Feminism today is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men”, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, but to many it is so much more. It is a way of living, it is an ongoing fight towards victory in equality. Fifty years ago, feminism was in its second wave — defined by the understanding that women’s personal lives were deeply inflicted politically, and worked to fight against sexist power structures. In reality, the true meaning of the word foregoes any place in time — feminism exists wholly as an evolution of beliefs and actions made in the effort equality amongst the sexes. Feminism is timeless.
Historically, feminism has been found as radical and progressive — a movement over a lifestyle. In the media, feminism has thematically been represented in protests, records of actions taken out of context, presented as absurdity. This was feminism in the 1960s:
In the media today, feminism is shown through clothing printed with empowering slogans and prints of breasts, feminist icons — musicians, writers, actors, filmmakers, designers, etc—, world wide political discussions and beyond. Feminism is not restricted to women fighting against men, there are now many men in the fight with us — it is a genderless, sexless, raceless battle in favor of all genders, sexes, and races — in favor of equality. This is feminism in 2015:
Fifty years apart, and here we are, fighting the same battles: unequal pay, lack of control over our own bodies and sexuality, the list goes on. The differences come through the progression of society — the way feminism is portrayed and the way we view it, the way its marketed and contributed. Fifty years ago, feminism reached the masses in breaking news, in taking over the streets and the occasional Hollywood figures or musicians. Today, feminism reaches the masses through blogs, photo series, podcasts, fashion, political figures, social media platforms, music, art and beyond.
Nineteen year old Jewish girl from Chicago, Tavi Gevinson, was just twelve years of age when she started a fashion blog known as “Style Rookie”, and is now one of the most influential female activists of our generation — the head of world wide pop culture and femme-themed Rookie Magazine, online. As she stated in her TedxTalk just a few years ago: “Feminism is not a rulebook, but a discussion, a conversation, a process”(Gevinson, Tavi. “A Teen Just Trying to Figure It out.”) This thoughtful collection of twelve words is a pretty direct analysis and representation of the manifestation of what feminism is presently.
Through Tavi, what it is to be a woman today versus what it has meant historically is a budding conversation that happens on a platform reaching world wide in an instant — a reality that was unthinkable fifty years ago.
It was then when the discussions took place through community marches with signs held high and the burning of bras. News that didn’t reach outside of its own community until days after, if it spread at all; news that was “discussed” as an event, as something that happened, but taken apart from the root of what generated the action-taking. Being a twelve year old, being Jewish, and being a girl were each battles in themselves.
Star Olderman, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Chair of the Women’s Studies Department at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, wrote the article “Midwestern Women and the Second Wave of Feminism: How Social Change Happens” as a review of the documentary “Step By Step: Building a Feminist Movement”. The review tells of many Midwestern women interviewed in the film and how their local efforts transformed into state-wide and national feminist movements. This depiction speaks directly to what Tavi Gevinson has and is currently doing. Tavi’s ability to lead a movement beginning as a middle class, Jewish, twelve year old girl is something that would have been nearly unattainable without the internet. Feminism often begins with every day people asking questions about every day scenarios, and acting in pursuit of answers. Olderman’s analysis of Steb By Step’s representation of feminism speaks of “women who at first seem to be involved in very separate or very local struggles, finally bringing them together on the state and national levels” — although speaking to movements over fifty years old, one sees parallels of this happening in social circles similar to those of activists such as Tavi Gevinson, Amy Poehler, and Lena Dunham.
Along the lines of the evolution of forming feminist communities, Oxford University Press’ book: Everywhere and Nowhere: Contemporary Feminism in the United States by Jo Reger depicts feminism on a community-wide scale. Notating how feminism starts with the individual and intermingles, Reger’s studies align very well with what Tavi was accomplishing from a very young age. Reger largely compares feminism in terms of generational differences, notating how there are often disagreements on what is actually important or worth fighting for. Where in the the 1960s, women would have to leave the United States in order to get a safe abortion, and today abortion is legal in some states, there is sometimes conflict in the minds of prior generations of feminists when hearing of movements such as “Free the Nipple”, questioning the importance of that relative to what they fought for some years ago. Many older activists see young feminists as being too concerned with popular culture and sexual empowerment, when in reality, these are very real and resonant topics of this generation. Reger confronts these conflicts best in stating “Disagreements about who ‘we’ are, or should be, take time and resources away from activist tasks, often alienating participants and fragmenting the movement.”
One representation of feminism really resonant to this generation is the television series Gilmore Girls — following a single, independent mother, successful in her career and raising a daughter. This show hits close to home for me as it was probably the first example of feminism that was revealed to me as a young girl. Amy Sherman-Palladino portrays powerful, independent, self-motivated women — writing her characters in ways in which the audience can get to know them in a very real and familiar way.
Although not an exact analysis, the topics examined in Reger’s text correlate closely with many of the characteristics that make up Gilmore Girls. The series is a thorough representation of feminism on both individual and community-wide scales, showing how feminism and communities effect one another, support and growth wise. Each individual takes on the role of being a feminist differently — Gilmore Girls portrays three generations of Gilmore girls, each strong and independent in significantly different ways, largely as a result of the differing waves of time they each grew up in. Gilmore Girls is also incredibly diverse casting wise, which opens the viewers eyes to feminism across the various social factors — race, gender, sexuality, religion, class — which Reger depicts in her book as incredibly important, but rarely found.
As mentioned before, Tavi notates that women are often portrayed as very flat, two-dimensional characters — over simplified and easily understood, when in reality women are not like this whatsoever. In the case of Gilmore Girls, on the whole, the characters at play are somewhat of an anomaly because of how multidimensional they are, even considering the time period of its release.
As a public television show of the early 2000s, such attentiveness to the representation of women was a rarity. Lorelai and Rory, the two main characters, are intelligent, humorous, motivated young women, independent in many ways — but are also very real in the the way that they do show weaknesses (often when it comes to relationships in their various forms), but are not overly inhibited by their trials. One topic that Gilmore Girls touches on in particular that stands apart from the majority of representations of women in the media is the role that food played within the show. Food was often a tool for guiding conversations and building character relationships. I would estimate that nearly 65 percent of the conversations held throughout the show take place during the consumption of some form of food. There was an emphasis on the lack of knowledge Rory and Lorelai had of making food, counter playing their overall intelligent personas, which lead to the mother daughter duo eating fast food, take out, and frozen dinners for the duration of the series. For a show focused around two women, this pushes preconceived notions of the ways in which a woman should and does eat by emphasizing eating incredibly unhealthy food in abundant quantities and high frequencies.
The 1966 Czech film “Daisies” is a strong representation of feminism in its second wave, and in many ways is a parallel to Gilmore Girls. In some ways, the two main characters are a bit less dimensional than the girls of Stars Hollow, but their polarizing personalities are undoubtedly intentional. Vera Chytilova was the first female film director of the nation, and was actually banned from film making after the making of this film — proving how rare such a portrayal as this was in popular culture. Her portrayal of two young, bored girls includes numerous scenes of ravenous eating, tricking men into buying the two sisters meals, and leaving the men in the dust — without the sexual favors they presumed would be granted in return. “The twinned heroines act like dolls run amok, but they’re also impish adolescents tweaking society through their experiments in self definition. ‘We can try anything once,’ they claim in their existential repartee” writes Nicholas Rapold of the New York Times in An Audience for Free Spirits in a Closed Society. This description exemplifies the free spirited beings Chytilova so boldly chose to portray in the midst of a very conservative political regime. Although very similar to many of the characteristics one can find in Gilmore Girls, Chytilova’s representation was seen as obscene, and was pretty clearly a rebellion against many social expectations in a bit more obscene, blatant way.
It has been incredibly interesting to find that many representations of feminism in popular culture have retained similar qualities over history — what seems to have changed more than the content itself, is how harshly the public reacts to the the content. The ideals continue to transcend time, while taking form in new interpretations. It is clear that for a large part of history this part of my identity was often represented through satire and absurdity in an attempt to maybe counteract peoples opinions by showing that, in reality, feminism is a way of living, feminism should be the norm.
There have been many learning moments for me throughout this course — some of which were incredibly revealing in terms of information, and some experience based. As I have never taken an online course before, this term was, and continues to be, a learning experience in terms of organization and independence. It has been a rollercoaster of confusion and revelation on a number of scales. Although in many ways online courses offer a liberty as to when a student needs to be presently working, the time range in which one needs to be online, whether figuring out an assignment, doing the research, completing the assignment, etc., is entirely more scattered. It is not at all the same as going to a class twice a week, receiving all of the information in a two hour period, and leaving with the understanding that you have a routine amount of time between then and the next time you will be in that class. This calls for a lot of self-discipline and organization in the realm of online courses.
On another note, the freedom of online courses allow access to so much more information — the vastness of what is out there to research is at the tip of the students fingers, quite literally, and is encouraged to be delved into. On top of that, the peers one interacts with are granted the same opportunity, and are encouraged to share their findings with the others in a way that isn’t as available as in face to face classes because there is no time frame cutting of a students thought necessarily — the information is forever lingering through the world of the internet.
In coming into this course I was unsure of what to expect. I am not personally acclimated to popular culture as intensely as a majority of my peers today are, so I thought of this class as a way to gather wisdom on today’s popular culture. Although this did happen naturally through many of the examples we were asked to share with one another in relation to topics throughout the term, this term was more of an analysis of popular culture’s presentation — which I almost enjoy even more. Studying the affects of advertising and the many ways it takes form and place within our culture was undoubtedly my favorite topic of the term — despite, and probably because of, how sickening the revelation of the subconscious power advertising has on its audiences was to me. Naturally now I can’t help but find that advertising is virtually unescapable today, so when I’m not avoiding it, I keep in mind the four steps learned from the “Deconstructing an Ad” handout.
Garis, Mary Grace. “What Makes Up the Diet of a Gilmore Girl? Lorelai and Rory Have Very Specific Tastes.” Bustle. April 17, 2015. Accessed December 4, 2015.
Gevinson, Tavi. “A Teen Just Trying to Figure It out.” TedXTalks. 2010.
Accessed October 17, 2015.
Olderman, Star. “Midwestern Women and the Second Wave of Feminism: How Social Change Happens.” University of Wisconsin System Women’s Studies Library, 1999. Accessed October, 2015.
Rapold, Nicolas. “An Audience for Free Spirits in a Closed Society.” The New York Times,
June 29, 2012. Accessed November 30, 2015.
Reger, Jo. Everywhere and Nowhere: Contemporary Feminism in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
“Daisies.” Criterion. Accessed December 1, 2015.
“Definition of Feminism in English.” Oxford Dictionaries. Accessed October 9, 2015.
“Gilmore Girls.” Writ. and Dir. Amy Sherman-Palladino. Warner Brothers, 2000-2007.
Images 1-3: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/feminism-second-wave/a/1960s-Feminism-Timeline.htm
Image 4: http://globalgrind.com/2014/09/30/chanel-spring-2015-show-feminism-photos/
Image 5: http://bscene.bershka.com/en/2014/feminismo-arte-y-colores-pastel/
Images 6-7: itsmeandyou.com
Images 8-19: https://www.ted.com/talks/tavi_gevinson_a_teen_just_trying_to_figure_it_out
Images 10-12: http://www.bustle.com/articles/74366-what-makes-up-the-diet-of-a-gilmore-girl-lorelai-rory-have-very-specific-tastes
Images 13-14: https://www.criterion.com/films/27854-daisies