Kit Yi Ng
She’s the Man (2006) centers on a teenage girl, Viola, who poses as a boy at a highschool. As a female posing as a male, this film examines the role of gender and sexuality.
Viola’s mother teaches Viola table manners and buys her a lot of feminine dresses. Viola’s mother values consumption, male power and feminine passivity (as she doesn’t approve of viola’s interest in soccer.) The mother here, represents the extreme ideology of traditional femininity, which mainstream culture has long identified as out-dated. As personified by the “masculinized” Viola, this construction of femininity is clearly not valued within the film’s narrative. Viola is not satisfied with following the old rules and does not want to “behave like a lady”. Instead, she insists on playing soccer and even enters the team of another school to prove her abilities.
In the film, Viola is an active character, not passively waiting for male attention. For example, in the last scene, her brother pulls down his shorts to show that he is a male in the stadium and viola who pulls up her sports shirt does the same. She also takes initiative sexually, kissing Duke who is her roommate first. At the end, Viola’s team wins the game and her mother no longer stops her from playing soccer. On one hand, the film seems to tell audiences that females have the power to make changes.
On the other hand, I argue that the film still holds a deeply rooted ideology which values masculinity over femininity. First of all, the film shows that sports are still the world of males and females are not supposed to get in. Viola cannot play soccer if she does not pose as a boy. In order to play soccer, she must abandon all of her feminine traits, and hide any feminine signifiers. For example, she needs to put on a wig of short hair and fasten her breasts on sunny days, hide all the tampons away, take showers only when there is nobody in bathroom and speak in a deep voice. Furthermore, the coach in Viola’s highschool, who represents the mainstream opinion, actually discriminates against females as he does not allow Viola to join his team.
The main actor, Duke, is muscular, tall, athletic and interested in girls. Meanwhile, when Viola acts as a woman, she is very feminine. She is thin, slender, has long blonde hair, big eyes and smooth skin. Moreover, other actresses in the film are all very feminine and appealing. When Viola’s friends show up in the movie, they dress in low-cut dresses and make-up; their goal is to grab male attention.
Much of the humor in the film comes from near-homosexual encounters. When Viola poses as a boy, her female classmate wants Viola to be her boyfriend. Much of the humor also stems from the fact that Viola is interested in men, staring at men in the changing room and hugging her male roommate.
On the surface, the film portrays the flexibility of gender roles. Viola is able to successfully “act like a boy,” and thus demonstrates the social construction of gender. However, this interrogation of gender roles is ultimately superficial. Viola, even when dressed as a boy, is still very feminine. Her love interest is also hyper-masculine. Furthermore, the fact that a large portion of the film’s humor stems from near gay/lesbian encounters makes one question just how progressive the film really is.
About BMC 277: Media and Diversity
This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.