This is my fourth annual compilation (see 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 lists) of films and TV-shows, books, podcasts, and other major mainstream media events that made a conscious effort to be more feminist, anti-racist, and support LGBTQ+ rights in an intersectional, inclusive, and original way.
Whenever women are in charge of filming sex scenes, or whenever men and women collaborate on them, we get a very different representation of female desire, female sexuality, various representations of pleasure, relationships, attachment, and possibilities of satisfaction and fulfillment. Female orgasms are still rarely depicted and are often misrepresented, while male orgasms are still presented as the norm for portraying sexual hetero-normative encounters on mainstream television, film, and media, mis-educating generations of men about female sexuality. However, in the last few years, we have a few inspiring examples of what desire and sex look like outside of rape culture, and beyond the hetero-normative spectrum.
This is my third annual compilation (see 2015, 2016 and 2017 lists) of films and TV-shows, books, podcasts that made a conscious effort to be more feminist, and some even recognize gender, race, ability, and LGBTQ+ issues in an intersectional, inclusive, and original way.
This is my third annual compilation (see the 2015 list and 2016 list) of films and TV-shows that made a conscious effort to be more feminist, and some even recognize gender, race, ability, and LGBTQ+ issues in an intersectional, inclusive, and original way. They are stories that move us forward in different ways. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the films and TV shows selected here are also some of the most cutting-edge, smart, innovative, and inspiring examples of work in the mainstream entertainment industry to date. The three highest-grossing films at the box office this year all featured female protagonists (Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast and Star Wars), for the first time since 1958!
With her second book of poems the sun and her flowers (2017), Toronto-based poet rupi kaur has once again managed to put into poetic words the depth and complexity of the female experience. Just as her first book of poems, milk and honey (2015), the new book is already an international best-seller. She touched many nerves with her poems, putting very complex feelings into simple words and poignant drawings.
I first encountered Hillary Rodham Clinton in Berlin on November 9, 2009, as she gave an official speech as Secretary of State at the Brandenburg Gate during the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In her speech, she talked about “people following their dreams and living out their potential as a result of the fall of the Wall.” I am one of those people. I wrote about the meaning of that day in one of my first blog posts. In fact, this event prompted the beginning of my blogging endeavors.
On March 23, 2017, I organized a Distinguished Women Scholar Lecture at the University of Victoria and invited the leading German feminist activist, Anne Wizorek, to give a talk and participate in a group discussion on intersectional feminism.
This is my second annual compilation of films and tv-shows that made a conscious effort to recognize gender and race issues in an intersectional, inclusive, and original way. This year, I decided to add other major media events that stood out, such as Beyoncé’s launch of her video album Lemonade, and Barack Obama awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ellen Degeneres. I felt particularly good about this project, when the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced that beginning in 2019, works that do not demonstrate inclusivity in their production practices will no longer be eligible for the awards at the annual BAFTAs.
Anne Wizorek is a German feminist activist and media consultant. She is the author of Weil ein #Aufschrei nicht reicht (Because an #Outcry is Not Enough, 2014), a book she wrote after her anti-sexism twitter campaign #aufschrei went viral in 2013. I first interviewed Anne in January 2016, shortly after the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, while she was in the process of collaborating on the #ausnahmslos campaign against sexism and racism. That interview can be accessed on my blog. We then met in Berlin in June 2016 and recorded a podcast (in German) about feminism in Germany and Canada for her feminist online magazine Kleinerdrei. Finally, we met again in July 2016 and recorded a follow-up interview (this time in English) for the online contribution of the Women in German Yearbook about her current work. What follows below is a transcription of this interview:
In her book, Laurie Penny has established connections between gender, race, social (in)justice, lies, and revolutions quite eloquently. Written when she was 27 years old, this book sums up pretty much all that is currently at stake in the world of gender inequality. And she does it without the apologetic self-deprecation that women, even feminist women, have been known for throughout history.
I compiled the most insightful quotes from her book.
From March 17 to August 28, 2016 the Ephraim-Palais in Berlin presents the exhibition “Berlin – Stadt der Frauen” (Berlin – City of Women). The exhibit focuses on the lives of twenty strong women, demonstrating how they shaped Berlin’s history, how they cast off social and political constraints, and provides an insight into many aspects of the women’s movement, with a special focus on the issue of emancipation through education. No matter what era they belonged to or which profession they practised, all of these women determined and shaped their own lives. Connected by their backgrounds in the educated middle-class and having access to similar opportunities, these women nonetheless experienced many challenges in their journeys from tradition to emancipation.
Before the year’s end, I asked friends and followers for suggestions and recommendations for best feminist films and TV shows of 2015. I received many responses and suggestions and watched most of them, and put together a list of my favourites. Of course, this list could be much longer and more inclusive, but I wanted to limit it based on the following selection criteria. After I watched and categorized the year’s crop of films and TV shows, I noticed several patterns emerging. A number of actors (female and male) gravitated towards films and shows that had diverse casts, feminist themes, and a radical-honesty-approach to story-telling. There is an emerging new cohort in Hollywood of artists doing cool, important work, and they deserve special acknowledgement.
In January 2013, Anne Wizorek, a media consultant in Berlin, started a consciousness-raising campaign against sexism on Twitter, entitled #aufschrei (#outcry), which went viral over-night, receiving over 60,000 tweets in the first two weeks, and then was instantly picked up by the mainstream media (still largely run by men) in Germany, as it coincided with a highly-publicized sexism scandal at the time. The emerging online community (or “talking circle” in Gloria Steinem’s words) of people speaking out publicly and raising awareness and understanding of the extent to which sexism still permeates all social and personal spheres reignited a new wave of discourse on feminism and gender in Germany and beyond.
As part of Gloria Steinem‘s book tour for her new book My Life On the Road (2015), the literally non-profit organization Hedgebrook that supports women writers organized a literary evening at Benaroya Hall, which houses the Seattle Symphony, on November 8, 2015. Gloria Steinem spent the evening discussing her new book with Cheryl Stayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012), a memoir that was adapted in 2014 by the Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée and starred Reese Witherspoon. The sold-out event attracted over 2,500 people.
Over the past few years it has been great walking into book stores and seeing feminist books on display upfront – many of them marketed as best-sellers – rather than politely stocked in the designated Gender Studies section somewhere in the back. Most of the books are memoirs, essay collections, comedy works, or a combination of all of these. My modest bookshelf of feminist books by second- and third-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem and bell hooks, and occasional first-wavers like Virginia Woolf, began to spill over with what is a distinct new wave of feminist values, ideas, and humour (sometimes eagerly but prematurely described as post-feminist – alas we have not reached post-patriarchy yet). Here are some of my favourites:
When smart and creative feminist women take the business of writing about fashion into their own hands – unrestricted by magazine advertisers who, as Gloria Steinem revealed, dictate the contents of women’s fashion magazines to sell products; not influenced by mainstream fashion media that perpetuates impossible and unreal standards of beauty; and unaffected by the patriarchal gaze and objectification of women’s bodies – we get not only a very different kind of literary style and genre, but also a new cultural perspective on fashion.
When Gloria Steinem turned 80, on March 25th, 2014, the organizers of the Ms. Foundation for Women, which Steinem founded, asked everyone to submit messages about how Gloria has influenced their lives and work. I’ve been wanting to write a post about Steinem and her work for a long time now, so this was a good incentive.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State and Former U.S. Senator from New York addressed the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal on March 18, 2014. The topic of her talk remained undisclosed, and as many of the over 4000 audience members, I expected to hear a talk about international politics from one of the most powerful women in the world, as she contemplates her candidacy in the next presidential elections.
Berlin documentary filmmaker, Beatrice Möller touched on several cultural nerves in her new film Everything We Want. Born in 1979 in Düsseldorf and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, she made her first documentary in 2003, entitled Omulaule heißt Schwarz (Omulaule means black), followed by Shalom Salam (2006) and Shosholoza Express (2010), which documents a train ride through South Africa and the experience of Apartheid.
Towards the end of 2012 a few mainstream films were released that mark a new direction in gender dynamics on-screen. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock (2012), and the HBO production of Philip Kaufman’s Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012) are all untraditional bio-pics about famous men, whose wives are presented as braver, stronger, wiser human beings, who upstage their husbands behind the scenes.
Over the last decade, the feminist cultural critic, bell hooks, conducted very thorough research on love, covering all areas of the topic, starting from the need of a shared definition, to providing clarity on confusions about love in all our relationships, going back to our families of origin, and outlining the misconceptions and oppressions upheld by patriarchal structures and ideology. Her books change the way we view love as a society, and call for a more mindful love ethic.
When professional women get together to debate feminism today, the question on most people’s minds is probably: who are the men in the audience? And why aren’t there more younger men there, taking notes? My problem with many feminist discussions (especially in North America) was always that they tend to be somewhat of a bitch-fest in deconstructing patriarchy, while (still, unfortunately) necessary, but so not enough. This particular group of women in their discussion (open and free to the public) at Berliner Festspiele theatre as part of the Theater Treffen 2011 festival proved that we have finally moved from deconstruction to creative and progressive construction of inspiring feminist role models.
If we were to imagine a post-feminist (or a fourth wave feminist) woman, who would she be? How would she be different from the feminist revolutionaries (second wave)? And what would she teach us about being / becoming a woman today? What would we call her?
The Berlin premiere of a new documentary about Susan Sontag: Thinker and Diva (dir. Birgitta Ashoff, ARTE, 2010, 52min) took place at the Literaturhaus Berlin with the film maker in attendance. The director met with Susan Sontag before her death in New York in 2003, and then went back again after her death in 2010 to interview people who were close to her.
Miranda: Do you have a rolling pin?
Carrie: On me?
Miranda: In your kitchen.
Carrie: Are you kidding me, I use my oven for storage!
What is it about a girl named Alice, who goes on an adventure, that inspires our collective imagination? Alice! A childish story take, /And, with a gentle hand, /Lay it where Childhood’s dreams are twined / In Memory’s mystic band, / Like pilgrim’s wither’d wreath of flowers / Pluck’d in a far-off land. (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, p.8)
One is not born a woman, one becomes one. Simone de Beauvoir was right. And Coco Chanel showed us how it’s done. With style. Simone de Beauvoir was the first feminist to offer a sustained critique of fashion and femininity, commenting on the “woman of elegance” that “What she treasures is herself adorned, and not the objects that adorn her” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949, p.545).
Rarely are there representations of femininity, even in feminist art, that represent what femininity means to me. Mass media is largely constructed around the spectacle principle, ideologically coded with patriarchal hierarchy, domination, and power struggles. Feminist art, to this day, is more concerned with deconstructing, mocking, mimicking, exaggerating and exposing patriarchy for what it is, rather than constructing positive and inspiring visions of femininity. So what then, are accurate representations of femininity and gender relations today to an audience of 20 to 40 year old “third-wave-feminists”?