Over the next several weeks countless college-age teens will descend upon exotic locales to enjoy spring break, that idyllic period of drunken debauchery that MTV wants us to think is fun but is really a rum-soaked panic attack with less dancing and more groping. This free-spirited mentality is something Hollywood’s latched onto with countless movies about spring break in existence, from the recent 22 Jump Street to the 1965 Elvis Presley musical Girl Happy. But the common denominator of these movies is their male protagonists. Where are the movies about young girls on spring break?
If you had to list a movie about ladies on spring break, the predominant one would be Harmony Korine’s 2012 drama Spring Breakers. With its Britney Spears-influenced cast of bikini-clad young girls and pulsating soundtrack, it’s the de facto spring break movie starring women.
The tale of four friends who turn to a life of crime to achieve their spring break dreams is smarter than it’s given credit for. Korine plays up the elements meant to appeal to the male gaze — nudity and sex are given their due, all with female bodies at the forefront — but what remains is the story of four women interested in letting loose. This comes through clearest in the character of Faith, played by Selena Gomez. Faith’s a good girl who, despite her trash-mouthed friends, is a Christian. Faith and her friends enjoy their spring break regardless of a harbinger’s warning about it being a place of sin.
Faith may be naive; she writes letters elevating spring break to a spiritual calling, a charity mission. But the girls aren’t told to apologize for their behavior. The drunken insanity and days spent in strange hotel rooms are presented with wild abandon. They party how they want, no different from the countless movies about men. The third-act descent into crime, encapsulated by James Franco’s devil-figure Alien, threatens to tell a cautionary story — “Girls, this is why you should avoid spring break” — but even the crime narrative has an element of fun within it.
Much of what turns off writers from covering spring break from the female perspective stems from its sexist connotations. The real Cancun (not to be confused with the horrific quasi-documentary of that name) isn’t exactly the safest place to be if you’re a woman. Look at the overabundance of Girls Gone Wild: Spring Break videos, or the myriad movies and TV shows that feature nameless, gyrating females attending places like Fort Lauderdale or Cabo San Lucas. There are countless news stories about young girls being assaulted or raped after partying during their time on the beach. Spring break for ladies can involve degradation and humiliation, with an eye toward selling sex to men.
Does that mean Hollywood, the dream factory, can’t find a way to reclaim spring break for the women? That leads to the other reason I assume it isn’t presented as a woman’s area: patriarchy. Hollywood might avoid female protagonists in spring break movies for the same reason women are told to avoid spring break altogether: it’s easier to avoid questions of consent and spiked red Solo cups by telling the story from a male point of view.
Another reason is that it’s still rare to show women embracing their wild side, particularly when it comes to drunkenness and sex. Put together fears of female sexuality and the real-world cautions of spring break and you get 1960’s Where the Boys Are. Like Spring Breakers, Where the Boys Are follows four midwestern college students who travel to Fort Lauderdale with preconceived notions about sex and love. Two of the girls engage in or discuss how premarital sex is something worth doing, one is waiting for a guy to put a ring on it, and the other is a dim-bulb. By the end, all four realize the error of their whorish ways — said with a healthy dose of sarcasm — but it comes at the expense of broken hearts, rape, and being hit by a car! Where the Boys Are emphasizes the horrors of spring break and of being a woman with autonomous sexual desires.
What commonly passes for a girls’ spring break film generally involves a female-based foray to an exotic locale. In lieu of Mexico or Fort Lauderdale, havens of horniness and kidnapping (according to stereotype), you see women travel to refined places like Rome (1954’s Three Coins in a Fountain), Madrid (1964’s The Pleasure Seekers) or Monte Carlo (2008’s Monte Carlo). Unlike the films described previously, these movies are about friendship, first and foremost, with a healthy dose of chaste boy-craziness thrown in. Bikinis come off as a sign of rebelliousness, sex is non-existent, parties are classy, and a kiss from one’s true love is the ultimate reward. The idea is that girls (not women) want a fairy-tale fantasy.
The real-world issues inherent in being a female on spring break are worth exploring in cinema, and movies shouldn’t dissuade young women from celebrating the makeshift holiday. And if there are countless movies about men taking part, safely, then dammit, the ladies should get the same privilege. Spring break, forever!
Kristen Lopez lives in popular spring break destination Sacramento.