If we had a dollar for every Madonna, whore, or witch we saw on our screens, we'd fund our own space program and set course for a planet where there weren't as many assholes. But alas, instead women (along with other persecuted groups like PoC and LGTB kids) are met with a myriad of embarrassments, harrassments and abuses, resulting in enduring, systemic prejudice.
So, that was a heavy tangent to leap on from the get-go, but it's true. Epistemic philosophers like Miranda Fricker show us that what we watch on film and read about in books heavily influences what we and others deem as acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour. Fricker's Epistemic Injustice (2007) is a work that tells us what happens when there's a discrepancy between what we are experiencing and what popular culture tells us we can or can't experience.
One really fantastic example is that of sexual harassment. Before the late seventies, the term 'sexual harassment' didn't exist. The type of behavior we associate with the phrase was very much still happening, but because nothing that women saw or heard through TV and magazines spoke about this reality, they didn't have the linguistic tools to talk about their pain. And why weren't TV shows or magazines talking about it? Because straight men without knowledge of the problem, or with vested interests in making this problem not known, were largely those creating the content women saw. It was only after a women's group met to discuss their terrifying ordeals in their work spaces that the term 'sexual harassment' came about, and women could finally put a name to this issue.
Back to our Madonna, whore, and witch. These roles - and less savoury ones, too - were created at the hands of men for the well-being of men. And these roles, having reached many of us in early childhood through the toys we played with and cartoons we watched, have influenced every single inch of our daily lives. One amazing thing about getting older is learning to undo the habits we've formed in response to these bad projections, and carve out something new for ourselves. Finding wiggle room for individuality in a given 'norm'. It's fucking awesome.
It's even better when popular culture catches on and does the same damn thing. Not in the indie scene, not in the underground, but in the thick of things - on mainstream platforms, baby! In appreciation of these gorgeous, rare moments, we've put together a list of five times popular culture showed the real-life us some love, and pretty much took our breath away. Here we go. (Do we have to warn you about spoilers? Okay, consider yourself warned.)
1. 'san juniper0'
Black Mirror (2011-) is not the series you watch for the warm and fuzzies. We generally tend to cap these at a rate of one episode per a week, giving our souls some time to crawl out from the pit of Mount Doom before they're sent there again with more news about an impending tech apocalypse. But to our surprise, season three 's episode four was different. Bittersweet for all the right reasons, viewers watched as stereotype-defying leads, Yorkie and Kelly, begin a complex relationship in the virtual world of 'San Junipero', while their IRL bodies are miles apart and much more aged - physical evidence of the emotional baggage of seventy or so years on earth.
To marry concerns of the sometimes brutal nature of nostalgia and longing, with those of regrets about lives unable to be lived to their full, was a beautiful and kind portrayal of the human condition. It looked tragedy in the eye and embraced it like a parent would a crying child, commiserating with 'I know, I know, but it'll all be alright'. WE'RE NOT CRYING, YOU'RE CRYING, OKAY!
2. Star wars: the force awakens
I'm going to go ahead and break tone to address you guys in the first person for a minute - it only feels right talking about Rae. At least for me, Star Wars has always been an important part of video game/nerd culture; a culture that I've worked in but never really felt apart of until December 2015. I walked into a theatre in Joburg for the premiere of The Force Awakens (2015), fresh(ish) off disappointment about Jurassic Park reboot, Jurassic World (2015).
In that movie, Bryce Dallas Howard's character walks, runs, and otherwise traverses THE JUNGLE in heels. Fucking heels! And not, like, kitten heels that she broke off to form a usable pair of flats. No! Ten centimeter abominations. And seeing that was just reinforcement of the idea that Hollywood sees women one way, even when dealing with a franchise that formed part of many people's lives of all genders. So, not a shock, but more of a reminder that where blockbusters are concerned, strong femininity = woman + snappy attitude + suggestive clothing. So, I wasn't expecting much more from the series that brought us the Princess Leia and Jabba the Hutt scene that reportedly inspired serial rapist, Marc O'Leary.
Which was why when after a good chunk of time it set in that Rae was the film's protagonist, I cried literal tears of joy right there in the theatre. I wanted to meet every single person on that project and hug them from the bottom of my heart. Working on something like Star Wars, with such a long legacy, you must know that what you're doing is going to have far-reaching effects in our culture. And they gave us Rae. They didn't have to choose a female protagonist with an incredibly rich character free from sexist tropes, but they did. They changed the damn game and changed the landscape of nerd culture forever. Just. Wow.
3. the sims 4 character creation
Not every one of our reader's plays video games, but we're pretty sure you've all heard of The Sims. Probably 'cause you've all whiled away at least a small portion of your childhood subjecting your Sims to the torment of needing to leave the pool but having no stairs to do so. Shame on you.
Well, last year The Sims 4 (2014) got an update made with input from GLAAD that allowed for gender fluid character creation, a technological feat that was akin to sending a human to the moon as far as social activism goes in the games industry. No, really, it's huge. Big ups to EA - who also have multiple gender options for many of their other big titles.
Where to even begin? From its look on Netflix, not many would suspect Easy (2016) to be the most refreshing thing to happen to television in years. It actually looks like a sleazy comedy, the kind that's nowhere near passing a Bechdel test. But those brave or bored enough to try out the first few episodes are rewarded with something hella special.
The series works as an anthology with different characters taking central focus from episode to episode. At its heart, Easy is about all kinds of relationships - real relationships - between all different types of people. And the folks that created Easy don't, like many do, interpret 'real' as 'depressive and gritty'. Easy's sweetness is its biggest strength, and it manages to tackle everything from gender politics to issues around choice anxiety and mortality with clumsy, compassionate grace. We're not saying any more, just watch it.
5. girls (yes, really)
Look, yes. Lena Dunham's show, much like Lena Dunham herself, is often a stunning account of the worst kinds of white, non-inter-sectional feminism. We know. But it has its moments. Take Season 2, Episode 17, 'Video Games'. Jessa takes Hannah with her on a visit home, and we meet Jessa's deadbeat father and his wife, Jessa's stepmother.
In this episode, Jessa's tough-to-a-fault exterior is broken as she tries to connect with her distant dad. The audience watches as Jessa begins to truly understand that he is human. You see, if you're human, you make mistakes. It's just a given. But some (unfortunately, not all) of us grow up thinking of our parents as invincible. They can do anything, right? It's pretty shitty to learn that's not true, but learn it we must.
There's a scene after a fallout between Jessa and her (very) human father, where Hanna and Jessa are walking down an avenue. Suddenly Jessa stops, and the camera stays with her as Hannah continues on down the path. We can see clearly that Jessa's been hit by one of those life-changing, 'WTF just happened' realisations that plague our twenties as our brain's prefrontal cortex develops. It's the best, most succinct, and poignant way we've ever seen the quarter-life-crisis depicted on screen. Give credit where it's due - Girls (2012-) isn't completely full of bs.
Did we leave any of your favs out? Let us know in the comments below.