Female Friendships in Pitch Perfect Hit All the Right Notes

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Pitch Perfect is one of those fun movies I watch whenever it’s on TV. While I wouldn’t recommend the two sequels, the original 2012 movie is definitely worth a watch. The movie revolves around Beca, a college freshman who joins the campus all-female a cappella group. When it first came out, I thought it seemed fluffy, so when my sister initially suggested seeing it, I imagined it would be entertaining but didn’t expect too much. That’s why I was completely taken aback by my whole-hearted enjoyment of it. I was having such a good time that I actually smiled throughout the entire movie.

Since I’m usually kind of a curmudgeon, I wondered why I liked it so much. Although fun, the music and dancing were nothing spectacular, the plot was highly predictable and the actors — while good — were not required by the script to turn in Oscar caliber performances. Then it hit me. Most of the movie was about the members of the all-female group. They were unique, diverse, confident, and, most importantly, they were interested in female friendship. In fact, the vast majority of their conversations didn’t revolve around men at all but were instead about themselves and their goals! This is a much bigger deal than it might seem.

Although the status of women may be improving (at least, it was until recently), a lot of mainstream movies and television shows keep women characters on the backburner. Many of them exist solely for romantic purposes and aren’t fully developed characters in their own right. This has been so much the case that, in 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel drew a strip called The Rule describing what’s now called the Bechdel Test. In order to pass the test, the movie or television show has to follow three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it; (2) who talk to each other; (3) about something besides a man. It seems like such a simple test but you’d be surprised how many television shows and movies fail it.

Perfect Pitch passed with flying colors.

Not only was the movie focused on women but it emphasized a specific type of woman. Although all of the characters had their flaws, overall they were incredibly self-confident. They knew what they wanted to achieve, they owned their sexuality, and many of them were self-assured about their bodies. One character even nicknamed herself Fat Amy so she would be in control of how people talked about her.

Over the course of the movie, each of the main group members stopped being afraid and started embracing who she truly was. The mousy girl literally found her voice, the uptight one stopped repressing how she felt in order to please her father, the easygoing one accepted her limitations and found a new talent, and the main character became open to intimate relationships. Given how much popular culture encourages women to stay in our tightly constrained box of romantic relationships and supporting players, this was indeed a breath of fresh air and provided a great example for the rest of us.

And then there was the emphasis on female friendship. This too was wonderful but, unlike the self-confidence piece, this one’s a bit trickier. The movie did show a broader range of women’s friendship dynamics, starting with them being initially insulting to each other and culminating in the typical catfight. However, from there Pitch Perfect took a new turn as the catfight became a way for the women to connect.

The group members took the unusual step of having each woman talk about herself, thereby allowing the others to understand the motivations behind her behavior. By the end of the movie, they were much tighter and their newfound closeness was probably one of the reasons they won their competition (sorry if that was a spoiler but did you really think they wouldn’t win?).

Of course, movies like Pitch Perfect make it look easy but the dynamics of women’s friendships can be complex. For example, a scene from ABC’s TV show, Last Resort (also made in 2012) — a show that in no way passed the Bechdel Test — depicted what’s unfortunately a very common occurrence in female relationships. In the scene, one woman gave another woman a hug. The woman who was hugged responded by saying that she doesn’t have many female friends, mostly because she views them as competition to be burned. Sadly, many women share this perception.

I’ve frequently watched girls and women be unkind, derogatory, jealous and competitive towards other women. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard women say (even with a certain kind of pride) that their friends are mostly men because women cannot be trusted. My response is that they just don’t know the right kind of women but I have to admit there’s a certain truth to their observation. So, what’s going on with women? Why do we put friends on the backburner, view them with suspicion, and are competitive with them (usually over men)?

The answer is quite complex but it mostly has to do with internalized sexism, the involuntary acceptance by women of the sexist messages present in our society. In other words, women swallow hook, line, and sinker the patriarchy’s lies about the way women are. Women then reinforce these beliefs by acting out stereotypes, doubting themselves, policing our bodies, and disliking other women (also known as horizontal hostility). Regardless of our level of awareness, we’re all affected by internalized sexism, some more than others.

Like most oppressed groups, women tend to blame ourselves for our oppression instead of realizing it’s due to the unjust system in which we live. We constantly hear and see messages about the inadequacy of women in general and of female friendships in particular. That’s one reason why finding solid female friends in the mass media is so difficult. Just start listing the number of male buddy movies compared to the number of female buddy movies and you’ll see what I mean.

Given how much garbage we get, is it any wonder that we frequently tend to side with the “male” point of view and devalue the “female” perspective — in ourselves, other women, and even in men? Even Pitch Perfect had a bit of that going on with female characters talking about general body image issues and about having “balls” (male genitalia that’s oddly synonymous with being courageous) but, for the most part, it steered clear. How I wish that would be true in the real world!

If women were to band together as cohesively as the young singers did in the movie, then our world would change. Women can be the best of friends. We frequently are the ones who will listen, understand your perspective, and provide unflinching support and encouragement. We all need that but especially those of us who are struggling to make it in a world which tells us more often what we can’t do instead of what we can.

That’s why Pitch Perfect hit all the right notes. It not only depicted confident women, it celebrated them. The movie not only showed positive female friendship, it made them the stars of their own story. Although Pitch Perfect could have ended the way a lot of movies do — with the credits rolling immediately following the romantic couple getting together — it didn’t. Instead, the ending made it crystal clear that this was the group’s story. The conclusion showed them recruiting for the new school year, preparing to continue on the group’s traditions of singing and friendship.

That was aca-awesome.

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