clueless cover

It’s fine to like Clueless, but don’t call it a feminist movie

clueless coverIt’s been 20 years since the release of Clueless: to some a superficial rom-com which reveres consumerism, to others a cult classic which captures that specific mid-nineties teenage culture we’ll never get back. 

I’m of the latter disposition, and I can’t hear Kim Wilde’s Kids in America without internally monologuing to myself (So you’re probably thinking, is this an Eczema commercial or what?). But unlike most Clueless fans I’ve come across on the internet, I simply cannot argue it’s a feminist movie.

I shop in Primark (for my sins) even though I find their manufacturing practices deplorable; I buy supermarket chicken knowing that its claims to “free-range” are dubious at best. I certainly don’t think that every form of entertainment has to perfectly align with all my political and social beliefs. I’m allowed to enjoy Clueless for its hilarious dialogue, colourful retro aesthetic and nostalgic value.

It’s certainly true that Clueless is a film about women, and about the friendship between those women. But Cher, Tai and Dionne spend the majority of the film chasing male validation and no matter which way you look at it, it’s problematic.

The plot is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma and revolves around Cher’s attempts to mold new girl Tai into California’s answer to female acceptability: mini-skirts, heels, crop tops and “buns of steel” in the hope that this will help her seduce the richest, most eligible bachelor in school. When said prince charming turns out to be an asshole and potential date-rapist, he comes away unscathed, whilst Cher pays the price for rejecting him by being stranded in a dark alleyway and mugged at gunpoint.

That’s not the only ill-advised crush – attempts to “get” dreamboat Christian include faking an interest in jazz, wearing the tiniest dress known to man, pretending to bake and offering up wine in bed because it “makes you feel sexy”.

In the climactic fight between Tai and Cher, which is of course over a man, the “way harsh” insult thrown out is “why am I listening to you anyway? You’re a virgin who can’t drive.” The girls are 15 by the way, which adds to the hilarious irony of the line, but it doesn’t change the subtext: that a woman’s worth is inextricably linked to her sexual attitude towards men.

As an eight-year-old watching the film, it didn’t occur to me that I was being indoctrinated to buy into a patriarchal construct, in which my main goal should be to find a man, and my resources to do so would be my appearance and sexuality. That all personal improvements – from physical to intellectual – should be an attempt to fit into the society I was part of, whilst men were free to be themselves whether that be a gay shopaholic, a weed-smoking skater or a gropey sleazebag with a murky understanding of consent.

There are some great things to take away from Clueless, not least the excellent soundtrack, fabulous ratio of plaid to every other pattern, and the happiness that comes from making the world around you a better place. But its portrayal of women is not one of them, and let’s stop pretending it is just because we love it.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

London, UK

Sirena Bergman is a freelance writer and head of content at The News Hub. She blogs at and tweets about bad grammar, feminism, social justice and her coffee addiction @SirenaBergman

Sirena is a London-based journalist who writes about feminism, politics and pop-culture.

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