5 Highly Recommended Female-led Films

Thanks to the unreliability of movie marketing, our understanding of what ticks our proverbial boxes is often unreliable. How many times have you thought you’d love a film because it has X Y & Z, only to walk out feeling short-changed? Or dismissed a perfectly good comedy the first time around because the pink colour-blocking and female strong cast made you believe it was a cliched rom-com? (I’m almost exclusively thinking of Bridesmaids here).

This is where I come in. A long time believer that women are just people, I’ve compiled a list of female-led films anyone can and probably should watch, since well-rounded characters are infinitely more interesting than reinforcing stereotypes. Plus, the imaginative process inspires our empathy in a way that factual storytelling simply cannot. Please be aware the main criteria is ‘films that are good and happen to have women in them’. If it’s not got credentials, it’s not getting in.

Most of these I saw as a teen’ but still consider timeless for the screen.

Thelma and Louise

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Ridley Scott directed this early ’90s classic. Sociopolitical and visually stunning, with an ending so iconic it still gets referenced in popular culture today. Mix with ingredients like Susan Sarandon, 1/4 of the cast of Resevoir Dogs and a shirtless Brad Pitt, and you’ve got a hearty 130 mins of craft mastery in front of your peepers. Essentially a road trip gone wrong, two women grow tired of their suburban housewife roles so escape in search of freedom, only to be met with the inevitable misogyny they sought relief from. Its tone varies from light-hearted sentimentality to heavy-hitting wisdom, mostly from the wise Louise, so you learn as you laugh.

Erin Brokovich

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Based on the true story of an ordinary woman who managed to build a legal case in protest against contaminated Californian drinking water without any technical expertise, this is a rags to riches story where success stems from one woman’s compassion rather than self-serving greed. History was made thanks to Erin’s courage and resourcefulness. It’s inspirational to watch a person succeed despite the odds in a noble crusade because her goals are philanthropic and really, what’s more badass than defying expectation to fight for what’s right?

Mermaids

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Fun and frollocks. That’s the perfect way to describe this flick. Superstar Cher plays the effervescent Mrs Flax, while a young Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci entertain alongside her wily ways. It’s a defiant nod in the direction of independence juxtaposed with the coming-of-age need to fit in. The dialogue and direction of this film is whimsical and yet entwined with a wholesome aura that says ‘accept yourself for who you are’.

Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion

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Off the walls (but firmly on the ceiling), Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion is the zany 90s comedy we don’t get blessed with enough nowadays. If I wrote the copy to advertise it, I’d convey the central message: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. One of my favourite elements is the use of flashbacks because character backstory gives us a chance to vicariously cringe at universal high school experiences. Afterwards we’re left with the maturity of realising our enemies are “a bad person with an ugly heart and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think.” That’s about as deep as the film gets since it’s mostly silly irreverence and flat-out fun.

Heathers

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The original Mean Girls but with black humour and a young Christian Slater. Veronica is the part-time badass you identify with as she navigates tricky high school dynamics and the allure of sociopathic men with dimples…we’ve all been there. Every line is memorable and you’ll be saying ‘fuck me with a chainsaw’ in the face of crisis for decades afterwards. ‘Sass’ levels are off the charts so if you want more savage insults at your disposal, Heathers has got you covered.

Why Are Periods Considered Taboo?

A 14 year-old girl has created an entire website dedicated to periods. The site, ‘Nothingbutperiods’ seeks to encourage open discussion, provide insight and normalise a completely natural part of most people’s lives.

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A photograph from ‘Beauty in Blood’ by Jen & Rob Lewis

Periods are presented to us as a taboo topic, leaving most of us unenlightened as to why we experience periods and how we should deal with them. Women are charged for using necessary hygiene measures like pads/tampons, and these essential items are taxed as a ‘luxury‘ product under UK legislation. Our current societal approach to menstruation is nonsensical and frankly unhelpful to everybody, so we have to start demanding changes via visibility.

Women are the group of people who endure periods and therefore we have to be unashamedly vocal in validating our experiences. Maybe you could share the link with a young person whom you feel could benefit from it? The steady release of fluids is a messy and undesirable process but dealing with it properly – on a pragmatic and psychological level, is integral to our self-care. The existence of websites like this engenders progress, with themed artwork, graphs, user polls and forums to keep it entertaining simultaneously. It’s also fun to learn new things and share experiences, making ‘Nothingbutperiods’ a cool corner of the internet.

Music videos of my childhood in the 1990s: Aerosmith – Crazy

Aerosmith: Crazy

My view of this mini-movie has evolved since childhood: somehow, the sleaziness of wanting your 17 year old daughter to star in a puerile fetishization of lesbianism only became apparent to me over time. (Here’s looking at you, Steven Tyler). As a child, I missed the implied lust in this 6 minute jaunt-around-town. Little me chose to just see ‘Aerosmith chick’ Alicia Silverstone breaking free from the oppressive school regime alongside her fun-loving pal, and longed to be a part of their world.

I just figured it got really warm in America land.

First stop on the mini road trip? Steal numerous sunglasses from a petrol station while an indifferent shop worker aids your thievery. 1993/4 was a renaissance period for Aerosmith, enabling the Toxic Twins: Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, to rake in dollars like it was still Ye Olden Days. However time is cruel and this era could now be considered retro, while viewers wonder why the pair would steal in front of CCTV so brazenly. Sike! Not every shop had CCTV cameras in the 20th century; the only lens they were performing for was the male gaze. *Mic drop*

Rad: suited-up Silverstone rebelling with her exhibitionist friend

But whatever, it still looks like a party to me! A photobooth, androgyny on Silverstone’s part, and the expert pranking of a semi-naked farmer; a portrait of reckless youth. When I was a young’un, music videos were only shown at random on the TV, and therefore my emotional attachment to this tale of two runaways grew stronger for every hour I sat in waiting. Other entertaining events unfold, including a pole-dancing Liv Tyler mimicking the Aerosmith front man perfectly because he is literally her dad. There’s also some skinny-dipping in a lake – shedding our protagonists of all that 90s denim. After the fun is had, ‘Crazy’ is furrowed into a field by farmer boy’s driver-less tractor as the girls ignore a hitchhiker in pursuit of more adventure. Badasses’ with top banter, before anyone used that word in earnest. Oh, what happy days they were. Proceed to the video link below:

Aerosmith – Crazy. (1994)

Everyday Sexism in high schools: School dress codes – a personal account.

I’ve juggled many activities to occupy my time since graduating from University. Earlier this year, I decided to utilise my fervent desire to help others by taking a Teaching Assistant position in a high school.

Akin to most support staff, my initial preference was potato-printing with 5 five year olds and talking favourite One Direction members with Year 6’s (previously Zayn, now Harry). Before long however, my recruitment agency intervened to elect me as crowd control and GCSE support to the teens of today; a position in which you are constantly reminded of how quickly youth escapes you, as you are surrounded by people who think anybody 20+ is old.

Fortunately, most teenagers are manageable and the newly-built school is so modern and business-like, (cabinets of laptops for every classroom?!) it bares little resemblance to my own adolescent experience. A hardcore ‘Smiths fan at age 13, school was not my happy place. I was the kind of kid who persistently asked why institutions restrict individual expression and how a maths formula will be useful in the real world?!?! In other words I was a barrel of laughs, yet ‘always a pleasure to teach’. In a pattern familiar to prior generations, I have since learned to feign apathy towards the irrational expectations put upon you in life and thus get on with it.

Women and Self-love

An obvious perk of working with children is your newfound ability to help with their emotional development. Teenage girls are most likely to experience a sudden identity crisis and low self worth – fueled by the pressures of gender discrimination and learned self-objectification. As an adult who only overcame such hurdles after many years of self-taught self-love, the prospect of debugging the Myth of Woman was a big motivation for returning to the dreaded school gates.

My agency gave me the necessary details: arrive early, smart dress code. Conveniently, my wardrobe is full of suit jackets and the only two beauty products I use regularly are mascara and Vaseline. Despite being a tiny 5 “1 (and a half) I ditched my trusty high heels as well. Practicality had finally won; I looked the part of ‘normal person doing a job’.

The Dress (Code)

Monday mornings are universally sluggish. I tend to greet them with caffeine withdrawal and dragging feet but on one particular Monday I felt optimistic for the day ahead. My timetable promised me some friendly Year 10’s and an appeasing balance of literary and numeracy-based subjects. Plus, I donned a new work dress courtesy of my sister’s generosity during the weekend.

History was my appointed lesson after break and Year 11 were revising the topic of Hitler’s Germany, unsurprisingly. Revision lessons don’t require much intervention from support staff so I sat down somewhere to survey progress. After a few minutes, an unfamiliar face asked if there was a TA in the class.

“Great!” I thought, “maybe it’s about a student who needs a scribe or something, at least I have something to do – ” 

“I need to speak to you about the length of your skirt (it was a dress). It’s too short. Now we do actually have a dress code here. *I look down* Well… it rises when you walk, I was watching you walk up the stairs and it was rising up. I’m assuming you live too far away to go home and get changed?”

“Yeah I do. I did think it might be a bit figure-hugging –

It’s not that: it’s too short.

Oh, sorry, so has anyone said anything… –

Several members of staff have made complaints and I’m the business manager. And, some of the boys were looking up your skirt too I think, on the stairs.”

A strange response, not only in how adamant she was to tell me her job title but also that ‘several’ teachers had complained by 11.15am. Particularly when I’d interacted perfectly well with the two teachers who had seen me that morning. I am not the oblivious type so it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some fabrications in her account. She also treated my attempts to communicate with her as though I were an insolent child, rather than an adult trying to be compliant. As she walked away, I compulsively pulled down my already lengthy dress so that it covered my knees while the paranoia I suffered in adolescence clouded my mind. Despite being shamed, I knew I had to walk back into the lesson with confidence: I was supposed to be somebody people respected.

Once I sat down, a feeling of acute self-consciousness overcame me. I hugged my arms for comfort – my mind already reeling off possible culprits of who had gossiped about me behind my back, and why.

The dress I wore.
The dress I wore.

My new found perspective on authority now seemed misguided. There was another lesson to go before lunch and ironically enough, I received two compliments on my dress during that time. 

It’s a frequent occurrence: society is entrenched in misogynistic beliefs, some of which are unknowingly internalised by women and spat back out to make other people feel as small.

Phallocentric Perspectives

Dress codes are inherently sexist because they elevate clothes made especially for men as professional and deem any sign of a female body inappropriate; sexual. The physicality of a woman is different to a man’s, but a female form isn’t necessarily sexual – it just ‘is’. In this specific case, I wore black and white to match school colours, a dress that finishes just above the knee, and flat shoes. There was nothing individual or intriguing about my appearance at all, let alone any sexuality on show. Unfortunately we are conditioned to hypersexualise a woman’s appearance.

Appropriate sign in a US high school
Appropriate sign in a US high school

Incidents like this are being flagged up on various social media sites as people become more aware of the subtle ways in which women are demeaned in their daily lives. I’d like to echo a popular statement on this topic: we need to prevent the objectification of women by teaching boys not to sexualise a girl’s appearance. This opposes the current system of inventing promiscuity from a person’s appearance and blaming them for your own preconceived projection. 

Schools have a responsibility to encourage progressive thinking in their pupils – and staff – including the rejection of gender discrimination. The rejuvenation of what it means to be a feminist will help this evolution take place but until then the internet provides a platform for women to document their experiences publicly. 

Internet Nuggets: Angelina Jolie the inspiration, Women’s body hair & Introverts

A lot is happening in the world, all the time.

Here are some entertaining snippets of some of those happenings – may April bring us many more.


Anais Charles recently wrote a personal piece of insight into social stigma surrounding women and body hair, with empowering photography intertwined in the text. Anais Charles: Shame & Women’s Body Hair.

If you dig music written in the minor key with synth sounds and a brooding vocal, Depeche Mode’s classic album Violator is for you.

I have adored Angelina Jolie since I was a young girl for her individuality, compassion and beauty. An ambassador for women and self-expression, she’s now written an open letter to explain her choice to remove female body parts so other women feel no shame in bold self-care.

Maleficent is a wonderful film that saw her excel in the lead role. During her speech at the Kids’ Choice awards, she advocated self-expression by telling everybody that Different is Good.

Jurassic Park & Lego in one sweet fusion. That is all.

More music talk. This time it’s about Manchester’s indie legends James. Brian Eno produced the 1993 album Laid

Graduates are offered a surplus of Sales jobs but can introversion and cold-calling co-exist happily?

Alongside all of this Spring goodness, March has also told us a sombre tale: The end of One Direction as a 5-piece following Zayn Malik’s departure. Solo material is on the way but I predict a modelling contract will be signed within 6 months and he will be the new ‘face’ of the infamous Calvin Klein adverts. The future is bright.