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‘20th Century Women’: A Feminist Movie About a Young Man

If there is one film that I can say has changed my life, unexpectedly it’s “20th Century Women.”

The movie, directed by Mike Mills, stars Annette Bening and Academy Award nominated director Greta Gerwig.

The film explores a young boy named Jamie who is guided through his adolescent years with the help of Abbie, a 20-something-year-old with ovarian cancer (Gerwig) and his crush (Elle Fanning), two women who are appointed by his old mother (Bening), who cannot seem to figure out what he needs to be raised.

Whenever you talk about feminism, you mostly only ever hear it from women, about women.

Feminism and feminist issues concern men as much they concern women, and Mills’ screenwriting is a testament to this.

This film shows that it is not only possible, but absolutely necessary for boys to be raised as feminists to utilize their privilege for the progression of the feminist movement. 

This movie also exhibits that the delineation of manhood is extremely limited.

Men being vulnerable and sensitive should not be considered feminine.

Achieving these two things lies in their ability to release themselves from society’s pressures and to live how they want. 

My favorite character in the movie is played beautifully by Greta Gerwig as Abbie, who gives Jamie some of her feminist books and readings which include “Our Bodies Ourselves” and the essay “The Politics of Orgasm” by Susan Lydon.

Books like these fuel Jamie’s interests in women, but not in the same way that most heterosexual boys his age are interested in women.

He begins to want to understand the feminine experience, to find a way to encourage women to find solace and control in the way they navigate the world. 

While Jamie is the protagonist of the film, it’s endearing to see him watch and process the existence of these three flawed, struggling and confused women all from different walks of life. 

The feminist movement concerns men, specifically the issues and struggles that men endure due to the world’s deranged gender dynamics. 

“20th Century Women" examines masculinity in a way that gives us a deeper look into it, by exploring its relationship with femininity, or at least the relationship that we as a society have created between the two.

Jamie must find a way to maneuver through the social forces that limit the definition of masculinity and male sexuality, and the way that these convoluted principles affect and diminish both the masculine and feminine existence.

One of the greatest flaws of masculinity is that it is wildly self-aware, which results in insecurity, shame and confusion.

The film demonstrates how Jamie sees this within the young boys he spends his time with, slowly learning about the ways in which this has affected and affects (with Julie, his crush) the women around him. 

As a writer myself, the most strikingly beautiful and notable aspect of this film was the screenplay.

Mills pays an homage to his childhood and the feminist movement he grew up in by referencing many feminist texts, while also acknowledging the women in his life who have encouraged him to explore his masculinity in more ways than one, and teaching him about finding his place in a woman’s world, the way it should be done.

This movie made me think about my power and place within my relationships with men.

It taught me to know what I want when it comes to change and the way I want to be treated, and to understand what specifically we must dismantle when we talk about the liaison between masculinity and femininity within all of us.