List-less: Nerve takes on strong women in film

Maybe I'm being too way too picky, but there is something deeply underachieving about Nerve's "Girl Power Top Ten," a list of the ten most—oh yeah, here it comes—empowering movies of all time.

Now, I would never come right out and suggest that perhaps having three dudes be the ones to make both of these judgment calls is going to, you know, limit the scope of things, but...okay, that's basically what I'm saying. Andrew Osborne, Phil Nugent, and Leonard Pierce, who coauthored "Chick Hits," get shirty in their introduction about the cluelessness of the media execs and pop-culture minders who've been so pleasantly surprised at the success of Sex and the City's big-screen bow, going on to write proudly that "We here at The Screengrab aren't afraid to get in touch with our feminine sides as we raise our Cosmos to these...films that put their empowered female characters front and center (without resorting to stripper poles OR big gauzy Prince Charming/Bridezilla wedding porn)." And yet some of their picks — The Devil Wears Prada? — reflect that either these fellows think that any movie with a woman in any lead of any kind qualifies as an empowerment film, or have gleaned the entirety of their collective knowledge of female awesomeness on film from Spice World. (To be fair, the word "feminist" doesn't actually appear in the "Chick Hits" piece, and the authors often seem to be conflating strong-woman content with female spending power—a few of the list's entries are far less about the films' narratives than they are about their box-office receipts.)

But let's say the intent was to focus on the empowerrific, strong-woman-tastic aspect of the films. Between the obvious (Thelma and Louise, Erin Brockovich, Aliens), the crowd-pleasing (I will never say a harsh word against Bring It On — or, for that matter, Jackie Brown), and the token "artsy" inclusion (Persepolis), there's a lot missing. I'm not just talking about non–Oscar recognized, lesser-seen releases like Girls Town, Real Women Have Curves, Freeway, Just Another Girl on the IRT, Antonia's Line, and All I Wanna Do. There are some doozies that should be fronting this list: I mean, have these three never heard of a little 1980 effort called 9 to 5? What about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Norma Rae? A League of Their Own? Whale Rider? Come on, now.

And then there's "Chick Hits"'s companion piece, "Girl DisemPowering: Nine Films That Didn't Do Feminism Any Favors." Okay, first of all: Nine? In a list that ostensibly isn't confined to any one decade? Really? Maybe Osborne and his co-contributors were kindly trying not to harsh our post chick-hits mellow, but Radar's March 2008 list of the most lady-hating films of the 2000s clocked 20 solid offenders—and that's with two years and one remake of I Spit On Your Grave left in the decade.

So let's open it up to you: What films did both of these lists miss?

by Andi Zeisler
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Andi Zeisler is the cofounder of Bitch Media and the author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. You can find her on Twitter.

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7 Comments Have Been Posted

the legend of billie jean.

the legend of billie jean. i saw this recently, after not having seen it since i was little, and it was pretty great.

i almost completely disagree with their assessment of legally blonde. and the 'insulting ease' comment re: how easily she gets into harvard is pretty much the whole point of the movie. she wasn't dumb, she just didn't think to go to law school because her interests were elsewhere. that's not even slightly uncommon as a general trajectory of people's lives post college. how many people go to law school just because their parents tell them to? or society expects them too. i don't think the movie is particularly feminist, but it's unfeminist in possibly the least offensive possible way.

27 dresses didn't strike me as terribly sexist either. i never saw knocked up. but i guess also both legally blonde and 27 dresses are about worlds i am fairly unfamiliar with in general, so i don't expect the women in them to represent me at all.

I like Foxfire. Yes, the

I like <i>Foxfire</i>. Yes, the situation with Goldie's dad gets out of hand, but the characters realize and acknowledge that. <i>10 Things I Hate About You</i> took <i>Taming of the Shrew</i> and didn't break the character of Kathrine, so I say points for that flick. There's also <i>Spirited Away</i>, <i>Secretary</i> (depending on one's views of bdsm), and <i>Watermelon Woman</i>. Also, <i>Harry Potter</i> because I don't think Ron and Harry would have made it past the 4th book without Hermione's help. And while <i>Water</i> isn't necessarily empowering per say , it is pro-women, and an amazing film.

pro-woman films

I would also nominate "Princess Mononoke." Both main characters were women - the Lady Iboshi (sp?) and the princess - both were leaders of their people. In the Lady Iboshi's town, the women were the ones in charge. And I also liked that none of the characters were simply "good" or "evil." They each had good parts and bad parts, and were in conflict because of their goals.
I would def. second "9 to 5" - best working-class women EVER. Plus a pot party.
Has anyone seen "The Handmaid's Tale"? 1990 HBO movie based on the novel by Margaret Atwood. It was really excellent and showed what happens if we take these patriarchal notions in our culture to their logical conclusion. Kate, the main character, is sort of passively thrust into the middle of this situation, but in the end, she's the vital catalyst for change (not to give too much away).
You could also put "Chocolat" in...the main character, a single mother, comes from a long line of "chocolate shamans." Despite being shunned by the powerful town father, she manages to convert the whole town to the joys of, well, joy. And get Johnny Depp. Go, girl.
"Connie and Carla." Yeah, it's a goofy movie...but the women, and their friendship, are front and center. Their loyalty is to each other, first and foremost, and they are smart and creative, and the whole gender-bendy thing was cool, too. I think it helps that it was written by Nia Vardolos (sp?), a woman who also happens to be really funny.
I think there are probably a lot more...these are just off the top of my head. I can't wait to read others' suggestions.

I agree about Connie and

I agree about Connie and Carla. I kind of put off watching it because it just looked so ridic, but you're right in that the women's friendship is at the core.

what's a wa-wa brush?

Just had to second the motion on 'All I Wanna Do' - an all-time fave of mine. "No more little white gloves" & "Up your ziggy with a wa-wa brush" both being lines that I repeat a little too often.

Personally, as I was growing up, Miss Piggy was a pretty big role model for me: hilarious, feminine, silly, and strong. So, <i>The Great Muppet Caper</i> always goes on that list, cuz that's the one where she rides a motorcycle through a stained glass window and saves the day by karate chopping the bad guys. (Yes, look hard enough and you may find issues with the beloved Pig, but, hey - in 1982, where else could a little girl look for inspiration?)


My opinion...

I've seen plenty of films I'd say had a good feminist message, though they tend to be kinda on the fringes, independent etc. 'Teeth' is a great one, 'Water lilies' is an incredible and accurate portrayal of female adolescent sexuality. 'Speak' is a very funny and depressingly honest look at high school rape - Kristen Stewart in the lead role is just 13, but her acting is amazing.

I see why they call 'Legally blonde' anti-feminist, but I actually like that film. To me, it is a feminist film, because Elle is seen as the typical blonde peppy 'bimbo' into pink and fluffy things, and yet it's about her amazingness which underlies the apparent superficiality. Why, why, though, have they let men decide on these films? Come on, it lies a bit further than the obvious... James Bond films hardly do feminism any favours. Plenty of sickly comedies - 'Maid in Manhattan', perhaps? 'Wedding Crashers'... maybe 'Bridget Jones', although I do love BJ, those stories indicate that there's nothing more to life than getting a man, and that no matter how hard a woman tries, she just CAN'T be happy single.

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