As our situations in politics, climate change, global diplomacy, and social discrimination continue to grow more complex and embittered, sometimes our only refuge is looking back at the ’90s, a simpler time. This is especially true in the context of feminism — where in 2015, “feminist” is apparently a dangerous thing to call yourself, especially online — the ’90s was its own women’s movement. Though feminism at the beginning of the Third Wave wasn’t perfect or all-inclusive, it paved the way for important social progress in the treatment of women. Girl power, as a significant movement for the empowerment of women and girls of all ages, found its way into our lives through all sorts of media, and it was notably free from the misogynist backlash we experience today. Let’s all reminisce about this mostly wonderful era and try not to think about how much we’ve regressed in terms of this millennium’s media feminism.
One of the most essential deployments of girl power on screen was the sudden plethora of ’90s women as witches, in film and on television. In these narratives, women and girls were the wielders of supernatural powers, often relying on female bonds to strengthen and hone their skills. Prominent examples in this vein includeSabrina the Teenage Witch, The Craft, Practical Magic, and Charmed. Their lives were not viewed through the lens of a romantic relationship, but rather through their relationships with other women, their powers, and the world around them. In a world where women lacked social power in reality, the supernatural abilities projected onscreen offered a more empowering alternative.
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10 Things I Hate About You
Though this title is often dismissed as a chick or teen flick, it contained the ’90s in a nutshell and featured a staunchly feminist protagonist who might only grace today’s films as a “feminazi” joke character. Kat was part of a line of more positive representations of women that dominated the screen at the time, moving beyond the John Hughes romantic imperatives of the ’80s in favor of a more individual woman who actively avoided being distilled into the girlfriend role. 10 Things I Hate About You also provided an excellent feminist reading list and music collection through reference. Basically, we all wanted to be Kat, who managed to stick to her feminist morals throughout the film and eventually found a way to fit a relationship with the oh-so-dreamy Heath Ledger into the equation.
Esteemed frontwoman of the amazing No Doubt, Gwen was a big punch in a pint-sized package, rocking bellybutton rings and red lipstick and leading a group of men to the top of the charts throughout the ’90s and early 2000s. Her strongest work is with 1996′s “Just a Girl,” from Tragic Kingdom, which questions the antiquated gender roles that still trapped women of the ’90s. Other standouts include songs like “Simple Kind of Life,” and “Marry Me,” from 1998′s Return of Saturn, placed the female subconscious center stage in a diary format.
From the angry mouths of all-girl underground hardcore punk band/zine makers Bikini Kill in the early 1990s came the riot grrrl movement, which spawned numerous bands and a thriving DIY subculture including zine production and political activism. Riot grrrls in local scenes often organized meetings to support the works of other women in music and art. Grounded in a rising consciousness stemming from attacks on legal abortion to Anita Hill’s revelatory accusations of sexual harassment, this movement had a message: songs from this era were socially conscious and dealt with rape, violence against women, patriarchy, sexuality, racism, and female empowerment. See for inspiration: The Riot Grrrl manifesto. Where are the millennial riot grrrls?
Bow down to the queen, people. In the ’90s, Daria was the resting-bitch-face heroine for the unenthusiastic and brainy. With her ass-kicking boots, pro-level sarcasm, and BFF Jane, Daria made witty misanthropy look awesome.
The 1990s saw women of hip hop bust onto the scene, tired of being misrepresented by their male counterparts. They combined social messages with popular music and spread their gospel far and wide. Pioneers of this badass time in music include Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Salt-N-Pepa, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and many, many more. They made a lasting mark on hip hop and on feminism with their unapologetic, table turning lyrics.
Miss Grotke in Recess
Xena: Warrior Princess
Xena, a ruthless, badass woman fighting against the gods and warlords. Need we say more?
Also, her badass sidekick Gabrielle could certainly hold her own against the raging warmongering men. Best friends and partners in battle they took care of business like no other.
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