Groundspark // 2009 // 67 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // January 8th, 2011
How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up.
Filmmakers Debra Chasnoff and Sue Chen undertake an ambitious project -- get high school kids to open up about about the expectations and pressures of growing up male and female in today's world.
"I think about what to wear, what's acceptable. Are these pants big enough, baggy enough, tight enough? I wanna be accepted, I don't wanna be talked about. I don't wanna be humiliated in front of everybody...in front of the whole school...and get that rumor spread about me that he's gay or he's this. I wanna be myself, but I wanna feel safe...I wanna feel loved...I wanna feel appreciated."
The guys are envious of the girls who have the freedom to wear anything they want. The girls are envious of the guys who can just throw something together in five minutes, while it takes them more than an hour to get ready.
The girls are tired of being told what sexy is. The majority of them are never going to look like Victoria's Secret or Sports Illustrated swimsuit models -- tall, thin, long legs, blonde hair, blue eyes. The guys have been brought up to believe if there's a choice between an average girl with no makeup wearing baggy clothes, and a girl who took time to look good wearing tight clothes showing some skin, they'll choose the latter every time. Do you see the problem?
"Whenever I dress like a girl, I feel like people are judging me all the time. And I'm paranoid, What are they thinking? Do they think my boobs are too big or too small? Do they think my butt's big? But when I dress the way that I do, I'm comfortable because I know I'm not showing anything. I know they're just thinking Oh, there's a chick...cool. Whatever."
Interestingly enough, it's the kids on the fringe, the ones outside the mainstream, who are more well adjusted. They've come to know who they are and what's best for them, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
"I look for something to wear that's a bit edgy -- tight pants, showing a bit of my midriff -- just to shock a teacher, or piss off some homo-hater. Some people might like what I'm wearing, some people might be confused or scared as they walk by, but I just look at it all and laugh."
The problem runs much deeper than clothing choices. These are age-old, hardwired perceptions within American culture. Boys can't play with Barbies. Girls can't do construction. Guys have to be big, tough, and strong; mow the lawn and fix the car. Girls need to be skinny, have long hair, wear heels, clean the house, cook the food, and take care of the kids.
Wake up people! When a teenage boy is afraid to take a yoga class because he'd be the only male and knows he'd catch hell from his friends, a guy drops out of choir simply because of the harassment he received, or a unique free spirit commits suicide because he doesn't fit in, the system is broken.
"It's a shame guys can't have the freedom to do what they want to do."
Then we get into the area of male dominance and female submission. Boys are aggressive, girls play hard to get. Boys lead, girls follow. Boys are the heroes, girls need rescuing.
"When girls run things, it's kind of a turn-off. It's like Why are you trying to control me, you freak?! Then everyone will call you the girl's bitch. All your friends will say You're her bitch. And that's bad...you don't want that."
"I've had to deal with a lot of people telling me I'm too aggressive, I'm too big, too strong, and too loud, my voice is too deep...It's like they're saying, You're too you!"
The underlying message of Straightlaced is that gender is not binary, and these labels of male and female are not only erroneous, but cause more problems than they solve. In reality, gender is a spectrum and our mission is to discover and be comfortable with where we fall.
"It's ironic that we always say It's a free country; we can do what we want, people are free, and that's really not the case. I know a lot of people who go to school and they're really afraid to act how they truly are because of what people are going to think or what people are going to say. Some people will even get beat up for acting who they are. People aren't free when they can't show their true selves."
Told from a peer-to-peer perspective where the talking heads are real kids dealing with these issues at this point in their lives, Straightlaced is the most powerful of documentaries. The message strikes right at the core with no pulled punches or politically correct filtering. From sexual preference and gender roles to racial/cultural stereotypes and social morays, this needs to be mandatory viewing for all high school students. Told with candor, heart, and humor, the diversity of students interviewed will give every viewer someone to identify with. Don't be misled into thinking this is an LGBT-centric documentary. The message here is universal and contagious.
"It's one of the hardest things in the world to stand up to your friends and say something's not okay with you. But through the years, I've become more comfortable with myself to the point where I really don't care if they think I'm gay if I say something's not okay."
Presented in standard full frame format with Dolby 2.0 stereo, the only downside to the format is that the green screen one-on-one interviews utilize a Saved by the Bell style approach for the backgrounds. While fine for today's audiences, I'm afraid it may eventually date what otherwise is a timeless message of acceptance and tolerance.
* The Making of... -- Director Debra Chasnoff became so infuriated with seeing her two beautiful teenage sons being molded and narrowed by the cultural pressure of today's world, she felt compelled to create a film that shines a light on kids' true selves before life strips that away...in the hopes that we can break the cycle. It's a featurette that gives an additional layer of compelling insight into the film.
* Trailers -- A quick look at four other "Respect for All Project" documentaries.
Any way you slice it, we're all human underneath. Deal with it.
Forget the outdated sex education videos, one viewing of Straightlaced will open up a semester's worth of healthy discussion.
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 67 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site
* The Respect for All Project