Anyone who has studied feminism, even in the slightest, knows how difficult it is to pinpoint what actions can be classified as such. The basic ideas, simply articulated through useful slogans, are not that hard to understand. It’s easy to think that all genders should be equal. However, understanding what an effective act of support for the movement might be is much more complex. Netflix is often considered guilty of failing to truly attest to feminist ideologies. It is easy enough to have a character say, I am a quirky, relatable feminist who says feminist things, but that does not necessarily mean they are doing something that would be considered significant or in-line with empowerment. Dialogue like this is often articulated through a throwaway comment that is never backed up with meaningful deeds.
Netflix Originals are lucky enough to have an open space to create any sort of series, whether it be as simple as teens at school or as complicated as a Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque monster that invades people’s minds and lives in an alternate universe. In all contexts, no matter the subject matter, there is a responsibility to present women, not as objects but as real people. This is the case of Netflix vs. Feminism.
The Archie comics turned teen sitcom drama is the biggest contender for most lip-service. It is very fashionable to shit on Riverdale, but I will provide some valid evidence for why I’m doing so. Most of us are aware that the leading actors, including local star KJ Apa, can give borderline award-winning performances. It is the writers that are consistently failing audiences. Riverdale’s most memorable scenes are often the most ridiculous and harmful – Betty’s streak of BDSM performance, including her underage club stripping, Veronica’s faux lesbianism that gets her into the catty anti-Bechdel cheerleading team, and pretty much everything Ethel does. The teens often act out roles which, in more #girlboss ideologies of feminism, would be considered empowering, such as reporter, savvy businesswoman, and group leader. The issue with this Netflix Original is how it fails to give these its large audience some more honest characters to sink their teeth into.
Ginny and Georgia
This series got free advertising from Taylor Swift. Note to everyone, don’t mess with the Swifties. The premise of Ginny and Georgia is pretty simple – a mother, daughter, and son move to a new rich, bitchy town and try to navigate their new lifestyle. Georgia is the beautiful single mother caring for her biracial daughter Ginny and bullied son Austin. The story follows the two titular women who are, apparently “like the ‘Gilmore Girls’ – but with bigger boobs.” While Georgia tackles the alien world of rich suburban motherhood, Ginny navigates her relationship with her ethnic identity. We watch the way Ginny gradually morphs to be more like her peers, straightening her hair, changing the way she talks, and becoming boy crazy. As a coloured girl, I indeed related to how Ginny distanced herself from aspects of her ethnic identity. I spend every day straightening my curly hair, speak like a ditzy girl, and dress in a conforming way. Often, changing identities isn’t a matter of feeling better about oneself but rather feeling better around other people. It is eventually revealed that Georgia has murdered multiple people over the course of her life. The question is whether this damages the representation of women. Does revealing that an unapologetically strong single mother is a killer harm this representation? I would argue that it does. The Femme Fatale character, a beautiful woman capable of murder, is one that presents the active women as being aggressive and destructive.
“Girls constitute a revolutionary voice that can and will change the world.” In the recently released Moxie, the protagonist, Vivian, struggles to find her place in her high school. She tends to keep her head down and moves around the class as a quiet wallflower. She gains a feminist awakening while being in the presence of her classmates, including a new, tokenistic Black girl Lucy Hernandez. Lucy is criticised for her use of the word ‘harassed’. She is also pushed down by her peers, teachers, and even her principal. Amy Poehler takes a critical look at being a white feminist, examining how intersectional approaches are important to support others suffering from further oppression. It is immediately clear that Vivian is the Nick Carraway of the story, a peer and admirer of Lucy’s. She is initially a bystander to Lucy’s struggles to gain respect as a Black girl in a new school that cultivates a toxic environment of oppression. Lucy faces these issues head-on. Amy is smart enough to realise that a white teenage girl doesn’t have all the answers, but she does want something to bring change. She provides epic commentary on everyday oppression towards women: mansplaining how to pack a grocery bag, being excessively apologetic for very little, the raging era of zines, and aggressive feminism. The girls in this series are constantly making feministic remarks. The big issue that drives the story is The List. You know, that list that names people with the Best Ass, Best Rack, and Biggest Bitch. Inspired by her mother, Vivan makes her own zine. Anyone who is a fan of Emma Stone in Easy A or the examination of pink princesses in Mean Girls, will love Moxie. The American dream is a recurring topic in the English classroom of high school students. Ginny’s speech about White people is repeated by Lucy Hernandez in Moxie. It was identical, actually. “We should be writing about immigrants or the working class or Black mothers.” She then, of course, is argued against by a White guy. Yeah, you know the ones.
This 19th Century Gossip Girl follows the wild grandeur of romantic endeavors. Bridgerton has modern twists within what appears to be a typical period drama, adorning itself with pop-music orchestras, enough sex to make anyone blush, and bright colours that do become quite an eyesore. How could a series about the Regency era have any relation to society today? The series presents each woman with a different agenda: Daphne wants romance, Eloise intends to be an independent woman, the Featherington daughters wish to marry, and Madam Delacroix wants a successful business. All the women have unambiguous aspirations established within the first episode of the series. It is inspiring to see how each woman has distinctive personalities beyond their desire for love (unlike the Jonas Brother look-alikes). However, by the end of season one, all of the women have been shoved and shifted to share the pursuit of a romantic partner. All the effort that went into creating the personalities of these women are washed away by an unapologetic shift in motivation. The show ended with eligible bachelorette, Eloise, rehearsing her coming out at her sister’s evening party. I wonder what will come of Eloise’s demands to remain an unattainable woman and pursue her career as an independent writer.
This brings us to Big Mouth. Many of us have watched these pubescent teens dealing with the everyday pains of being in that awkward in-between stage. The kids are constantly going through massive changes, wrestling with the pain in the ass that puberty is and how it affects a wide variety of kids across different genders. The comedian creators provide lessons for the audience that most of us tackle, even now at 20-something – premature ejaculation, toxic masculinity fucking with friendships, the permanent presence of a shame wizard and depression kitty, and the fear of the mysterious blue balls. Many of the taboo topics like masturbation, pervy eyes, and slut-shaming are a welcome exploration, no matter what age the audience might be. Bringing these topics to light gives all audiences the opportunity to indulge in their anxieties, even if they are far past the pain of puberty.