This week I was perusing Netflix when I happened upon the 2016 film "The Edge of 17," written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and starring Hailee Steinfeld.
As a 19-year-old girl, I am still very much a fan of teenage romantic comedies and all of the cliches that come with them. "The Edge of 17" is about the struggles of high-schooler Nadine when her best, and only, friend begins dating her loathed brother. Although the film stands above many teenage dramas or romantic comedies, it still features a plethora of stereotypical scenes and characterizations.
One of the first stereotypes shown in the film is the dreaded death of the main character's favorite parent. Nadine has to wrestle with the challenges of growing up without the parent who understood her the best: her father. Of course, the main premise of the movie, a best friend falling in love with a sibling, is one that has been seen and done many times before as well.
As I was watching "The Edge of 17," I could feel the direction the story was moving toward because of those teen movie cliches. Maybe it is because I have not seen a stereotypical teen movie in so long, but I have never noticed such a movie being as predictable as this one was. I still enjoyed it, though.
It was so predictable that I was not surprised when Nadine's revered boy-crush turns about to be a rotten, disgraceful human being. I expected him to kiss her without her consent and I expected him to try to force her to have sex with him.
This consistently happens in teen dramas and romantic comedies because these grody guys serve as a strong juxtaposition to the nice fellow that the main character will inevitably end up with at the film's finish.
This is precisely what happens in "The Edge of 17," as well as in other films. One of my favorite teen movies is "Easy A". and the main character Olive has to deal with a situation similar to Nadine's in "The Edge of 17." A boy asks her out on a date and kisses her consistently even when she tells him to stop. This also happens in "Eighth Grade" when Kayla, a young girl in eighth grade, is driven home by a senior in high school. The boy takes his shirt off and tries to initiate a sexual situation by forcing Kayla to take her own shirt off. Then, when she refuses and they sit in awkward, palpable silence he explains that he was trying to help her, that he wanted to make sure that she would be experienced sexually in high school. But, "Eighth Grade" and "Easy A" re-instill hope in the viewer as both Kayla and Olive end up with their destined nice fellow.
Until I watched "The Edge of 17," I did not realize how common it is for teenage films to present sexual assault.
Teenage films are normalizing sexual assault to young girls and teenagers who idealize the lives of the main characters presented in the films.
On the one hand, sexual assault is not an uncommon occurrence in our society. In the United States, one in three women has experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. One in five women will be raped at some point in their life, and women between the ages of 18 and 24 are 3 times more likely to experience sexual assault.
So, it could be argued that teenage films are not normalizing sexual assault, but are simply presenting the truth.
However, sexual assault is not an issue that is clearly understood by younger women in high school and college and I think that teenage films worsen that lack of understanding.
Watching these films a girl could be led to expect some form of sexual assault or to treat such instances of sexual assault casually as if they do not matter or are not much of an issue. A girl could also be led to assume that to meet someone who will genuinely love and treat her well she will have to struggle with sexual assault first.
It is important to educate younger women on what sexual assault is and how to recognize it, but I think that we can do that without causing them to expect sexual assault. Education on sexual assault needs to happen before college. Women need to know that sexual assault should not be normal or expected. If a woman is in a situation or relationship where she is experiencing sexual assault, then she needs to be able to recognize that what she is experiencing is wrong before she endures it for the duration of a relationship.
Happy International Women's Day, let's try to treat ladies a little more kindly in 2019.