Amy Heckerling’s 1995 classic, Clueless, stars Alicia Silverstone as the infamous Cher – a popular teenage girl learning about both the world and herself through the trials and tribulations of high school. Within the first few minutes of the film, the audience gathers that Cher has her fair share of flaws. She is spoiled, selfish, and painfully clueless. Despite these imperfections, they love her still. Why?
It’s because amidst her flaws and ditzy ways, they see a relatable heroine in disguise. She’s not perfect – no one is. However, she does exhibit certain qualities that make her a role model for young girls everywhere. And although her outlandish plans and spoiled behavior may be more memorable, it is about time that we celebrate some of her other attributes – the ones that elicit respect and admiration – and determine why it is, that even twenty years after her debut, Cher is still celebrated and doted on as an American cinematic favorite and sweetheart. I present to you, the other side of Cher.
Although Cher may have gaps in her logic, (which the audience determines based off of her debate speeches and everyday conversations) we have to give her kudos for her confidence. She is outspoken, assertive, and rather than shying away from the attention of her peers, she basks in the limelight.
In addition to her apparent ability to speak up and her go-getter attitude, she also shows leadership potential at the end of the film when she heads the “Pismo Beach Disaster Relief” team. She proudly displays a badge that distinguishes herself as “Captain,” demonstrating her inclination to take the lead and assume responsibility. (Not to mention that it is for a good cause and she seems to have selfless intentions with a genuine desire to help others.)
Furthermore, in the scene in which she is tabling for the Pismo Beach fundraiser, the camera pans right to show two other tables prior to Cher’s. One is on “sexuality” and the other is a “Save the Earth” campaign – both tables have failed to garner any interest from their surrounding peers. However, once the camera pans all the way to the right, the audience discovers that Cher’s table for Pismo Beach is bumbling with people signing up to help. She waves people over and we see that her classmates are drawn to her. She has a magnetic charisma and a contagious enthusiasm – the makings of a great leader. Cher motivates girls to not shy away from positions of power and emboldens them to lead with confidence.
Cher does not derive her sense of validation off of the amount of attention she receives from boys. While the female protagonists of many high school romantic comedies define their identities and self-worth by the number of boys pining after them, Cher expresses an open distaste for her male peers, particularly when they mistreat or disrespect women.
This isn’t to say that she doesn’t have any love interests, she certainly does. However, she does not allow men to walk all over her and puts them in their place when they objectify her. The audience first witnesses Cher demand respect from her male classmates when she walks onto her school grounds. The camera tracks backwards to maintain a medium shot of Cher and simultaneously captures multiple boys in the background glancing her way.
One even has the nerve to come up and put his arm around her shoulders. However, Cher is not one to meekly endure the advances of pushy boys. No, she stands up for herself and shoves him away while shrieking, “Get off of me!”
Additionally, we see Cher as a feminist who stands up for consent and refuses to be disrespected through her car ride with Elton. On their way back from a party, Elton abruptly pulls the car over and forcefully kisses her. She refuses him and pulls away yelling at him to “cut it out” and “stop it.” However, he continues to overstep boundaries, inciting Cher into shoving him back and storming out of the car. Though it may have been reckless to do so (as a result, she becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere), her defiant attitude against being treated as an unequal and her zero-tolerance policy at being disrespected strikes a chord with the inner feminist of every woman watching.
We want to cheer her on. She becomes a role model for young girls everywhere; she inspires them to stand up for themselves and she encourages them to demand respect.
Unsurprisingly, Cher has no intention of making herself out to be a damsel in distress, waiting for a man to come along and save her. We see this attitude manifest itself in another scene that begins with Cher and Christian coming up an escalator at the mall. Cher tells Christian that Tai has found a couple of boys and has since “escorted them over there”. She looks off into the distance and points in the same direction. The camera then cuts to a long shot of Tai sitting on the railing giggling next to a couple of boys. Through the use of the eye-line match as well as Cher’s finger point, the audience deduces that Tai is across from them but close enough to overhear.
The camera focuses on Tai as she asks the guys “if I fall, would you catch me?” It then cuts back to Cher who has been looking over at Tai and has evidently overheard her asking said question. Though Tai really plays up the vulnerable female character, the audience gathers that Cher is unimpressed by such ploys through her annoyed facial expression and her question: “could they please me more… generic?” It becomes evident that Cher regards the traditional gender norms (female reliant on a man to rescue her) as old-fashioned, unoriginal, and unnecessary. She may be a damsel, but she is more than capable of taking care of herself.
V for Virginity
Unlike the stars of other similarly plotted romantic comedies, Cher is a *gasp* virgin. As such, she is a refreshing alternative to the “must-be-sexually-active-to-be-cool” archetype that is frequently found within this genre. Therefore, Cher is relatable to the plethora of girls watching who struggle with the same questions, doubts, and concerns as she does regarding “sex.” She teaches them that there is no shame in being a virgin, that they can move at their own pace, and that they should not take sex lightly.
Though Cher is targeted by her peers for her “inexperience,” an insecurity that plagues many teenage girls, she brushes it off and states that she is “just not interested in doing it until [she] finds the right person” – a powerful message. The film is careful not to criticize those who are sexually active, the same conversation sheds light on Tai’s experienced history and Dionne’s technical virginity, it simply conveys to its audience that these are not their only options. By depicting confident and beautiful Cher as a virgin, the movie’s message is delivered loud and clear: you should never be pressured, by a boy or by your friends, to sleep with someone if you don’t want to – you are good enough regardless of your sexual activity.
So there we have it folks! Despite her many flaws, Cher deserves recognition as a confident and strong female protagonist who has inspired and guided generations of confused, young girls into their teenage years. So to the question of whether or not she really is “just a ditz with a credit card,” here’s my answer: