Films that largely revolve around getting high represent men and women very differently, but the same way nearly every time
Of all the stoner movies in existence - Seth Rogen-led comedies or sidenotes in serious Tarantino films - the most equal representation of gender is in Scooby Doo: The Movie. Although technically a kids film, originally this movie was supposed to be a lot more adult. From blatant weed smoking references to a Daphne and Velma kiss, we can only mourn what could have been a much different Scooby Doo: The Movie.
Yet when we analyse what did become of this live action kids film, we are still left with a mainly gender-neutral representation of stoner culture. Shaggy and Scooby, man and dog, are lovable, cowardly idiots: But so is Mary Jane – the aptly named stoner girl of this movie. As Shaggy says, “Like, that’s my favourite name!”
But this film is an anomaly. The exception that proves the rule. Fast forward six years to 2008 and we encounter the stoner movie that epitomises all stoner movies – Pineapple Express. A happy James Franco, before he transformed into an artist/writer/straight homosexual/director of vampire lesbian kitsch. An innocent James Franco just out to star in a funny movie written by his Freaks and Geeks bestie Seth Rogen.
What’s lacking in this movie isn’t humour – it’s still funny when you’re high, I promise – but women. The only two women in Pineapple Express with more than a handful of lines are Rosie Perez, a crooked cop who fulfils two of the film’s diversity quotas, and Amber Heard, the skin-crawlingly young, high school girlfriend of Seth Rogen. Not only are neither characters funny, nor stoners, both suffer in the clumsy pen hands of Rogen, Judd Apatow and Evan Goldberg – whose characterisations of women make me question whether they’ve actually ever met one.
The role of tight-laced women ruining masculine – but totally hetero – marijuana time is seen again and again in stoner comedies by this trio and many other writers. But on the flip side comes an entirely different creature altogether: The Hot Stoner Chick™.
“Not only are neither characters funny, nor stoners, both suffer in the clumsy pen hands of Rogen, Judd Apatow and Evan Goldberg – whose characterisations of women make me question whether they’ve actually ever met one“
Nobody encapsulates this trope more than Bridget Fonda in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. The leggy blonde who serves to fulfil Tarantino’s foot fetish and aspires only to “get high and watch TV.” Plus a casual bent-over-the-counter sex scene and shock death, because that’s literally all female characters are good for.
Except when they’re not: As proven in the same film with the titular character Jackie Brown, aka Pam Grier. The differences between Grier and Fonda’s characters are plentiful, but what divides them in this context is that one sucks a bong and one does not. Where Fonda is perfectly happy to do nothing but smoke, fuck and watch soap operas, Grier is in control of the entire game the entire time. But when women “let loose” it’s often seen through a sexual lens, whereas male stoner characters are seen as idiots for living the same lifestyle.
Take iconic teen film Dazed and Confused, for example. Released in 1993 but set in the late ‘70s, this film follows the last day of term in an American high school and featured big names before they were big names, like Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck. In arguably one of the most iconic stoner moments in any film ever, Slater explains to the gang how George Washington was in cohorts with aliens, smoked weed and even grew fields of marijuana. Michelle (Milla Jovovich) doesn’t join in on the conversation, instead choosing to sit and look beautiful, play with a lighter and strum on a guitar.
In a nod to female stoners everywhere and using an arguably sexist turn of phrase, Slater finishes his story, “Behind every good man, there’s a woman, and that woman was Martha Washington man. Every day George would come home and she’d have a big fat bowl waiting for him when he’d come in the door. She was a hip, hip lady.”
“But when women “let loose” it’s often seen through a sexual lens, whereas male stoner characters are seen as idiots for living the same lifestyle”
Although Slater is, arguably, trying to prove that women have always smoked weed and have always been cool, this dialogue and this scene still perpetuates the image of the cool stoner female. Be it Martha Washington or Milla Jovovich, the woman who smokes is an accessory to the male drug-taking fantasy. If she’s not there to berate her boyfriend for smoking too much pot, she’s there to fuck over the kitchen counter after she’s packed your bong.
Stereotyping in this way is lazy (and in many cases harmful), but it makes for a narrow, cliched roster of characters, rolled out film after film, just with different actors. More seriously, stereotyping plays into preconceived negative notions about marginalised groups: women suffer when we are automatically sexualised for non-sexual activities like smoking weed and drinking beer.
Over the years, film and TV tropes regarding getting high have helped to demonise a drug that, in the league table of drugs, isn’t that bad for us. And neither men nor women come off particularly well in stoner films – a guy may say something stupid while eating fistfuls of fries while his stoner girlfriend runs through the house in a vest, no bra and the tiniest of pyjama shorts to titillate male audiences. Both pretty useless and boring, except women less so because women can still fuck.