The Decade in Feminist Pop Culture

No matter what those time/date sticklers who don’t think it’s over ‘til 2011 believe, according to us, tomorrow marks the end of the ’00s. And though we’d hate to say “Good riddance” to the decade that brought us a bunch of kickass feminist blogs, a bevy of thought-provoking books, and a multitude of female-focused movies, coming up with a list of positive feminist moments in ’00s pop culture was no easy task. As it turns out, there were a lot more not-so-feminist moments this decade than feminist ones. (Too bad we’d already decided we wanted to keep the list positive – We’re starting our New Year’s resolutions early this year.)

Maybe we are better off saying “Sayonara” to the decade that came in like Britney Spears and went out like Bella Swan, but that doesn’t mean the past ten years didn’t give us anything to be happy about. So before you get gussied up and head out the door for New Year’s Eve, take a minute to celebrate the good feminist times from this decade in pop culture.

Cathy Freeman wins the gold medal in the women’s 400 meter. Not only is Cathy Freeman a super-fast runner, she’s also an Aboriginal woman. With her win at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, she inspires a nation – and a world full of feminist sports fans!

Time names Sleater-Kinney the best rock band of 2001. With a clear message and a mission to rock out, Sleater-Kinney dominated the feminist music scene during the ’00s. If only they hadn’t gone on hiatus 2/3 of the way through the decade.

On a related note, 2001 marks the foundation of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls. Keep on rockin’, girls! We need something to fill that Sleater-Kinney-shaped void.

Queen Bees and Wannabes is published. Not only does the book change ideas about what it means to be an adolescent girl, it also inspires this film two years later (bonus!):

2002 also ushers in the television juggernaut that is American Idol. Not necessarily a proud feminist moment, but the first winner of the show, Kelly Clarkson, is still setting a positive example for women in pop music by rejecting the packaging that typically comes with a record contract.

What would a feminist pop culture list be without a mention of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The seven-season series ended in 2003, but left behind minions of Buffy (and Joss Whedon) devotees.


Dove launches their Campaign for Real Beauty. With models that more closely resemble real-life women than runway superstars, and a message that focuses on self-esteem rather than flaws, this campaign proves that a cosmetics company can make a profit without making women feel like shit about themselves. Who knew?

The Education of Shelby Knox is released. The story of one 15-year old’s quest for sex education in her Lubbock, Texas community opens the eyes of educators around the country. Abstinence-only education was a terrible thing for feminists during the ’00s, but this film provided a powerful antidote. Check out the trailer:

2004 also delivers the first major label release from feminist faves Le Tigre and the premiere of the show we love to hate (and love), The L Word. Lucky for us, the Internet has made it possible for a fan video mashup of these two lady-lovin’ phenomena to exist. The ’00s weren’t all bad.

$pread Magazine launches. As a publication that aims “to build community and destigmatize sex work by providing a forum for the diverse voices of individuals working in the sex industry,” $pread wins the Utne Independent Press Award for Best New Title.

In other destigmatization news, 2005 is the year that Planned Parenthood begins selling their “I Had An Abortion” t-shirts.

30 Rock premieres. Not only is the show hilarious, but the fact that it is written by and stars the fabulous Tina Fey paves the way for fellow comediennes Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling to create their own shows on NBC. The show also introduces us all to the awesome concept of “night cheese”:

In addition to late-night dairy consumption, 2006 also brings us the first annual Feminist Porn Awards. From the founders:

We all know that the world is inundated with cheesy, cliche, degrading, no-budget, patronizing and stupid porn. But we also believe that erotic fantasy is powerful stuff, and that women and marginalized communities deserve to put their dreams and desires on film too. As feminists and sex-positive people, we want to showcase and honour those who are doing it right, like filmmakers who understand that people of colour are sexual beings - not sexual objects. Like performers who want to see body diversity, so they shake their ample butts in front of the camera. Like everyone who ever said “why aren’t my fantasies and realities ever reflected in porn?” so they picked up a camcorder and recorded their friends getting it on.

Awww yeah.

This is a big year in politics for feminists. Sure, have to deal with Sarah Palin winking all over the damned place, but we also get a viable female presidential candidate in Hillary Rodham Clinton. Plus, it’s an exciting time for pop culture junkies, because both women harness the power of the media in their campaigns. Check it:

This year also brings us a true feminist zeitgeist on television: Mad Men. Love this show or hate it, you’ve got to admit that its portrayal of women is far more nuanced and interesting than most prime time dramas. It also sheds an unapologetic light on the sexist and racist past that our nation so loves to ignore.

07 wasn’t such a bad year for the arts, either. The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art opens in the Brooklyn Museum in 2007, giving a forum to feminist art from around the world. This was also the year that four female screenwriters were nominated for Academy Awards. Four out of ten, but hey – It’s a good start.

The Business of Being Born is released, bringing attention to the billion-dollar industry that is childbirth:

This was also a year, and a decade, for gay marriage legislation. It’s legal. It’s illegal. It’s legal. Despite the debate, partners Ellen Degeneres and Portia De Rossi tied the knot in August of this year. What a cute couple!

Entertainment news in 2008 is dominated by Sex and the City: The Movie. Though Carrie Bradshaw isn’t our feminist icon, either, the film did set the record as the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time (even beating out the uber-macho Indiana Jones). This undoubtedly set the stage for future blockbuster films marketed to women (ahem, Twilight, ahem). Though the material may not be our first choice, at least filmmakers are noticing that women actually exist.

A much more clearly feminist (and super) web-based show also premieres in 2008: Smart Girls at the Party. Made by a group of female friends (Amy Poehler, Meredith Walker and Amy Miles) for young girls everywhere, this show is pure feminist delight:

Forget what your zodiac calendar tells you; this year was The Year of the Maddow. Straight, gay, liberal, conservative, young, and old, we all tuned in to see what bespectacled political pundit Rachel Maddow had to say about the day’s news.

In other lesbians-getting-television-shows news, 2009 marks The premiere of The Wanda Sykes Show. Finally, a woman of color being hilarious on late night (network!) television:

And no feminist pop culture decade roundup would be complete without a shout out to Beth Ditto. Not only did her band Gossip release their album “Music for Men” this year, but she launched a plus-size clothing line for Evans. Haters be damned, who says that fat girls can’t look fabulous?

So there you have it. A decade’s worth of positive feminist moments in pop culture. Like we said, they were hard to find, but some of them were truly fantastic. Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year. At midnight tonight, let’s raise our glasses together in the hope that the next decade will bring with it a multitude of feminist moments.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

Well done Bitch - an

Well done Bitch - an impressive round-up of salient feminist moments. I think it's also worth a nod to acknowledge the enabling power of the Internet that took root this decade to give third-wave feminist voices a platform and community.

Looking forward to more in the decade to come!


I'm not in a huge rush to

I'm not in a huge rush to farewell the decade that saw the boom of feminist and disability rights blogging, either.

Would you please consider amending the language referring to Cathy Freeman? In all the press and interviews I've seen, she identifies as a Kuku Yalanji and Birri Gubba woman, or as an Aboriginal (or Indigenous) woman.

We (non-Indigenous writers/bloggers/journalists) don't use the term "Native" here, except perhaps for marsupials, and in the specific legal phrase "native title". It's considered quite offensive by many, though not all, to refer to a person as a "Native". Without evidence for self-identification, I don't think it's the appropriate word to use.

Of course!

I apologize for misusing the term Native; I didn't realize it was offensive in Australia. I will change it right away. Thanks for pointing that out!

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