*Content Warning: sexual assault, violence, transphobia*
Feminism has always been an important part of my identity. I was blessed with a mother who taught me what it means to be a strong woman. Yet outside my home, it was often hard to find similar role models or exposure to these ideas. In middle and high school, I was often met with individuals — boys and girls — who said they disliked the idea of feminism. For a while, the word was given a negative connotation, and ‘women are already equal’ and ‘feminists just hate men’ were common phrases thrown around, fifteen-year-old me desperately needed to see more media validating my feelings.
This is why I was so excited when I heard about Netflix’s new film, Moxie. Directed by Amy Poehler, the film follows a high school student, Vivian, as she learns about feminism and finds her voice. The themes in the story are important, but it still feels as though the film isn’t as groundbreaking as it thinks it is. Vivian’s tone throughout the film makes it seem as though she is the first to discover feminism, when in reality her change is sparked by another character, Lucy.
Lucy, an Afro-Latina new student at Vivian’s school, is the first to speak out against the sexism and lack of diversity she witnesses around them. Until Lucy arrives at the school, Vivian never truly realized just how toxic her environment was. Their first encounter shows Vivian telling Lucy to simply ignore the harassment she receives from a male classmate. Lucy’s confidence and drive to fight back is what inspires Vivian to embrace feminist ideas and create a zine. Is it important that we show young girls being inspired by their peers to stand up for themselves? Absolutely! Yet many viewers came away feeling like the movie would have been better if it revolved around Lucy, or at least included her more. Her character is the one who sparked the change, yet she is often pushed aside to focus on Vivian instead. For women of color, this can be a very familiar sight.
At one point in the film, Vivian’s mom talks about her own feminist activism when she was younger. She acknowledges the fact that movements of the past ignored intersectionality, which needs to be addressed. Yet, the film does not try very hard to be inclusive of all women. At one point, Vivian’s best friend Claudia — the daughter of Asian immigrants — directly tells Vivian she does not understand her situation because she is white. This would be the perfect opportunity to have Vivian reflect on her white privilege, try to fix the problems she has created, and apologize for her treatment of Claudia was missed. Instead, Vivian does not work to undo the harm she’s caused to Claudia and takes out her aggressions on her loved ones. There was no reflection, and no emphasis on how white feminists need to acknowledge the circumstances women of color face.
Though this was a major issue I wish the movie focused more on, there were still many aspects of the film I enjoyed. Simply the sight of all these young women coming together to fight the issues around them was so inspiring, and I wish there were most examples of this in modern media. This diverse group of students standing their ground, doing whatever it took to create change, was amazing. It validates young feminists around the world, all their struggles and hardships as they work to better our world. The end of the film, showing all these students walking out and sharing their stories, perfectly showed how much power a movement like this can have. It shows young people everywhere that even the simplest acts of protest — like drawing stars and hearts on your hand — can spark such great change.
This movie was not perfect, but it was still a great starting point for conversations as to how we best go about advancing the feminist movement. As this movie pointed out, there are still so many problems women face to this day. According to the United Nations, 35% of women globally have experience physical or sexual violence, and less than 40% of those women seek help. Women and girls account for 72% of human trafficking victims, 200 million women and girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation, and 82% of women parliamentarians have been harassed during their terms. Trans women and gender non-conforming people are at an even greater risk of violence and harassment. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 200 cases of anti-transgender violence occurred in the U.S between 2013 and 2020. Trans women of color comprised approximately 4 in 5 of anti-trans homicides.
These issues, along with so many others around the world, are still far too prevalent. Moxie, though flawed, has opened the door for more young people to learn about these problems and be inspired to fight for change. We have a long way to go until we reach gender equality, but we are making progress. Movies such as this show young activists just how important their work is, and how we all need to keep pushing. The most important takeaway? Anyone feeling the pressure of the oppression around you, fight back. In the words of Bikini Kill, “Dare ya to do what you want, dare ya to be who you will…you’ve got no reason not to fight, you’ve got to know what they are ‘fore you can stand up for your rights…you do have rights.”