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