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Empowering Feminist Movies That Will Make You Feel Like Destroying the Patriarchy in Pink Heels

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at PSU chapter.

Every girl, especially every college girl, hits a day where she just feels burnt out and useless, like the spark in her had water dumped on it and got stomped all over. No matter what people say to comfort her or how much ice cream she eats, nothing can turn this day around. What she needs is some motivation, some empowerment. A little bit of a reminder that she is an incredible, kind, beautiful, independent, and intelligent woman. These movies will do just that.

Legally Blonde (2001)

Legally Blonde
MGM Distribution Co.

Legally Blonde is an iconic, hilarious rom-com about stereotypical sorority girl, Elle Woods, following her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law in the name of love. Although at first glance this may not seem like much of a feminist film, it is filled with incredible moments that were completely ahead of their time. First, Elle perfectly exemplifies what so many women have struggled with for decades: earning respect and accolades while maintaining femininity. Elle takes on the male-dominated field of law armored with nothing but a kind heart and her wits, and she does it all in pink heels. She takes all the judgments and doubts about her in stride, using them only to motivate her. What is most inspiring to me about this movie is the developing relationship between Elle and Vivian Kensington. At first, their relationship perfectly represents what we so often see in the world: two strong, successful women being pit against each other. They are competing not only for Callahan’s coveted legal internship, but also for Warner’s affection (Elle’s ex-boyfriend and Vivian’s current fiancé). However, as the movie goes on, the two women start to realize how much they have in common and how great they could be as friends. By the final scene, they both realized how much better they are without Warner holding them back and become best friends. This whole movie is filled with iconic quotes and characters, positive female friendships (Elle and Paulette have my heart), and women in positions of power in a male-dominated field. This movie was also adapted into an AMAZING musical that you can watch for free on YouTube, and once you’re as addicted to it as I am the soundtrack is available on Spotify (and WILL make you feel like a badass as you listen to it during your workout).

Little Women (2019)

This movie is a masterpiece. It is filled with INCREDIBLE actors and actresses (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, etc.) and was directed by Academy Award-nominated director Greta Gerwig. Little Women follows the story of four sisters growing up in Civil War-era Massachusetts, focusing in on Jo March, a young woman determined to become a world-renowned author despite the historical lack of interest in female writers. The movie compares the lives of the domestic and beautiful Meg, stubborn and independent Jo, kind and sweet Beth, and the sometimes-selfish but caring Amy. It offers an uncommon female gaze into a moment in history while displaying that there is no “right” way to be a woman. As Jo March puts it, “women have minds and souls as well as just hearts, and they’ve got ambition and talent as well as just beauty. And I’m sick of people saying love is all a woman is fit for.” I absolutely recommend this one to anybody ready for a long, relaxing movie night under a warm blanket.

Dumplin’ (2018)

I adore this movie. Dumplin’ is funny, heartwarming, and has an incredible soundtrack filled with some of Dolly Parton’s greatest hits. This movie follows the story of teen Willowdean Dixon, daughter of a former Texas pageant beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston!). Plus-size Willowdean decides to enter her mom’s beauty pageant to prove that the rules don’t state “big girls need not apply.” It is filled with incredible female friendships, a few fabulous drag queens, repairing a strained mother-daughter relationship, and lots of body positivity (we love to see it). It will seriously make you laugh, dance, and cry. This movie is on Netflix and I highly recommend clicking play.

On The Basis of Sex (2018)

Ruth. Bader. Ginsberg. As a woman planning to attend law school, I could gush about how incredible this woman was for hours. On the Basis of Sex follows RBG’s early life as a law student, wife, and mom. It shows her as a struggling, young attorney and professor who was refused time and time again for positions she was more than qualified for, simply because of her gender. This movie displays Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s stubbornness and determination as she takes on a groundbreaking case with her husband Marty, one where she can finally put to use her years of studying gender discrimination in the law. The film follows the Ginsbergs as they take the case all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals, where they argue that the law cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. This movie is empowering as well as educating, and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who loves legal dramas as much as myself.

Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures is an incredibly empowering, emotional movie about three brilliant black women at NASA in the 1950s and 60s. Despite being constantly underestimated and undermined, these women excel in their jobs, proving that women truly can do anything a man can do (and better). This film is based on the real life stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who aided in one of the biggest moments in American history: launching John Glenn into orbit. This star-studded cast is incredible, led by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, Glen Powell, and more. If you haven’t seen this one yet, it’s time to pop some popcorn and get settled onto the couch to see these amazing women get to work.

Miss Congeniality (2000)

miss congeniality sandra bullock
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Miss Congeniality is a classic comedy that follows the story of undercover FBI agent Gracie Hart (played by THE Sandra Bullock) and her mission to stop a terrorist from bombing the Miss United States pageant. Gracie is a stubborn, independent, tough, slightly lonely girl who prides herself on being “one of the guys” and hating all things “girly”. When she has to go undercover as a participant in the Miss United States pageant, she is forced to learn how to be traditionally feminine and refined, which proves to be quite the challenge. Along the way however, Gracie starts to learn what it feels like to be accepted as one of the girls. She makes lasting friendships and learns that there is much more to “pageant girls” than she ever would have thought. She learns that girls can be beautiful in addition to being kind, intelligent, and brave. This movie delivered compassion, friendship, one of the most incredible beauty transformations of all time, and hilarious scenes that will leave you cracking up. As Gracie Hart once said, “I came here and I realized that these women are smart, terrific people who are trying to make a difference in the world… we’ve become really good friends… this experience has been one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences of my life.”

Emma is a third-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major at Penn State University. When she's not writing, you can usually find her singing, reading, painting, going on walks, hanging out with friends/her incredible boyfriend, and drinking iced chai lattes. Outside of Her Campus, Emma is the President of the Penn State Singing Lions, a Students United Against Poverty Ambassador, a member of the Phi Eta Sigma honors fraternity, and works at an after-school program.