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The Feminist Message, Cultural Injustice, and Dishonest Media

Feminism is a topic that has recently dominated dinner table conversations. With the Barbie Movie release in July 2023 and with singer-songwriter Taylor Swift breaking records left and right, there are pivotal changes in the feminist movement taking place. Women have started to question what feminism means to them and are taking a closer look at how much further there is to go in order to crush the long-standing Patriarchy once and for all.

 Alongside the Barbie Movie and Swift’s success, other media has come out recently that presents feminist ideologies like live-action versions of Disney’s beloved Princess franchise. The first one is about Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora, titled “Maleficent” which came out in 2014. The most recent release was “The Little Mermaid” which came out in May of 2023. Actresses and crew alike made the princess dream of true love and bigger-picture goals. The dream includes ruling, doing good in her community, being a caring and kind person, falling in love, etc. This sends a powerful message to girls and women that females can do anything they set their mind to and, more importantly, it does not fit into one category.

Despite the wholesomeness of this message, it took a long way for it to get there.

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For centuries, women were tightly held to patriarchal standards. This included getting married, having a family, and becoming a house slave. It was not shown (nor even discussed) how ambitious they were, how big of dreams they had, and what they were capable of. The Patriarchy that was portrayed in media and society included women’s dreams starting with cleaning and ending with cooking. Falling in love, getting married to a legally abusive man, raising a family, and ultimately becoming a housewife were the only things they were forced to care about. 

When the women trapped in this two-dimensional way of living finally broke free the game changed, but ultimately did not stop. Especially not for women of color. Throughout American history, people of color had a very hard, unfair life. And though African American women were women, people put their racist views before anything else. In an interview with Mt. San Jacinto College gender studies professor, Dr. Basemeh Rihan, answered “. . . It is important to acknowledge that feminism has not been inclusive of all women (Black Women). For example, the privileges that white women were afforded in the suffrage movement had not been afforded to women of color. Women of color (Black Women) were never recognized, even when they were at the forefront of each battle.” African American women, who fell into both the patriarchal system and faced racial discrimination continued to fight for change. To be seen as respected ladies and not housemaids or hated just for their skin tone. Despite these efforts white women eventually were recognized whilst Black Women got left in the dust (metaphorically and sometimes physically).

 While African American women continued fighting a battle whose victory they were excluded from, more white women started breaking out of the box. Women involved themselves in demanding career fields like medical practices and sciences. Tearing off labels and breaking the glass ceiling came as entertainment showcased women who pushed patriarchal values to the side and put themselves into a career-driven lifestyle. During the interview, Dr.Rihan was asked about influential entertainment, and she answered “The show Scandal is a show that portrays powerful women who create change. The movie Hidden Figures comes to mind because it demonstrates the problems of racism, gender, and discrimination. With that said, three women . . . Black Women are recognized for their work at NASA.” These pieces demonstrate that women are more than just mothers and caregivers, but serious professionals as well. These stories also finally recognize African American women as soldiers of this battle. They finally acknowledge their efforts and award them the unprivileged right of being included in the movement. It was finally time for all women to band together and prove the patriarchy wrong.

As time went on women continued to challenge societal roles and values. This ultimately led to media portrayals of career-driven women alongside other works where they are mainly seen as mothers and wives. With how much of the patriarchy was discarded and how widely understood it was that women could have powerful careers, no one had a problem with women being represented in such a way. However, some did see a flaw in this new representation. 

Disney’s latest live-action remake, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, is reconstructing the original storyline, possibly for worse. On red carpets and interviews, the lead actress playing Snow White talks about how the beloved original princess will be dreaming of ruling instead of love. As positive as this message may seem, the issue is that, as a woman who calls herself a feminist, these aren’t feminist values. Being a feminist is to fight against oppression for the oppressed and not pick and choose what is and isn’t acceptable. She is blatantly discarding a different lifestyle, or a different aspect of a woman’s life that many people have but is deeming it less important. Just because a woman has both a relationship and a successful career doesn’t mean she is burdened down by one or the other, it means she has a rounded life that she feels fulfillment in.

Hugo Aguilar

With these interview clips going viral on social media, many users had a lot to say. On the popular short video app TikTok, many users were discussing the two portrayals of women and how women’s limitations are coming back in an updated way. When discussing the interviews one user said, “What’s wrong with dreaming of true love and wanting a successful career? Women aren’t like that. Like yeah, I want to meet the love of my life and have a family, but, like that isn’t stopping me from pursuing what I love. Why do women have to have one or the other? Men don’t.” This user along with many others are seeing the toxicity of the patriarchy weaseling its way back into mainstream society. Except this time instead of one box, it was two boxes. 

Part of the reason these boxes are reconstructed could be the biological differences between men and women. Men and women are similar yet their minds work vastly differently. Where women understand how to be a mother and career women, men may have a harder time understanding how such a life would work and how one area or another would not suffer. When asking the gender studies professor about the biological separation and if the “invisible separation” would ever be joined together to create an equal level of understanding she answered “Never, I think the invisible separation of men and women is idealistic but is not realistic. Power is rooted in keeping individuals separate (the idea of divide and conquer).” Further illustrating the point that men and women are biologically different and any joint understanding of capabilities and lifestyles may never be agreed upon.

Fast forward to the present and the media continues to showcase women in one box or the other. An example of this has to do with Walt Disney’s current film in production, the live-action version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” released in 1937. On the red carpet and during press conferences, lead actress, Rachel Zegler, who plays Snow White, has minimized her character’s values and behavior, while simultaneously putting her character into one of the two-dimensional boxes. “She’s not going to be saved by the prince and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be,” Zegler said while being condescending and sounding annoyed. Zegler thereby implies that women dreaming about true love and getting married instead of focusing on professional goals is something to look down upon. When asked about feminism in the media Dr. Rihan responded “. . . I believe the media intentionally dilutes the focus of feminism. One way the media reflects my thoughts on current feminist beliefs is it makes me question the motives of why certain information is highlighted and other information is ignored.” When asked this question her beliefs had to do with inequality, injustice, racism, and gender. However, who is to say this actress putting a beloved character into a one-dimensional box is not a part of the injustices against women? Who is to say that the new Snow White that focuses only on power and ruling isn’t demonstrating the patriarchal ideas that women can only do one thing at a time and not have the capabilities of falling in love and ruling? As Rachel Zegler had implied, only one thing is important.

Photo Credit: Hugo Aguilar

Through this way of thinking, the boxes are back in business, causing society and the media to revert to their old ways. So much so in fact,  that in 2022 the Supreme Court Dobb’s Case,  Roe vs. Wade was reversed. With this new ruling it meant that women no longer had the choice of what they could do with their bodies when it came to abortion. The case being overturned meant the federal government no longer held responsibility for abortion. This meant that women no longer had any control over their bodies and any traumatic or horrible experiences they had resulting in them becoming unwantedly pregnant weren’t important. While going over what events pushed feminism to where it is today Dr. Rihan replied“. . .The U.S. Supreme Court voted to reverse the legal precedent of protecting a woman’s access to abortion in Roe v Wade. Once again we are reminded of the patriarchal system that we live with. This system has no consideration of what circumstances or situations women may face. . .” With human trafficking, kidnapping, sexual assault rape, and many other horrifying crimes on the rise, it is sickening to know that women have no say in what happens to them. The reverse of this case meant that if a woman was raped or was a victim  human trafficked and became pregnant, she would be forced to keep the baby, which robbed her of her choice. Considering the political uprise of the patriarchy there are still works of art that demonstrate the meaning of being a woman in today’s society. In the Barbie Movie, one of the characters suggests a “normal Barbie.” She doesn’t have an incredibly amazing successful career, she is not perfect at everything she does. She has a family she loves, a job that she likes, and is just ordinary. 

 

Along the way to achieving social equality, women have proven how irreplaceable they are and how perfectly they can do everything. For women to be respected and appreciated they had to be the Barbies of the world. Perfect. They had to be the first astronauts in space, they had to be biochemists who made groundbreaking discoveries, and they had to be Nobel Prize winners. Of course, nothing is wrong with that but the message of feminism and being a woman is not about looking at a mountain and trying to get to the top or win first place in the race. It is about being yourself and being able to explore, feel, and do whatever you want to do. A fancy life or extreme title is not required. When discussing the Barbie Movie with Dr.Rihan, she responded “I did not see it. I will not see it because I believe the idea of Barbie is harmful. I think about how Barbie portrays perfection as far as body image. Her ‘experiences’ allude to her entitlement and white privilege. The idea that his ‘fictional’ character is perfect, rich, and has Ken wrapped around her finger is harmful to our youth.” Implying the figures meant to be catalysts for feminism being racist and harmful. 

I remember in fifth grade, my teacher was going over our science lesson and started heavily encouraging us girls to be engineers or scientists. She said, “We need more female scientists and engineers. You girls should do that. Become a woman in STEM. You all should do it.” As she moved her finger around pointing to every girl in the room. I, being 10 years old, not knowing what STEM was and dreaming of becoming a fashion journalist, thought: But I like fashion and writing. I do not want to be a scientist. Women need to do what they love like becoming a scientist or engineer but at the same time what is wrong with wanting to have a more female-based career like a teacher, hairdresser, or even a stay-at-home mom and orientate your life around your family? What if a woman does not have the financial luxuries of being able to go after a medical career or anything in STEM? Does that mean she is less than the other women who do? Why can’t women just be women? 

When going over what being a feminist in today’s society means Rihan answered “. . .The idea of feminism today pertains to feminist movements that work with other organizations in the community that have similar values and focus on issues of economic and environmental justice, women’s health, gender-based challenges, and much more. Women’s empowerment organizations such as MADRE (Mothers and Daughters Raising Expectation) exemplify the idea of communities coming together to create change.”

MADRE, founded in 1983, aims to deliver justice to racial, gender, climate, and disability to the oppressed. Despite contrary belief feminism isn’t only about uplifting women it’s about justice and equality for everyone that has faced oppression or discrimination. A feminist, both behind the scenes and on the frontline takes on battles of repressed groups. MADRE states “. . .We foster a world where women and girls, and other marginalized groups, fully participate in shaping policies, and decision making, their expertise and leadership is recognized and upheld, and they equitably hold power and resources within their communities.” Feminism and being a feminist isn’t only about women’s issues but also about making a better world and society for belittled groups of people. When going over what it means to be a feminist in today’s day and age, Rihan explained “A fighter. . . behind the scenes (invisible) or on the frontline (visibly). In addition to fighting for equality, justice, and fairness for individuals and groups who historically have been marginalized, I want to highlight opportunity. So many opportunities have been passed by because of issues of inequality, injustice, racism, and gender.”

This is one part about Taylor Swift that makes women love and appreciate her. Yes, she is extremely successful in her career but it does not stop her from living her life how she wants to. She does not let her career or success stop her from having relationships and vice versa. She is visually recognizing and actively fighting the patriarchy and encouraging others to do the same. In her album, Lover, she released a song titled “The Man” where she calls out double standards and unfair patriarchal values. Lines like “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can Wondering if I’d get there quicker If I was a man” and other powerful lines she sings “Racking in dollars And getting b****s and models. . . If I was out flashing my dollars I’d be a b****, not a baller”. Directly pointing out double standards from decade old discriminatory systems.

In other words, feminism is not about how high someone can jump or how much faster someone can run. Current modern-day feminism should just be about letting women be. They do not need to raise themselves on the corporate ladder to be extraordinary or to gain respect. And they do not need to mold themselves into what patriarchal double standards force them to be. They can become neurosurgeons if they want, they can have a family and love being a mom if they want, too. Or they can have both, and there is nothing wrong with that. That is where modern feminist messages in the media are lacking. In an attempt to break out of boxes the media seems to just put themselves into different ones. Women can be regular women, there is nothing wrong with that and society needs to recognize it. The fight against inequality, injustice, discrimination, and gender isn’t over. But through pushing back and breaking out of the boxes patriarchy is forcing women into,we become that much closer to creating a world where we can all coexist, any demand labels are permanently torn off, and glass ceilings are permanently broken.

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About the Contributors
Mia Rotell
Mia Rotell, Writer
Hi! My name is Mia Rotell and I am a writer and editor for The Talon! I'm going on my second year at MSJC and my second semester at The Talon. I'm extremely passionate about writing and storytelling, which makes me put my all into my pieces and always on the lookout for a story to cover. I'm currently a Journalism major and plan on getting my bachelor's degree in Journalism and Media Communications. My ultimate goal is to be an editor at a major publication like TIME Magazine or one that highlights people/ events of different cultures and backgrounds. Outside my articles, I like to read, write, do yoga, paint, travel, and collect old books.
Hugo Aguilar
Hugo Aguilar, Co-Editor, Writer, Video Content Producer/Editor, Photographer
Major: Advanced Audio Technology Hi my name is Hugo:) I am apart of The Talon. My Hobbies are that I like to draw, watch anime, play video games, watch tv shows and movies, I like to hangout with friends, I like to go to the movie theaters, and I like to go Hiking as well. I hope you guys enjoy the time being in The Talon. I hope you guys like my Bio.
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