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"It's Stand By Me for girls!" - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
"It's Stand By Me for girls!"
I was watching TV the other night, and there was a commercial for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants came on, with the critic's glowing praise, "It's Stand By Me for girls!"


No. As part of a group of girls who watched it ritually and tried to decide who was whom, I can attest that Stand By Me is, in fact, Stand By Me for girls.

I haven't read Sisterhood yet, but I had a chance to see the movie (which is the subject of the praise, anyway) in an early showing during the publicity phase. The only similarities are that they are coming of age films, and that they are about four friends. The messages in them are very different, and not on girl/boy lines.

On Stand By Me/The Body
Stand By Me, based on the Stephen King novella, The Body, is about four twelve year old boys in a small town (the movie places the town in Oregon; the novella in Maine). It is set in the past, and the narrator is an adult who is coming to grips with what happened to one of the others, and getting a bit of perspective on things. The story is that four boys overhear one of the older brothers mention that he accidentally found the body of a missing boy their age. The decide to hike up the railroad tracks to see the body. On the way, the come up against the fact that they are about to go into the tracked system of high school, which will split up the gang, and that they are more or less on their own.

There is cameraderie in the movie, and the boys have a bit of an adventure that changes them, but at heart, it's not about friendship. It's about life and death, and the sometimes thin line that separates them. Ultimately, all four boys are kind of "absorbed" into Gordie. The novella is even clearer about this than the movie--at one point, Gordie says that he remembers being "that boy" and is chilled to catch himself thinking, "Which boy?" Teddy and Vern, instead of just being in dead end jobs and dull lives, are literally dead (Vern in a fire that he may or may not have set; Teddy in a car accident that was definitely his fault. Both take several other people with them). But the movie is still fairly clear about it--Gordie is the last one, the one to tell the story, the one who learned. (Actually, one of the few cases where I'm siding with a director above an author is that King says he saw Chris as the hero of the novella, while Reiner said it was Gordie. I think King was seeing so much through Gordie's eyes that he didn't realize Gordie is the one who comes out of the thing changed by his experiences.)

The story, in both the book and the movie, is about mortality and achievement despite mortality. The achievement part is important. One of the most profound moments is when Gordie says he's going to skip out of the college courses because he doesn't want to hang out with "a bunch of pussies," and Chris calls him an asshole for choosing his friends over a decent education, because the former will drag him down there forever while the latter will get him out. Gordie later balances this out, not by saying, "You know, I don't care about the future, and am going to stick with you," but by convincing Chris that he, too, can get out, and helping him do it. They haven't seen one another for quite a long while when the movie begins (it's unclear just when the book begins, though it seems to be quite awhile after Chris's death, as Gordie speaks of it as a past event, and talks about going out to cry, so his wife wouldn't see him). SBM is a story about accomplishing things and not accepting them as they are, and friendship is something that allows two of the four boys to do that.

On The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
SotTP, based on the Anne Brashares novel of the same name, is about four girls who were born the same week (their mothers were apparently in Lamaze together), who have always helped one another through everything. Just before they are going to spend their first summer apart, they find a pair of jeans that miraculously fits them all, and they decide that they will mail the jeans around to their various locations and tell one another what happens while they're wearing them. One (Lena) is going to Greece to spend time with her grandparents, another (Bridget) is going to soccer camp in Mexico, the third (Carmen) is going to spend the summer with her divorced father, and the fourth (Tibby) has to stay home and work, while she's making a documentary. It's narrated in the very slight future (presumably), and takes place in contemporary times. Carmen, the narrator, still seems to be a teenager when the narration takes place.

The movie splits into a kind of anthological format, giving the story of each girl and her time with the jeans. The premise is that things will happen to them while wearing the magical pants. In Greece, shy Lena meets a boy. Outgoing Bridget decides to get a little frisky in Mexico. Carmen discovers to her great distress that her father is re-marrying. Tibby meets a sick little girl. Each learns something, and each does take some action.

I don't dislike SotTP. It was pretty good, if sort of blatantly emotionally manipulative in Tibby's plot. I liked the actresses and the stories were okay. I especially liked Carmen finally telling off her dad when she'd been missing for a day and when she came home, instead of frantically searching for her, he's sitting down to a pleasant dinner with his stepfamily. I'd have thrown a rock, too. That the premise of the magical jeans never stops being dopey isn't problematic; I am, after all, still part of a group that sorts M&Ms and eats them by a strict code. ;) Girls--and grown women--and I'd guess boys and grown men, too--like silly, dopey rituals, and everyone wearing the same awesome pair of jeans is no dumber than anything else... though what bothered me about them is what bothers me about the rest: SotTP is largely about things that happen to people. They're friends because of their mothers. The pants come out of nowhere. Tibby's new friend just appears. Lena stumbles into a romance. Carmen's father throws her a curveball. Only Bridget takes things into her own hands, and she does it pretty stupidly, and her plotline ends with talking about something that happened to her (her mother's death) and how her actions were about coping with it. Carmen's story, ultimately, is about her friends helping her learn to deal with things better. Tibby's is definitely about acceptance. Lena's actually involves some assertiveness, but it's kept squarely in the romantic arena.

The difference
While this actually is an important thing--things do happen to us, after all, and we need to learn to cope, and friends do help--what bothers me about the classification of SotTP as "Stand By Me for girls!" is that SBM is about going out and making things happen--also an important skill. So if SBM is for boys, the message is that a movie about making things happen and fighting against fatalism is for boys, while a movie about letting things happen and learning to accept things with the help of your friends is for girls. See what I'm getting at?

It's not the stories that are gendered. Boys and girls both need both lessons, and experience both kinds of friendship. While I could associate with the funny rituals and total stick-togetherness of the Sisterhood, I could also very much identify with the "band together or die" mentality of the boys in SBM--anyone who's grown up bright in a small town can, regardless of gender (or race or anything else). I can recognize the need to accept, and I can also recognize the need to refuse to accept. Balance, people, balance.

And it's not just the critic. SotTP was blatantly referred to as a "girls' movie" by a woman of my acquaintance, when a boy wondered if he might like to go. I'll grant that a boy probably would have felt uncomfortable, but that's sad to me--I can't imagine being told that I wouldn't like SBM because "It's really more of a boys' movie." And boys probably could get something out of the message of learning to kind of accept things and get on with it. (If they could get past the girly clothing rituals, of course, but hey, I got past the boyish penis jokes; they can deal with a pair of jeans.)


There are just things that annoy me.
18 comments or Leave a comment
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: June 16th, 2005 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Ugh. Annoying in the extreme. I loved Stand By Me and I loved The Body and it never once crossed my mind that it might be a story for BOYS.

It's just like any of the books that have claimed to be "Harry Potter for Adults." It is beyond me why stories of any kind need to be segregated. They're stories and they're meant to be enjoyed by whoever enjoys them.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 16th, 2005 02:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Ugh, yes. Harry Potter is Harry Potter for adults. :rolleyes:

And yes--it never occurred to me to think of Stand By Me as "for boys." The Goonies, either.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: June 16th, 2005 01:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm...I'd like to read/see Stand By Me, now.

I haven't seen SotTP, but I read the book and I am SO unlikely to see the movie.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 16th, 2005 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm...I'd like to read/see Stand By Me, now.

Oh, do. It's a good flick! Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell... and all of them turn in really awesome performances.

So... what did you dislike about SotTP? I admit, I was never especially interested in reading it, though it was raved about by others. I only saw the movie because we got some free passes for the kids at the library and went along with them.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: June 16th, 2005 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, for one thing, I just didn't care about the characters too much. I mean, I did like it more than some books I've read, but I wasn't thinking about their lives before or after. The characters seemed to be made so that, hey, every reader can identify with one! But I didn't, really.

I'm sorry. I'm incoherent tonight.
divinemum From: divinemum Date: June 18th, 2005 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I've read the books and seen the movie (SotTP) and I really enjoyed both. The movie ends on a very definite note, whereas the book is more unclear about what will happen in the future. There is an arc that goes over the three novels, which the one movie obviously couldn't address. The storylines involving Lena and Bridget are a little bit different in the book, especially Bridget's. It's a much darker storyline, and it's a shame that the movie didn't portray it that way.

Even though they are classified as YA, they aren't your "typical" YA books. The writing is tremendous, and I am in awe of the imagery that Brashares uses. She really deepens the characterizations in the second and third books, which I think takes them to a higher level, if you will.

I think you would really enjoy the books.

h311ybean From: h311ybean Date: June 16th, 2005 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I haven't read The Body yet, but I loved Stand By Me. I thought it was a great movie about friendship and growing up, and that it wasn't just for boys at all.

No comment on the Traveling Pants, whether the book or the movie. I have to admit I'm not really inclined to be exposed to any of that.
prplhez8 From: prplhez8 Date: June 16th, 2005 02:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Fern -

I loved Stand By Me, the movie. I read the book many, many moons ago and couldn't even tell you the differences between them. It is still one of my all time favorite movies to this day (and as I'm 31 and probably saw it a million years ago, that is a long time). One of my favorite parts, is the campfire. One food that I could eat for the rest of my life? That's easy...Pez...Cherry Flavored Pez. *sigh*

My step-daughter and I went and SoTP last week and I still adored it. I truly enjoyed the books, also.

I don't know what that says about me, but one thing I find funny...you keep mentioning movies that I adore. The other day in the fluffy thread it was the Mummy 2...which happens to be another fave. Along with Gonnies here...wow!

Any other faves that you care to rave/reminisce about? Love to hear it!

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 16th, 2005 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Ha! I was beginning to think I was the only person who loved The Mummy Returns (far more than I liked the first one, because I liked Evie and Rick better married than flirting, and just generally thought the characters were stronger, and the plot no sillier).

Let's see... Star Wars, Goonies, Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, Indiana Jones... What else?

Oh, Lucas. Loved Lucas to itty bitty pieces.
harriet_wimsey From: harriet_wimsey Date: June 16th, 2005 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)
I think The Mummy Returns may be my favorite, too. I love the "I am a librarian!" line in the first one, but I really enjoy Rick and Evie's interaction as a married couple and with their son. Those are movies that I just have to watch every time they're on tv, even though I own them both. I haven't seen Stand By Me or Goonies yet, but I'll have to check them out.
prplhez8 From: prplhez8 Date: June 16th, 2005 11:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Star Wars - check!
Goonies - Check!
The Breakfast Club - Double check (we could have some sort of line reciting war here, I'm quite sure)!
Ferris Bueller (Okay, you must admit the most classic line out of that movie, Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? .... LOL) - Check!
Indiana Jones - Check!

And *sigh* Lucas! Are you kidding me? I swore up and down I was the only kid to have seen that movie! When they give him the letter jacket at the end?! Yah!

And by the by - I love married Rick and Evie, too!And that kid of theirs...what a scamp! The mummy returns was by far better than the first! I love Rick and Evie together, they still flirted...but it was the old married lurve and this deep down, fated kind of thing... *double sigh*

Too bad we couldn't have a movie marathon!

amelia_eve From: amelia_eve Date: June 16th, 2005 11:42 am (UTC) (Link)
But white males are the default mode of human existence, silly. Obviously, any book about white males is a universal pattern for all readers. Since they are already the apex of all human development, it would be absurd to expect white males to want to read about other social groups -- what would be the point? < / rant >

I'm not personally familiar with the films or texts of either of these, but it was my understanding that The Body and, by extension, Stand by Me were written primarily for an adult audience, while The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was aimed at a teen audience in both media.

That goes back to issues about genre literature in a bigger sense, and in two ways. There are a lot of novels about teenagers that are not teen novels. The classic Bildungsroman, most notably, involves a youthful protagonist, but is usually written from an adult viewpoint, whereas a teen novel normally takes a teen POV. But I also think that novels about boys are more likely to be taken seriously than novels about girls. There are important reasons that Hermione is not the protagonist of the Harry Potter series.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 16th, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not personally familiar with the films or texts of either of these, but it was my understanding that The Body and, by extension, Stand by Me were written primarily for an adult audience, while The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was aimed at a teen audience in both media.

SBM has a high crossover rate, like most of Stephen King's stories, but yes--it was definitely not written for "the YA market."

That observation in itself, which I hadn't thought about because I work so much with YA lit that it doesn't really say much to me in itself, is disturbing in light of the reviewer's comment, though. The one made for adults is "for boys," while the one stuck in adolescence is "for girls."

I'm not normally one for reading too much into things, but honestly? Yeah. I don't much like that implication.
penny_pixie From: penny_pixie Date: June 16th, 2005 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Stand By Me For Girls

When I heard that on the commercial "Stand By Me" for girls it annoyed me and yes, lol, I thought of you! I thought "I can see this as a Fernwithy rant".

I've been in Female Advocate!Penny mood lately, so anyway thanks for this rant.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 16th, 2005 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Stand By Me For Girls

I thought of you! I thought "I can see this as a Fernwithy rant".

Methinks I'm getting a bit predictable. ;)
penny_pixie From: penny_pixie Date: June 16th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Stand By Me For Girls

heh, if predictable means always contributing things that make you go hmm...then yes. ;-)
akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: June 16th, 2005 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, I was just going to make a ''sexism''-comment and then I saw that you'd already thought about it.:)
danaedark From: danaedark Date: June 18th, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
As part of a group of girls who watched it ritually and tried to decide who was whom

And Fern, of course, was Gordie. :p
18 comments or Leave a comment