Chicks Throwing Kicks on Flicks

Chick flicks. As a self-respecting, longtime moviegoer I despise that term, used loosely for romantic comedy, teen drama and musical genres. It alludes condescendingly to movies deemed lovey-dovey, fairy tale-y, or full of visual fluffs without much meat. Though I personally never liked overly sappy movies, but to insinuate only women can enjoy sentimental, substance-less entertainment is sexism. 

What about chick flicks that are about chicks kicking ahead—based on real chicks?

Let’s start with Dangal, the 2016 Bollywood production that made it to our cinemas recently. Based on a true story, Dangal narrates the uphill struggle of a former national wrestling champion accepting the reality of four daughters and no sons to achieve his dream of India winning international championship. What the movie ends up showing is the laborious struggle suffered by his preteen daughters once they trained as wrestlers.

Right off the bat was the restrictive kurti clothing and rejection from male-only training facility. The former champ built a makeshift tent by a crop field, got hand-me-down shorts from a nephew then enlisted the nephew as a training partner. When his eldest needed to test her prowess in a real match, then only available to boys, he pushed his way until an organizer relented. When the daughter defeated every single boy in roadside competitions, the father endeavored to procure a proper mattress so she could train for proper championships—where later she easily beat off girls in her class to win national medal and, after another arduous battle of a different kind, became the first Indian female wrestler to win international medals.

The journey was no picnic. Father and daughters faced jeers from peers, boos from neighbors and the garden variety of insults from perfect strangers—mostly because girls tried to excel in a male-oriented field. Never once “patriarchy” uttered, but that was what the movie was all about. Even as it ended happily, some critics pointed out that the girls were only kicking well under their father’s tutelage to fulfill his dream.

The critics had a point, yet taken into account how deep patriarchy runs in India – where you can still find a widow self-inflict death after her spouse’s demise—sometimes it still takes a man to help cornering chances to show women’s capability. Once the chance is grabbed the women can well prove on their own how they equalize the playing field. It is not ideal, and some hardcore feminists may hate me for saying so, but sometimes that’s the grim reality. Once the first layer of glass ceiling cracked, the pioneer women should give chances to their fellow sisters to form the critical mass needed to crack further layers. Geeta and Babita might’ve initially wrestled because of Dear Ol’ Dad, but now Indian girls could dream to become wrestling champs on their own. In the cutthroat corporate world that’s the practice that has been adopted by a number of advanced-thinking men and women, some of whom I was lucky to be mentored under.

That was also the exemplary action of Dorothy Vaughan who supervised female black mathematicians working under NASA in the 1960s, as illustrated in 2017 Hollywood production Hidden Figures. Facing gender and race discriminations, Dorothy saw the opportunity to move her group ahead through mastering the then-novelty IBM computing machines— even as she had to trick her way into a computer programming book available only in the public library’s Caucasian section. Far from making their jobs obsolete, her self-learning expanded the group’s knowledge into the new technology that they became indispensable—prompting, eventually, white mathematicians to come for guidance.

Pivotal, door-opening, helps from the more ‘privileged’—male, white, or both— came in the form of risk-taking bosses, chance-taking judge and supportive husbands in the case of geometry analytic wizard Katherine Goble and ballsy engineer Mary Johnson. Despite creative generalization to arrive in a happy ending, Hidden Figures still serves up a monument of bravery many parents and women can aspire to foster—especially in Indonesia.

If you think Indonesia’s gender gap portrayed in the recent UNDP’s Human Development Index is heady statistics, let me offer more grounded pictures; to this day in Indonesia, regardless of merit, daughters can still be pushed aside for sons when parents have limited funds for education while female employees receiving less than their male colleagues. What Indonesia needs more, what we should keep marching for, is mothers who split chores equally to her kids, fathers who dare to invest the family’s limited funds in smart daughters than mediocre sons, foundation directors who open scholarships for capable women in male-dominated fields, HRD execs who fight for pay according to merit than gender, and political parties who offer patronage to female cadres more than just for their winning looks. I can fight off catcalls and gropes on my own, but opening windows of chance in education and work often takes another person to make it possible. That’s what Indonesia should focus more on.

Their only fault is having a crazy father, the dad in Dangal exclaimed. You need to see what your daughter can become, the academic advisor in Hidden Figures pushed. An advance for you is an advance for us all, Dorothy reiterated to Katherine and Mary.

Now that’s my kind of ass-kicking chick flicks, chickadee, which we need to see more of. Dissecting Beauty and the Beast, next?

As published:

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