Feminism and Pop Culture Essay

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Essay Question: How do feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression? Description: For this essay, you will choose an example of a feminist cultural text or set of related texts that you will read through the concepts, arguments, and perspectives of the course to say something about how feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert or resist oppression. Some examples of cultural texts include a song, album, or music video; a film; a novel, graphic novel, comic, or zine; a television character, series, or episode; and a work of art (visual, performance, installation, craft, etc.). Using your reading of the feminist cultural text, your essay should attempt to make an argument about the complex relationships between pop culture, power, and feminist resistance.


The Colour Purple is a film that manages to encompass the reciprocity of language, race, gender, and power divisions. The film through its use of black American language produces new narratives, which serve to offer new perspectives and tell the stories of 3 black women, which would otherwise remain unheard. African American women in particular have suffered from the psychological and societal restrictions placed upon them and forced into a pigeonhole of gender repression. The film transforms traditional concepts of gender roles by showcasing the bond of sisterhood and the power belonging to choices made with a broad support system. One of the other elements of the naturalized code of gender is depicted in the film through silence and the failures of the women to voice their own opinions, which leads to consequences due to the lack of control over their own lives. The film shows the distinction of power through many elements including language. The use of old southern Black English shows the miseducation or lack of proper enunciation as compared to the English spoken by whites at the time. This serves as a major segregator of race and class.

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How The Color Purple challenges, subverts, or resists oppression is that it uses the divisions of power through female solidarity and resistance, gender inequality, and sexuality.

When talking about The Colour Purple and how it challenges oppression I will be looking at the specific dinner scene in which Celie, Shug, and Sophia are all gathered around the table, sitting with their respective partners. It is at this point that Shug announces she is taking Celie with her when she leaves for Memphis in the morning. This moment in particular is a turning point for Celie as we have seen her throughout the movie be driven down by not only every man who has entered her life but finally stand up to the man who intentionally kept her away from her sister for many years. It is with the help of Shug she discovers the letters that had been kept from her for years written by her sister and through reading these stories, she begins to realize there are other paths to freedom if she allows herself to trust the women in her life. The time, as well as the environment in which the film is based, sees most of the black male characters dominate black women violently and oppressively. They are not only physically violent but also sexually and emotionally abusive, making the women with whom they live feel fearful, worthless, and inferior. This narrative is mainly achieved by allowing women very few freedoms and segregation. The dinner scene is the turning point in which Celie challenges the patriarchal society and circumstances of her upbringing and finally asserts herself and her independence. Celie’s declaration to Albert becomes even more impact after he begins to belittle her and threaten her in front of their entire family and friends. It is at this point we see Celie invoke her power by looking directly at Shug, taking a deep breath, and asserting the bond of sisterhood she has been welcomed into by allowing the power of other strong independent women to care for and support her first-ever decision to take her life into her own hands. The emotional heart of this scene is Celie’s liberation via her relationship with Shug. The film shows many instances of how weak women are when their narrative is driven to isolation, but confidence is once again gained when they work together and assert their power of self-expression. When Albert asserts immediately after her declaration that she is a black woman and her color will get her nowhere, she again looks to Shug who is living proof a black woman can make a name for herself, and make her own choices even amongst a white crowd through her music. It is at this point Celie declares her freedom by taking back her power completely from Albert by saying “ You a low down dirty dog, that’s what’s wrong with me. Time for me to get away from you and enter into creation, and your dead body's just the welcome mat I need.” (Website) The film makes this line a turning point for Celie because it shows how she no longer is a passive, timid person. On screen, the audience sees Celie transform into a confident woman, who proves that by asserting yourself you can break free from your oppressors. With the help of Shug and Sophia, we see Celie finally able to begin to define herself in her own right defend herself against the abusive treatment she has suffered nearly all her life, and leave her marital home to begin a new life in Memphis. The Book as well as the movie sees a shift from stereotypes of race to that of gender. Alice Walker was a revolutionary when it came to gender marginalization. The book as well as the movie serves pop culture by being a rare form of work in which kindness and love are redeeming factors and anger and aggression are vices that can destroy a life completely. This redemption with love however is unique in that it cannot be achieved without female resistance through bonding. It is this bond that liberates women from men and their brutish behaviors. It can be seen through today’s pop culture that this notion of women coming together can serve to have many redemptive qualities not only in empowering our choices and having control over our freedoms, choices, and bodies but also in solidarity to push forward the narrative that we can accomplish new rules and motives. There is also the underlying intimate love between the two main female characters Celie and Shug, which breaks the boundary of lesbian relationships as portrayed in early pop culture and is rather groundbreaking. The main foundations of solidarity amongst women can be seen to bare fruits through examples of modern-day girl bands and music such as the spice girl and pussy riot but also the women’s march which is inclusive, intersectional, and LGBTQIA friendly and is driven to unite women through the power of cinema, art, politics, and social media.

When looking at inequality in the color purple we see the struggle of black women who wish to empower themselves despite experiencing emotional and physical abuse from male counterparts and a lack of education. It is also to be said that this includes the black female body which is used as a weapon not only pinning women against one another but also in pop culture cinema. This subjugation of women has been a dominant practice in the past. For instance, in analyzing the dinner scene, we see that solidarity and stronger relationships among women will enhance female emancipation from the male-dominated society empower them to be independent, and foster equality. This also encompasses racial discrimination which is another challenge black women go through in the society that they are fighting to liberate themselves through creative expressions. We see Shug using music to move away from the restrictions placed upon her by her family and pastor father, we see Celie using writing, which was taught to her by her sister to express her opinions which remain silent for most of the movie, and Sophia who is strong-willed and opinionated uses her voice to throw our patriarchal rules as to how women should behave and perform regardless of the cost to her freedom. This narrative serves to show how black females face subjugation at the hands of their male counterparts, apart from being on the receiving end of racial discrimination and prejudice from the hegemonic white community. There is also a greater underlying inequality of gender and the black female body. When looking at pop culture cinematography “In the role as spectators, black men could enter an imaginative space of phallocentric power that mediated racial negation. This gendered relation to looking made the experience of the black male spectator radically different from that of the black female spectator”(hooks). When watching the film and specifically the dinner scene we are still thrown into the stereotype of the feral and nappy-headed black woman. It is reintroduced when Celie tries to reassert her independence only to be met with Albert’s words of her being “too black” and “too full” as compared to the fair-skinned, thin, blue-eyed Shug who would be easily more welcomed in a white society. “The imagery surrounding black female bodies then (as is the case now) was and is both erotic and propagandistic and the discourse surrounding our ‘fleshy' figure has now informed our collective perception of what it physically means to be a black female” (RACING SEX). It is this narrative, which is in many cases still driven in Hollywood and pop culture, which continues to deny black women a true representation of their femaleness and the power of their bodies. Until the gaze is presented to more black female directors and spectators a line of inequality will remain and social media will further maintain this gap by using stereotypes and language to segregate the appearance of black women and will not allow for a full intersectional approach to feminism. A further portrayal of inequality is the economic dominance of men over women, who owned almost all land and establishments of business. It is however Sophia and Shug who so clearly remind the men at the dinner table who seek to belittle Celie into believing her incapable of succeeding on her own that they both have made financial independence something which can be achieved, Shug through her musical career and Sophia in owning the local speakeasy where Shug often performs. We see Celie in the immediate scene following dinner in her sewing shop, creating trousers for women, which was something very daring and androgynous for the time. She has succeeded again, with the help of the females in her life to attain financial freedom. This female resistance is not only something prevalent in the twentieth century but also still very much today in a male-dominated capitalist system.

Another theme in the colour purple centers around the power of sexuality and sexual identity. In the early twentieth century men and women had very clearly defined roles, which their genders played in society. We see the men working out in the fields, and being the breadwinner of the family. The women in most cases stayed at home, cooked, cleaned, and managed all tasks related to children and the family. We see this very clearly during the dinner table scene as the women all wait for the men to fill their plates with food first and the children are expected to be clean and quiet or else serve to be disciplined by the males present. This however is in sharp contrast to the female characters of the film such as Shug and Sophia who have almost reversed roles when it comes to their partners and how they articulate their opinions. Shug is left freely to speak by her partner, Sophia who has more masculine characteristics than her husband Harpo, demands he step up and help with the serving and not interrupt when the women at the table have something to say. There is a reversal of the gender roles, which sets up a re-examining of norms particularly in black rural culture. This is revolutionary to be seen on screen for both white viewers and black females alike. When Celie finally takes Shug’s hand to steady her resolve, she finds the courage to finally speak out and we see not only the bond of friendship, but the bond of love. “Instead of rejecting her social and sexual desires, Celie bonds with these women and learns from them. The value Celie places in her relationships with women is a sign of her homosociality, but her social inclination is based on her previous experiences with men as well as her homosexuality.” (Website) The resistance of the film is in Celie never hiding her feelings for Shug, there is no secret that Shug and Celie are lovers and explore the intimate side of their relationships, something which was not only taboo but in many cases could have serious repercussions in the early twentieth century. This depiction of love between women came decades before the civil or gay rights movement in America. In the film as well as the book, Celie is represented as a lesbian although she has been with men all her life. The film makes a point here to show some of this progression on screen, albeit very vaguely, and leaves little room for the viewer to misinterpret that Shug opening up Celie to about her sexuality is a turning point to her resistance, she has had sex before but not without the element of caring or love attached. Celie’s sexual awakening is also the beginning of her conscious awakening where she no longer sees the male gaze as the authority, which rules self-expression.

In conclusion, the color black is a film adaptation, which brought many issues black women face into the forefront of pop culture. The film not only dives into the central themes of female sexual repression, inequality amongst gender roles, and how important creating a space of feminine unity and sisterhood can be central to the success and courage needed to help women actualize their dreams and project their voices. The movie is also incredibly prevalent in this day and age as many white audiences particularly women who have not seen it claim to understand the struggles of black women not only in the early twentieth century but going well into the twenty-first. It must be noted that black women in pop culture are still very much susceptible to erasure in culture and that intersectional feminism should be the main sisterhood with which women’s issues should be addressed and more importantly, provided the same stage to exist and be allowed to flourish. The color purple was ahead of its time in not only flipping gender roles, putting LGBTQIA visibly in the front as the protagonist explores her journey of self-discovery and resistance but it also became one of the greatest pop culture protest pieces of its time. It surpassed box office expectations, went on to be nominated for twenty-three Academy Awards, and gained Whoopi Goldberg in the role of Celie, her first Golden Globe. Many of the black actresses went on to become not only political activists and household names, but multi-millionaires who continued to push relevant black content into the forefront of pop culture to be explored through feminist literature, art, and film.

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