This paper aims to investigate and explain the movement of what feminism is in the context of popular culture, specifically in the area of film, and how this area of pop culture has influenced film.
What Is Popular Culture?
There are many views and definitions to what popular culture is, but intrinsically, popular culture is the traditions, beliefs, perspectives, ideas and aspects of material culture that are most dominant by the majority of the population or is widely favored by many. In today’s world, it is especially hard to separate pop culture from ‘high culture’. According to Mr. Pop Culture (2021), the term ‘pop culture’ was invented in the 19th century and was affiliated with poor education and the lower class, which is the opposite of ‘high culture’ and higher education of the upper classes. Spacey. J (2018) states that high culture is a culture that has been accepted by authoritative institutions as being the greatest of value and importance to society. Popular culture is main stream music, TV shows, comics, movies or concerts. It’s possible to classify everything as pop culture. Pop culture nowadays refers to anything that creates a stir or discourse amongst people. That is why it should be said that pop culture is continually changing and evolving. Trends change all the time, so what is considered pop culture now might not be popular two years from now.
In my words, feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. They should not have to rely on men in certain areas. Women are capable of doing anything that men can do if they wanted to.
Scholars’ definition of feminism is simply put the belief in social, economic and political equality of both sexes. Brunell and Burkett (2021) stated that women were confined to the role of that time period, to a domestic lifestyle, while the men had all the privileges of a public life. The right to own property, to gain an education, most professions and the ability to partake in the public life was withheld from women. Women were still obligated to cover their heads in public until the end of the nineteenth century, and husbands held the right to sell their wives. When the 20th century came around, women still could not partake in politics or even conduct business without a male figure present, be it her father, brother, husband, legal agent, or even son. What is even more absurd is the fact that married women could even not exercise control over their own children without consent from their husbands.
These injustices generated a movement that has been generally separated into three waves and arguable a fourth wave. The first wave dealt with property rights and the right to vote. Although the first wave started in the late 19th century, it was not the first real political movement for the western world. After a few years of feminist activism, Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1920 that gave women the right to vote. The second wave focused on equality and anti-discrimination. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the second wave emerged, it was based on the first wave and questioned the position of women in society. Activists concentrated on the institutions that held women behind, inspired by the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War rallies. Western feminist movements gained legislative milestones in terms of reproductive rights, equal pay and equal education. It advocated for women to be able to open bank accounts without the permission from their husbands, it condemned domestic abuse and sexual harassment. The third wave, which started in the 1990s as a backlash to the second wave’s perceived privileging of white, straight women. Many women started to freely express their sexuality more openly in the way they spoke, dressed and acted, they began to welcome individuality and rebellion. In addition, the third wave is marked by a growing understanding of intersectionality, a term established by Kimberle Crenshaw in the 1980’s. It acknowledged he intertwined forms of racism, classism, ableism and other types of discrimination. This wave was criticized for primarily expressing concerns of white middle-class women. The fourth claims to begin in 2012, with a focus on sexual harassment, body shaming, and rape, among other matters.
One of the theories of feminism argues that imagery in media and pop culture often degrades, objectify women and sexualize women creating unrealistic social expectations.
What makes a movie ‘feminist’? Well, according to Budowski (2018), featuring a strong female protagonist or a large cast of females in a film does not make it a feminist movie. That also goes for female directors even though it might be told through the point of view of women, so if this doesn’t make a feminist movie, what does? Bukowski continues by stating that what makes a feminist film is an agenda. “It’s a political work intended to spark thought and conversation about women’s social status and the female experience”. It addresses themes of femininity, sexuality, skin color, ethnicity, religion, culture, and feminist theory. For a movie to be considered feminist it must have a clear-cut intention of educating its viewers about social inequality between men and women.
‘Legally Blonde’ (2001)
Elle Woods is a woman with everything. She aspires to be Mrs. Warner Huntington, the third beyond all else. However, her dreams get crushed when he dumps her because she is too blond. Desperate to reclaim him Elle, enrolls at Harvard. This film’s lead character is underestimated by everyone simply because of her appearance and her interests. With the exception of a few the males, the men in this film act as if women are objects to be played with, instead of being taken seriously. Elle has the last laugh when she blows everyone away with her personal knowledge on fashion and hair, when representing her friend Brooke on a case who was wrongfully accused of murdering her husband, at the end of it all, Elle won her case.
The movie deals with sexual harassment, Elle’s victory over the conflict between femininity and competence, the importance of women’s empowerment, and the fact that women can lead or play a power-driven when necessary or if they want to, in any field of endeavor.
‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000)
The film is based on a true story. Erin Brockovich is a woman who finds herself in a difficult situation. Erin asks her attorney, Ed Masry, to recruit her after a vehicle accident in which she was not at fault. Erin discovers some medical documents among the real estate files. She persuades Ed to let her investigate, and she uncovers a cover-up involving tainted water in a nearby village, which is inflicting deadly illnesses in its residents. The main character Erin is not respected by the other people because they judge her by the way she dresses. They think that a woman who dresses provocatively has no idea what she’s doing. But Erin is not bothered by them, and she isn’t afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself. Although the women in her office wont hangout with her because of the way she dresses, Erin is comfortable in what she wears and thinks she looks nice in what she chooses to wear. She as a matter of fact, in a scene in the film she uses both her femininity and her sexuality to get her way into a storage room to get some information on a case she is investigating.
Three main areas that I noticed this movie touches on are: femininity, gender discrimination and sexuality.
Both movies touch on different female experiences in as much as their characters are both very similar. ‘Legally Blonde’ can be associated with the second wave of feminism, as the second wave meant reducing gender discrimination and giving women access to male-dominated spaces such as law school when in that time period males dominated in legal affairs. Elle mindset changed from wanting to be a man candy, a wife and possibly a housewife to a strong capable woman. This movie also intersects with the third wave, as the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace and the desire to increase the number of women in positions of power were common themes at the beginning of the third wave. The third wave would go on to embrace all of the ideas, vocabulary, and aesthetics that the second had tried so hard to reject, such as makeup, high heels, and femininity.
In comparison to legally Blonde, Erin Brockovich would be considered less than to Elle as she is a woman from a low-class income, with little to no education. Erin is the type of person who gets things done. Even if everyone tells her she’s in much over her head, she won’t give up without a fight. She is the definition of a modern feminist.
In conclusion, women should be free to express their individuality through honest communication of their opinions, as well as their moral and legal right to talk and do what she has to do to grow as a human being. Women may have played a significant role in promoting peace, security, prosperity and significant change in equal benefits for women. They fought and played a crucial role in the beginning and motivating the progress of human rights, justice and economic regeneration.
As shown above these movies exemplify that femininity does not mean inadequate. It shows women can look fabulous or dress as they want, it does not mean weak or incapable. As stated earlier the point of a feminist film is to educate and show the viewer different areas of concerns and experiences of women and the main area of these films was the problem other persons had against their femininity.