A while back, I discovered that a friend of mine hadn’t seen the film Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. I was mortified at how someone could have missed out on what was one of my favourite films (and books) in my formative years.
But not as mortified as I was when we sat watching it together (because of course I had to put it on right then and there). You know when you show a friend a video and you’re trying to gauge their reaction and the truth is that they just don’t get it? This kinda felt the same. Though, it pains me to say, I was actually embarrassed to have raved about the film before we’d put it on.
Why? Well… because it sends the entirely wrong message to young, impressionable girls.
Boys don’t like funny girls
Relationships in high school were fickle at the best of times. My constant concern was how I could look good for the guy that ignored me when he was around his ‘cooler’ friends. How could I convince him to like me? What would I need to do to prove that I was worthy of being his girlfriend?
The kind of sad truth is that I wasn’t popular or ‘pretty’ enough to be a decent prospect. (I put ‘pretty’ in inverted commas because in high school this basically meant that you got boobs before anyone else, you wore decent make up, your skirt was rolled up a few times and you followed whatever hair trend was happening at the time).
So remember the opening scene of Angus, Thongs, where Georgia turns up in that stuffed olive costume and Jas tells her, ‘boys don’t like girls for funniness’? And the way all the other girls at the party are snickering at Georgia? This is exactly what I’m talking about, less than 5 minutes into the film.
Right from the off, it’s telling it’s young viewers that boys won’t like them if they’re funny. They might as well not bother making an effort or having a personality, in favour of donning devil horns and angel wings.
‘She really is Miss Slag of the Century’
The film introduces all of the main characters through Georgia’s perspective, and I found the most problematic of them all to be Slaggy Lindsay. First of all, for the fact that she is introduced with this adjective repeatedly throughout the film. Secondly because Georgia has no real reason to describe her as such, other than the fact that she’s got bigger boobs and gets more attention from guys. There is a lot of underhand girls-against-girls behaviour throughout (which I’ll get on to later), but to brandish someone a ‘slag’ for doing pretty much nothing at this point immediately sets up an uncomfortable situation. And… yes I realise that these are teenage girls, but does that make it an acceptable way to behave?
What else? Oh yeah, they sit outside Lindsay’s house with a pair of binoculars and criticise her for choosing to wear a thong and calling her fake because she has those bra implants (as if nobody ever has worn a push-up bra). Not only is this very weird behaviour, but it further promotes that idea that it’s ok to sit and bitch about girls for doing totally normal things. Not only that, but then teaching viewers that stalking someone and sitting outside of their home is totally acceptable and normal behaviour. (Which, let’s be frank, it’s not).
To give some credit here, Georgia does make perhaps the only reasonably feminist comment in the film, stating that she wouldn’t wear a thong just because a boy would want her to. It’s a shame really, because there are lots of opportunities to teach (and be) something empowering and instead it’s just… not.
Undermining/batting down girl-friends
The most worrisome thing for me in this film is the lack of support that the girls give to each other. There’s a very sinister behind-the-scenes behaviour between groups of girls especially, which doesn’t sit well with me at all.
The ‘Ace Gang’ seem close knit and claim to be best of friends, yet there are several instances where this isn’t the case. The friendships crumble really quickly (which to an extent is just down to the fickleness of young teenagers) and underneath you start to see what the girls are really like.
From the smaller elements, such as the whole suggestion that the Phys Ed teacher is a lesbian (because if you’re a woman and you play sports, obviously you are…), to the bigger ones, such as fighting with your friends because they’ve got a boyfriend, there seems to be this idea that you can say literally whatever you want, no matter the risks or consequences of those actions.
Let’s talk about Ellen
I want to take a minute to talk specifically about the treatment of Ellen in the film. From the beginning, she seems to be presented as the timid, inexperienced one. At the sleepover (the one where the girls rate each other, which is totally insane and another example of their obsession with beating each other down all the time), Ellen exclaims that it’s not fair that Georgia and Jas get to ‘have’ the new guys at school. And instead of saying, you’re totally right, why don’t we just be human and stop treating them like they’re objects for us to own, they tell Ellen that she’s not emotionally ready. I actually think this is the most disgusting part of the film to be honest, because it’s entirely a selfish act and this kind of behaviour could be insanely damaging to someone as timid and impressionable as a girl like Ellen. And – NEWSFLASH – none of these girls are emotionally ready. Creating a scale and squealing at the idea that you might kiss with tongues is not even close to emotionally ready!
Of all the girls, Ellen is the most honest, which in a way explains the way that she’s treated. When the group are standing on the pier, Ellen expresses her true opinions (which are actually quite insightful for her age) and is met with the remainder of the Ace Gang giving her dirty looks, until she literally shies away from them and doesn’t speak again. Friends shouldn’t make you feel like that.
It’s boy-stalking time…
Not only do the girls stalk Lindsay, but they also literally follow Robbie and Tom around, taking notes on what food they’re eating too. This. Is. INSANE. Totally not normal behaviour. As well as that, the girls just decide, based on their looks, that they must own them, before they even know them at all.
There are a number of smaller instances throughout the film that are cause for concern, particularly surrounding the way the Georgia talks about herself. These are far more reflective of her personal insecurities rather than of any inherent sexism. But hearing Georgia tell Robbie she is a ‘sad excuse for a girl’ because she messed up a fake tan (which we’ve all done right?) is quite disappointing.
It’s been a long time since I last read Louise Rennison’s novels so I can’t quite comment on how the books compare to the film, but I don’t remember being this shocked by it at all. I guess that’s also down to age and education over the years, but I’d love to hear your opinions about all of this!