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

Image result for thelma and louise

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

Image result for erin brockovich film

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

Image result for mermaids film

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

Image result for romy and michele's high school reunion

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

Related image

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.

Advertisements

Netflix Recommendation: Jen Kirkman – I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)

As the flippant title of her stand-up show suggests, Jen Kirkman isn’t afraid to get real with you. She speaks candidly about topics such as sexuality, married life, divorce, age, masturbation etc. with a clear foundation of autobiography. Anecdotes in comedy can border on boring when a comedian doesn’t know which bits to cut, but Kirkman’s delivery is concise and acerbic with frequent pay-offs. Plus, there’s nothing affected about her persona.

I confess to becoming aware of her through this special, possibly because she isn’t as famous in the UK yet. Only some sections of the hour-long set are observational, allowing her cynicism to sidestep any sense of superiority.  While watching, I kept imagining her as a sarcastic work friend whose dry wit spares you from small talk. It’s frequently said of performers that ‘you want to be friends with them’ and this was the likely capacity in which I pictured our interaction. This may be due to her insightful perception of the everyday and her sharp analysis – she’s matter-of-fact without being crass and her viewpoint is especially accessible to deep-thinkers and realists.

An inexplicably flattering shot from this angle, kudos to her cheekbones.

Before we see the main show, there’s a naturalistic short depicting show preparation whereby she sits with a friend. The comedic tone is subtle and the audience experiences the first slice of her ‘show, don’t tell’ style. The same goes for the final 3 minutes of faux ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage, verifying our impression of her comedy as exploratory and nuanced. I also recently discovered her Twitter and Instagram pages are worth following if you want more truth-telling interspersed with silly jokes.

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.