defined the experience of hooking up as a positive benefit of binge drinking” (66). Sadly, in these comedies I analyzed, men and women were not shown to be regretful as they are in real life and are instead encouraged to get wasted and hook up with random people. However, Gilmore Girls does show regret and shame for this behavior so at least viewers can see the consequences that one has to deal with. The tv drama and movie drama portrayed realistic life for college students. Struggle, hardships, happiness, and love.
It is sad that comedies aimed at a male audience only portray women as hyper sexual beings and that all they want is sex and do not value anything else. One girl, Nicole, did value school in 21 and over but was really into partying and obviously in a sorority, like most girls are in college movies. Her good grades were not focused on for long though, she still seemed to like partying more. There is not much else I can say about this character, as she was shown to just go from party to party. Nicole was not shown much in the movie and she was the only girl as the focus was on the three guy friends. I am not in a sorority as they are not very popular at PSU. As one student said on Niche, the college scholarship site “You don’t come to PSU for the greek life, it is pretty much non-existent”. The fact PSU isn’t known for sororities or fraternities makes me feel more welcomed since I am not really into that part of college. If I went to OSU, I would feel out of place, like how I felt when watching the two comedies that depict greek life as being so normal and the only option for college students.
My analysis proves that teen and young adult comedies show a college party scene as being the norm, whereas the tv and movie drama shows realistic and responsible college students. Maybe not always responsible, but at least feel bad for their bad actions. These show a different identity of college students, which fits my identity more as a student and I am sure many others as well. It is too bad that more media sources are not portraying more responsible identities of young adults in college and focus on negative portrayals. This can have a negative impact on how older adults view college students and will not take us seriously in real life.
21 and Over. Dir. John Lucas and Scott Moore. Perf. Miles Teller, Justin Chon, and Jonathon Keltz. Relativity Media, 2013. Film.
American Pie 2. Dir. J.B. Rogers. Perf. Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, and Shannon Elizabeth, Film.
Herman- Kinney, N., Kinney, D. The Stigma and Sobriety and How Some College Students “Stay Dry” on a “Wet” Campus. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 42(1) 64-103.
Liberal Arts. Dir. Josh Radnor. Perf. Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron. BCDF Pictures, 2012. Film.
Portland State University. Greek Life Reviews. Niche. 2015.