Rooms of One’s Own: Teenage Bedrooms in Film  

Katie Goh | 6 February 2017

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Clueless, 1995, Paramount Pictures

Juno’s hamburger phone. Cher’s computerized wardrobe. Ferris Bueller’s Union Jack. Regina George’s PRINCESS four poster bed. As memorable as the characters, the teen movie bedroom set has become iconic in pop culture. Spaces of rebellion, creativity, and conflict, the bedroom functions as a visual indicator of a teenager’s personality as it is the only space wholly their own.

Alison Blunt and Robyn Dowling describe the home as both ‘a material dwelling and… also an affective space, shaped by emotions and feelings of belonging’ [1]. A two-way psychological experience between internal state and external environment takes place. While you produce the space you live in by projecting your identity onto your surroundings – adding posters, choosing furnishings –you are simultaneously being produced by the space as it projects an identity onto you. Identity signifiers, such as band and film posters, not only represent a character’s personality but also represent how they want others to perceive them: an ideal personality.

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Juno, 2007, Fox Searchlight

Philosopher Henri Lefebvre visualizes space through three concepts: physical space, mental space, and social space; all three of which interact with one other. For example, in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, the protagonist’s bedroom serves as the space in which she lives and sleeps (physical), the private space where she can create her artwork and record her diary with a dictaphone (mental), and the space in which she interacts with her friends and family (social).

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl, 2015, Sony Pictures Classics

In the film, Minnie’s bedroom, a space of safety and creativity, becomes increasingly alienating to her as she begins an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Caught between childhood and womanhood, Minnie begins seeking new sexual experiences and moves, physically and emotionally, outward from her childhood space and into the adult world. Minnie’s bedroom is the place where her mother confronts her about her affair, and once this childhood space has been tainted by the reality of adulthood, Minnie does not return to her bedroom until she and her mother reconcile.

While the home is generally viewed as a place of safety and refuge, domestic spaces can also function as sites where power struggles are enacted. Traditionally, domestic spaces are gendered “feminine;” housework and childrearing take place away from public spaces which are gendered “masculine” as sites of work. The films The Virgin Suicides and Mustang scrutinize this patriarchal binary of public/ masculine versus private/ feminine.

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Mustang, 2015, Ad Vitam

The films push the relationship between internal psychology and external environment to its extreme. Both sets of sisters in these films are sequestered by overly protective, religious parents in an attempt to control their daughters’ developing sexualities. In the opening of Mustang, the girls play in the sea with a group of boys; however, when a rumour of the girls “pleasuring themselves” on the boys’ shoulders begins to spread, their family name must be protected. The girls are beaten, taken out of school, and placed under house arrest. Instead of a space of safety, the bedroom becomes a confining space in an attempt to control female sexuality. Mustang thus not only depicts the potential for the home to be a domestic prison for women, but also comments on the role women are expected to play in Turkish society, as the director says: ‘you have to be a mother and at home, and that’s all. When you see a man, you should blush and look down. It’s like something from the middle ages.’

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Mustang, 2015, Ad Vitam

Similar to Mustang, in The Virgin Suicides, the sisters are taken out of school and confined to their bedroom after one of the girls breaks curfew to have her first sexual experience. Their bedroom is claustrophobic, childish, and feminine with pastel hues, frills, and floral patterns. Enclosed within this space and cut off from the social world of adolescents, the sisters create fantasies of escapism which escalates and ends with all five committing suicide in their home.

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The Virgin Suicides, 1999, Paramount Classics

The bedroom thus becomes a site of destructive patriarchal power: in an attempt to repress the girls’ sexuality by keeping them trapped in the mental and physical space of their childhood, the space ends up destroying them. Mustang and The Virgin Suicides follow in a long tradition of art examining the gendered power dynamics of space, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). The films deconstruct the binary of private space versus public space as social and political power dynamics are enacted in the bedroom. Not merely aesthetic representations of personality, teenage bedrooms also exemplify the relationship we have with our environment: how we shape it and how it shapes us in return.

About Katie
Katie is currently studying for her MSc in Literature and Modernity at the University of Edinburgh via Belfast and Glasgow. Her research interests include women’s domestic fiction, modernist short stories and postcolonial theory. Her other interests include poetry, ramen, and terrible horror films. Find her on twitter at @johnnys_panic

 Article edited by Vicki Madden and Katie Hawthorne

Works cited:

[1] Blunt, Alison and Dowling, Robyn. Home, 2006, Routledge.

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