The Censorship of "Mean Girls": What Was MTV Thinking?

I wouldn’t classify myself as a compulsive person; I’m more of a planner. However, my plans go out the window if Mean Girls is airing on TV, despite the fact that I already own the DVD and watch it more than any almost-30-year-old should. Normally if a movie was released in theaters with anything more scandalous than a G rating, I’ll avoid it when it airs on network television. The bleeping and the completely conspicuous dubbing of words like “fella” over that word that rhymes with “mucker” is more offensive to me than the word itself. Mean Girls is different, though. It reminds me of the good old days – when Lindsay Lohan had really shiny hair and white teeth and didn’t have a criminal record.

MTV provided me with my comfy security blanket of Cady Heron and that lovable MC and mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, who have I come to respect more and more as the years go by, when they aired Mean Girls on Sunday night. It was the perfect way to end the weekend. Until, that is, I quickly noticed that they were going bonkers with the censorship, bleeping out “homosexual” in the first five minutes, with “gay,” “lesbian,” and “vagina” soon to follow.

I presume that MTV’s reasoning for this was to reflect the needs and wants of their demographic of those teens and young adults in the under 25 crowd. Bullying is threatening to the physical and emotional well-being of thousands of school aged children and MTV has a responsibility to its viewers in this demographic to not use or air offensive language that is often used as a weapon to verbally abuse and harm others. But censoring words that aren’t used only as pejoratives seems to be counter productive to this agenda. Yes, using the word “gay” as an insult is offensive and we need to be mindful of our language and the use of not just this word, but all of our words. Yet there are plenty of people, young adults and teens among them, who self-identify as homosexual, gay, or lesbian. They aren’t slurs. They aren’t words that we should be avoiding. MTV censoring these words sends the message that they’re “bad” and that there is shame associated with them. If you self-identify that way, though, who is MTV or the FCC to tell you that your identity is something to be censored?

The censoring of the word “vagina” is a different, but related, matter. Women have been through it lately. This past election forced many of us to defend our bodies and the many choices that we make in regards to them. In June, Michigan Representative Lisa Brown was told that she could not participate in a debate about abortion because she used that icky v-word. Look, I’m not going to whisper the word “vagina,” (I mean, I’m not going to scream it either, although I’ve found this to be therapeutic when I’m frustrated at work. I make sure that my door is closed.) and I refuse to refer to it as a “hooha” or a “flower.” Censoring this word simply perpetuates the idea that women should be ashamed of or embarrassed by our bodies. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know if a wide-set vagina is an actual condition, but for goodness sakes, a young woman should be allowed to discuss her concern about hers while using the anatomically correct term for it without feeling dirty about it.

It was particularly interesting that in a movie whose message was about the problematic ways in which young women behave towards one another, “lesbian” and “vagina” were censored, but “whore” and “slut” were not. This is sending an incredibly complicated message to viewers. We’re encouraged to not use words like “homosexual,” even if we self-identify that way, and to be ashamed to call our vaginas vaginas, but you’ve got free rein to call girls sluts and whores, folks! If MTV’s goal was to eliminate verbal bullying language, it seems counter-intuitive to not apply the same standards to these words as well.

I believe that MTV’s intention was to protect its viewers from offensive and harmful language. I’m just not sure that it was executed properly. And I understand that I’m not in the demographic that MTV caters to, but for what it’s worth, I want my MTV with lesbians and vaginas. And you can interpret that however you choose.

Image via wetpaint entertainment

  • Kellyn Carole Denton

    I completely agree with you on this. Homosexual, lesbian, gay and vagina are not offense terms though I suppose they’re not considered politically correct.

    What a thoughtful article you’ve written! Thanks, Ramou for pointing this out!

  • Alle Connell

    Totally agree. I have seen Mean Girls so many times that I can quote the freaking commentary, and the MTV edit bums me out so much. Thanks for this awesome article.

  • Julia Gazdag

    It is not possible to watch Mean Girls enough times. I wasn’t aware it even had profanity in it that needed censoring. Or that you couldn’t say anything on cable except maybe “fuck”

  • Jessica Jeffers

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but I read somewhere that network television is allowed three utterances of “penis” for every one of “vagina.” If that’s the case it’s flat out ridiculous. Is the male anatomy somehow more legitimate, less offensive than female?

    • Julia Gazdag

      Vaginas are not legitimate, although raping them can be! For details, feel free to call Todd Akin’s office.

    • Catherine Green

      Whether or not thats true, it certainly seems to be what happens!

  • Meredith Lee

    The censoring of movies on television shows always irritates me. I’m hearing impaired and before I got hearing aids, I taught myself to read lips which still comes in handy. When they censor all those words, I can still figure out exactly what they said! What makes it even more annoying is when they loop in a more PC word that doesn’t even fit or sound anything like the censored word! I also don’t quite understand why they would censor a movie like Mean Girls. Five year olds aren’t watching MTV and I’m sorry, but isn’t MTV the same network that has reality where people are getting completely trashed, beating each other up and hurling some of the most vile insults at each other! It seems rather hypocritical to me.

    • Ramou Sarr

      I’ve definitely watched Mean Girls on MTV (or TBS or USA or whatever) before and this is the first I’ve noticed this. It just seemed to be a completely bizarre choice to censor these particular words at this particular time.

    • Hilary June

      Exactly! MTV has some provocative (stupid) shows that deal with young adults being (stupid) reckless and drunk. This reminds me of when they refused to play Vanessa Carlton’s video for “White Houses” because of the line “my first time, hard to explain, rush of blood, and a little bit of pain.”

      Why they show videos with grinding, humping, all around overly sexual, derogatory, disgusting, objectifying depictions of women and sex, but they won’t let a song talking about the feelings involved play is beyond me.

  • Neil Pechart

    OMG, Ramou. You can’t just ask MTV why they suck.

    • Ramou Sarr

      You win.

  • Neil Pechart

    An interesting side note. Sometimes filmmakers shoot alternate “clean” versions of scenes to be used in television commercials and later when the movie airs on television. One example is Denzel Washington’s line from Training Day, “King Kong ain’t got shit on me.” The alternate take replaced “shit” with “nothin’.” Incidentally, DW’s reading on the alternate take was far better.

  • Caitlin Ryan

    That is so not f—h.

    • Julia Gazdag


  • Stephanie Grant

    I absolutely had this same reckoning a few days ago. I could not believe the things they were censoring out. On a semi-unrelated note I also watch Glee way more frequently than anyone should and got a kick out of them talking about scissoring. It was nice to see lesbians just talking about being lesbians without it being the main content/theme of the television show.

  • Allie Berry

    thank you! i was thinking the same thing! mtv can say fugly and whore and slut but not gay or vagina?! come on, if you’re gonna censor it, censor the ACTUAL BAD WORDS!

  • Elisabeth Miller

    I love your posts so hard, Ramou.

  • Hilary June

    On the whole vagina/penis thing … you hear penis on tv shows ALL the time, new and older ones, but holy moly hold the phones if you hear vagina said on tv, all of a sudden it’s a dirty almost ‘swear’ word. RIDICULOUS!

    If people are going to say penis all the time (side note: we get it. you have a penis. shut up about it) it should definitely be okay to say vagina just as much.

  • Maggiee Underwood

    The vagina represents power, and they are just too scared of that.understandable.

  • Jenny Iverson

    Ummm sorry did I miss something, the actual term for Vagina is Vagina!!! It is the political, anatomical, most polite way to describe that part of the female body. It’s correct and proper term is in fact Vagina! What is vulgar about that? Geez. Penis, Vagina, Vagina, Penis. There, I said it.

  • Alissa Weintraub

    THANK YOU for this! How can we stop this inconsistent and negative censorship?

  • Michelle Grove Shaffer

    I, too, hate watching most movies on TV due to the bleeping of bad language…but I can deal in small doses. What irritates me most is the fact that it came from freaking MTV of ALL networks…really, MTV? From the network that produced sex-filled druck like Undressed and, for Pete’s sake, a hundred seasons of REAL WORLD? I’d expect this out of ABC Family, but not you…

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  • Josephine Colleen

    Can I just give you a hi-five for yelling ‘vagina’? I seriously do this too and I always end in a spill of giggles. Sometimes I even throw a couple of ‘penis’-es in there for good measure. Something about yelling words that have nothing to do with why you’re upset always seems to lighten then mood.

    My real point here is that the issue of using anotomically correct terms to refer to certain body parts seems to be questionably taboo for the above 13 crowd (and yes, I’m referring to anyone OVER the age of 13)… Still. I’m not sure why, since saying ‘vagina’ or ‘penis’ or whathaveyou isn’t any more challenging linguistically than saying ‘mr. happy’ or ‘vajayjay’. Why we as a society are more comfortable using words that sound silly and childish puts into perspective the reason we have such a discomfort addressing really important issues, like I don’t know… Rape. And MTV is only perpetuating this behavior with its censorship. VAGINA. There, I feel so much better now.

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