Talk Feminism to Me (Ep2): Jason Davids Scott

My guest this week is Jason Davids Scott, Associate Professor of Theatre & Film at Arizona State University, baseball lover and all around awesome dude. We touched upon many things including feminism in the classroom, calling out colleagues on sexist behavior and the complications of “pop” feminism. Below is a quick guide to names mentioned and further references for exploration. Enjoy and thanks for listening!

Jason recalls Ms. Magazine in his house growing up. Ms. was an explicitly feminist magazine created by Gloria Steinem & Lettie Cottin Pogrebin in 1972. It continues to publish hard copies in addition to hosting an awesome blog.

Also mentioned in recalling his earlier experiences with feminism was Constance Penley who Jason was a student of at the University of California – Santa Barbara, where she continues to teach today. Penley is a leading scholar on feminism and pornography who most recently edited “The Feminist Porn Book.”

In discussing my sometimes frustration with what I tend to label “Instagram Feminism” we explore the complications with Beyonce (2014) and Miley Cyrus’ (2013) VMA performances and refer to an excellent article by Roxane Gay in which she makes the much needed point:

Unfortunately, Beyoncé will represent the only face of feminism for too many people who will incorrectly assume feminism begins and ends with her. She is one woman – an amazing woman, to be sure – but she is a gateway to feminism, not the movement itself.

There was also brief mention of Rosie the Riveter, an often mistaken feminist icon. For more about that read this.

Finally, in a year where feminism was at the forefront of many pop cultural moments, I asked Jason his favorite, to which he replies, “You’re gonna love this…Mo’ne Davis.”

Image source: SportsCenter

Image source: SportsCenter

Boom.

You Can Ban “Feminist” But You Can’t Ban Me

2014 may very well be the year America found Feminism. Which is exactly why “Feminist” it is leading the Time magazine poll of words to ban in 2015.* Because it’s happening. Empowerment. Consciousness raising. A culture altering shift in our perception of gender roles, sexuality and what makes each of us valuable as unique beings. Among feminism’s most public 2014 moments:

The title of Sarah Seltzer’s response the to the Time list hits the nail on the head, “The Word “Feminist” Isn’t Overused — It’s Winning.” The winds of change are blowing through the status quo and Time is just the latest perpetrator in an all too familiar response by the media to undermine and erase an ongoing and essential movement. A bit ironic considering this is that same outlet who chose Beyoncé, current pop-cultural Queen of Feminism, as the cover for 2014’s Most Influential Person issue.

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Photo source: Huffington Post

 

The term backlash is nothing new, but the specific backlash by the media in response to women gaining power is a pattern first brought into the mainstream dialogue by Susan Faludi’s 1991 Pulitzer prize winning book, aptly entitled Backlash. Faludi’s thesis, and the book’s subtitle, calls attention to “the undeclared war against women” being fought by mythical media narratives that enforce patriarchal values that serve to dominate and dismiss women. As the overview points out:

Whatever progress feminism has recently made, Faludi’s words today seem prophetic. The media still love stories about stay-at-home moms and the “dangers” of women’s career ambitions; the glass ceiling is still low; women are still punished for wanting to succeed; basic reproductive rights are still hanging by a thread.

Sound familiar?

The specific backlash Faludi named 23 years ago has been present since the first wave of feminism began in the late 1800s, when women began organizing for their right to vote. In her groundbreaking publication The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf explores the consistent historical connection between women’s progress in the world and the media’s responses to women’s roles, specifically in advertising:

Magazines first took over advertisers at the turn of the century. As suffragists were chaining themselves to the gates of the White House and Parliament, the circulation of women’s magazines doubled.

Distracting women with gendered propaganda aimed to keep them vulnerable, submissive, and distracted from real issues is the primary goal of advertising, both then and now. Most people are familiar with the women’s labor movement during World War II in which women filled the gap left by in the workplace while the men were away. Less known is the post-war response by advertisers such as to get working women back into the homes through sexist campaigns that appealed to curating and maintaining their physical appearance and their natural aptitude for domesticity. This trend that has continued for so long that media scholar Jean Kilbourne has made a 40 year career critiquing the industry, noting:

The average American will spend one and one-half years of his or her life watching television commercials. The ads sell a great deal more than products. They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be. Scientific studies and the most casual viewing yield the same conclusion: women are shown almost exclusively as housewives or sex objects.

2014, however, was rife with changes in these narratives. A Tide commercial features a father  in the caregiver role with his daughter and responsible for the laundry; stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari discussed and defined feminism on late TV, including admonishing the crowd for their lack of applause after he asked if there were any feminists in the house, and the Internet was ablaze with campaigns like #YesAllWomen calling attention to the commonplace misogyny and violence women experience everyday.

So, it’s no accident that in a year when feminism became, potentially, its most visible would also be the year it was most targeted.

The reason the word feminist is leading this “poll” is not nearly as concerning as Time putting it there to begin with. As Seltzer points out, “Putting ‘feminist’ on the list ignores (or merely fails to perceive) the sea-change in discourse around the word recently.”

The list itself is representative of the insidious nature of patriarchy—the unseen and unspoken rules that apply to us all. Just the suggestion that language is static, not malleable, that a certain cultural moment is not valid or necessary, or that anyone, especially a small group of media conglomerates, can decide who can say what is not only ignorant but unconstitutional. Additionally, many of the words are specific to specific subcultures that have worked their way into the mainstream, making the list not only sexist but racist. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen calls attention to proliferation of words that come specifically from marginalized communities and argues:

With better curation, Time’s annual word-banishment polls could function as harmless communal exercises in which we collectively laugh at words or phrases that are past their prime. But after four years of these polls, a worrying trend is starting to emerge, one that runs far deeper than this year’s misguided inclusion of the F-word: The polls inordinately target slang and vernacular used by people of color and young white women.

Moreover, every other word on this list is slang, fleeting, and temporary. There is no need to ban those words, because they will become obsolete on their own. They will find their way out of the collective vernacular when a new word that means the same thing is ushered in by cultural trends and in the end, those other words don’t really matter that much. No matter how someone who identifies as “feminist” defines their personal feminism and yes, there are multiple definitions, one thing is certain: To call oneself a feminist means you align yourself with the a human rights movement and the umbrella under which all of these things may fall is in no way shape or form on par with “om nom nom nom.” No matter how you identify, whether you claim the word or not, suggesting it need not exist undermines, devalues and discredits all those who do claim it, who do believe it and who benefit from it’s presence. As Seltzer’s critique suggests:

If you’re getting tired of hearing the, “Is X feminist? Is Y feminist enough?” debate, try actually being a feminist. You will have that debate with yourself and your friends every waking minute of your life. Then see if you get tired of it.

There is no one more frustrated by, in the word’s of Time’s list writer Katy Steinmetz, “throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade” then actual feminists. Feminists who risked, and lost, their lives for women’s right to vote, right to choose, right to say no. Feminists who have advanced degrees in gender studies and teach at a public higher education institution in one of this country’s largest cities yet cannot pay their bills on those wages.

In her blurb suggesting feminist as an option, Steinmetz’s annoyance with feminist is that it became a thing that “every celebrity had to state their position on” and, ironically, cites a Time interview with Shailene Woodley in which the actress rejects the term but the only reason it is even discussed is because she is asked. Choosing to ask someone who clearly has no real understanding about feminism if they are feminist is a clearly a set-up to attack the word. Why not ask Emma Watson or Jennifer Lawrence or any other number of young celebrities who embrace the term not just as a self-identifier but also in their career and life choices?

Because it’s not the word they are trying to ban, it’s the mindset. It’s the spreading of ideas. It’s the right to a self-determined and chosen life for all of us.

Feminist is more than just a word, it is who you are. And that will never be banned.

Photo by Elizabeth McQuern TShirt by Tracers Book Club

Photo by Elizabeth McQuern
TShirt by Tracers Book Club

*Time Magazine has since apologized but it’s my blog so there.

My Problem with ‘Frozen’

Original piece published by The Daily Dot

Blossom doesn’t think Frozen is feminist. I agree.

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In a recent post on the Jewish parenting blog Kveller, Mayim Bialik, the Big Bang Theory actress and mother of two, admitted to hating Disney’s award-winning film, Frozen.

I know, I’m about to lose more fans than when I declared myself a proud liberal Zionist during Operation Protective Edge. Well, I have to speak the truth: My sons and I did not like “Frozen.”

Perhaps due to the multitudes of positive reviews, a best selling soundtrack and two Academy Awards, Bialik was prepared for a story of female empowerment – a Disney film that for the first time usurped the traditional princess fairy tale of being rescued by a knight in shining armor for a more feminist telling celebrating the bonds of sisterhood.

Oh, but you don’t know? This is a princess story, not a superhero story.

Although Frozen boasts two female lead characters, passes the Bechdel Test and ultimately defines “true love” as an act of sisterhood, it is embedded with patriarchal gender norms that serve to cultivate a stereotypical depiction that defines women as other and devalues their humanity because of how it differs from men. The most straightforward message in this purportedly feminist film – a film whose target audience is young girls  – is that which is unique, special, and powerful about you is also dangerous, shameful and must be hidden. A subtler message: girls are emotional time-bombs who can’t be trusted to control their bodies or their minds.

Princess #1, Elsa, has a unique and powerful ability – she can freeze things. Princess #2, Anna, is an innocent (i.e.: normal) girl. Together in the privacy of their castle, the sisters play in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s creation until a misdirected freeze ray accidentally hits Anna in the head. So, the King and Queen decide to close the castle gates and keep Elsa quarantined from everyone, including Anna.

Not only does this alienate Elsa from the entire world, it also robs Anna of her playmate and sister with no explanation. Then the parents die, and the two girls are truly alone – Anna left to wonder why her sister won’t speak, play or even talk to her, and Elsa confined to her bedroom by fear of her uncontrollable “gift.” When the sisters finally emerge from the castle years later for Coronation Day (which falls on Elsa’s 18th birthday), Anna’s desire for connection leads her to immediately become engaged to a visiting prince and Elsa’s inability to control her power leads her to banish herself to the top of a mountain.

Elsa has been raised to believe that which makes her unique is what is wrong with her. It is the reason Frozen has been celebrated by the queer community for it’s pro-gay subtext but it overlooks the particular double bind of straight women (which Elsa is presumed to be and Anna clearly is) whose existence is still measured according to a male standard of success and achievement.

Elsa’s girl-ness is what makes her a villain and her internalized acceptance that she is bad is what leads her to hide. She doesn’t even get a fairy godmother or some dancing snowflake to share comical words of wisdom. “Don’t feel. Conceal.” becomes Elsa’s mantra in order for her to cope with her uniqueness. This is point blank telling girls that their thoughts – their emotions – are things to be ashamed of. The fact that this catchy little rhyme is actually repeated multiple times throughout the film guarantees that it will imprint on its audience – an audience full of young, impressionable girls. In an era where one of TV’s most revered female characters successes rely on listening to her gut, Disney’s “feminism” is just wordplay for brainwashing girls into ignoring, distrusting and devaluing their instincts – their voice. Instead, the film offers contradicting advice in the form chart-topping power ballad encouraging them to “Let it Go.”

Earlier this year, Frozen broke the record for best-selling animated film soundtrack largely due to the success of “Let It Go,” Elsa’s theme song, which the New York Times described as “an emotional juggernaut in which her character transforms from an isolated, troubled queen to a powerhouse of self-acceptance.” Unfortunately, this evolution into a “powerhouse of self acceptance” occurs through a visual transformation in typical Hollywood fashion: a makeover! Messy, loose hair and a new dress with a sexy slit straight up Elsa’s just turned 18-year-old thigh reinforce our widely accepted cultural understanding that beauty and sexual appeal are the only vehicles for women to gain power and respect. You might be Secretary of State but your politics will come second to your make-up choices. Just ask Hilary.

The contradictory lyrics “Let it go, let it go / Can’t hold it back anymore” suggests that Elsa is prepared to rejoin the world and be herself but “Let it go, let it go / Turn away and slam the door” negates that, with the imagery of shutting the world out. Keep in mind that throughout this entire song, she is still hiding alone on top of a mountain. Elsa never re-joins the community on her own accord, but rather when she is rescued by Anna. It reminds girls that they live in a world where there voices don’t matter and their contributions don’t count. It’s why a gender pay gap still exists, why domestic violence is a national epidemic and why, even working women, retain the majority of domestic responsibilities.  Women are constantly being told, by every organizing system in America, to hide; to be silent; to cease to exist. When they don’t they are ridiculed, punished and even killed. Telling an audience of girls, who are still developing their minds and discovering their identities, not to feel but to conceal robs them of their right to a self-determined life.

Further proof of the hypocrisy in citing “Let It Go” as an anthem for female empowerment is the other song that ended up on the cutting room floor. During an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez discusses “We Know Better,” which she describes as:

Basically was these two princesses bonding over all of the things that the world expects and thinks of them. [The world thinks] that they’re perfect and sweet and sugar and spice and all things nice, and it was the two of them misbehaving and being fully well-rounded children with all the good and bad and imagination and mischief that I really feel that it’s important for our girls to be allowed to be.

What does it tell us about the values of Hollywood and of Disney that this song didn’t make it into the film? Former CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, said it best:

We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. We are here to make money.

Had “We Know Better” made it into the final version of the film, it would have been revolutionary and a true embodiment of the feminist subtext Frozen has been mistakenly granted. Instead, Frozen sells a story of sisterhood in which the sisters have hardly any relationship or interactions on screen, a definition of empowerment that urges girls to suppress and conceal except when they are alone and, ultimately, a very explicit reminder that power, in the hands of women, is uncontrollable – kind of like good ol’ Mother Nature.

That’s not to say Frozen is without it’s feminist moments. However problematic the dominant messages in “Let It Go” it’s subtle feminism is reflected what it is not. It’s not Snow White staring into a well singing a duet with her own echo “I’m waiting…for the one I love…to find me…” Or Belle yearning for the great wide open, her song interrupted again and again by the thug trying to force her into marriage. It’s certainly more progressive than Ariel’s sacrifice of her voice and her body in order to become part of Prince Eric’s world.

Similarly, the gender stereotypes apparent in Frozen, as Bialik asserts “the search for a man/love/Prince is still the reigning plot line in the movie” and his role “scheming villain” are met with modern responses rooted in feminist values. The film’s acknowledgment of the existing pattern among women to find independence, self-identity and a sense of self through a relationship with a man is a step in the right direction. To show Anna making a positive choice to challenge this “feminine” norm with the help of a platonic male ally, Kristoff, and a sense of purpose beyond the marriage (rescuing her sister) is in fact one of the most feminist aspects of the film. Frozen’s additional feminist accolades include employing multiple women on the animation team and a woman to direct (in partnership with two men).

Nonetheless, applauding Frozen only for its merits serves to ignore the messages in the story that are directly aligned with reinforcing the status quo through a narrative that scares girls into submission. The real issue with Bialik’s critique, as it is with much of what has been written about Frozen, is how disconnected the conversation is from the fim’s potentially harmful effects on its target audience: girls, and how susceptible they are to the messaging embedded in the film.

Frozen remains another Hollywood vehicle reminding girls and women that if you are talented, especially innately (God-given), beyond explanation (witchcraft), or in a way that threatens the status quo (if Elsa can just make ice appear out of thin air what will the big, strong men do for work?) then you are doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. You might still get to be Queen, but your talent will be used only for entertainment or self-preservation rather than to solve problems or help you better lead your kingdom.

Again, just ask Hilary.

A Girls’ Guide to Slut-Shaming At The Movies

A very brief history of some of my favorite films. Originally published on Thought Catalog and then unpublished at the writer’s request on account of Thought Catalog being a host for racist, sexist and downright horrible writing.

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If you grew up in America chances are you’ve either been called a slut or called someone a slut. If you’re a girl, it’s probably both. If you grew up watching movies, as I did, you have been inscribed with images that encourage a slut shaming mentality. Slut shaming is rooted in conventional (biblical) wisdom that values a woman for her purity and deference to male sexual desires as opposed to supporting a woman’s choice to be sexual active in any way and with anyone she pleases. It’s the difference between treating someone as a sexual being versus a sexual object. We all know the difference between a being and an object, right?

In Hollywood films, slut shaming most commonly appears in the form of punishment of the character, like in every horror movie ever made where as soon as a girl has sex she dies, or an overall positioning of the character as bad, dirty or inconsequential. Basically, if you’re a girl and you have sex in a movie you’re either evil, unimportant or are going to die. The slut character has become a norm in films that focus on adolescence just as the term has become common vernacular in high schools across the globe. It seems you can’t have a story about girls lives without also encountering a slut and Hollywood has done it’s best to remind us why it’s not worth it to be “that kind of girl.”

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Y’all, remember Shag (1989)? It’s the story of four girls about to graduate high school and spend one last weekend together at the beach. The character of Melaina is a rule breaker from the beginning, a preacher’s daughter who has to sneak out to spend the weekend with her friends. While all the girls are having sexual experiences and awakenings on the trip, Melaina is the only one assertive and confident in her sexual interests. In turn, she is nearly date-raped and “saved” only by the two “girlfriends” of the guy who in a jealous rage Melaina out of his car, force feed her booze and after covering her with shaving cream and toilet paper, abandon her in the woods. Melaina is judged and punished and what about ol’ boy? Oh, he just drove off.

John Tucker Must Die (2006) is the perfect example of how slut shaming is reserved only for women. It is the Hollywood version of the Stud vs. Slut mindfuck. The plot revolves around three women fighting for the attention of one guy who has been secretly dating them all simultaneously. Each girl is a recognizable trope: the smart one, the cheerleader, and, of course, the slut, and John Tucker is the stereotypical embodiment of a “man” – athletic, charming and sexually insatiable. In the scene after all three girls have just broken up with John, the “slut” character, Beth, laments that she “couldn’t even enjoy the break-up sex.” When the other girls turn to her with accusing eyes, or perhaps jealously, Beth proclaims, “Oh my god, I am a slut.” Whether she truly believes it or not is unclear but the message that she should be ashamed of her behavior is not. In an earlier scene, Beth also confesses to compromising her vegetarianism stating, “I can’t believe I ate meat for him.” Not only another tongue in cheek dig at her “sluttiness” it also further affirms how her character is lacking any moral values. You know, because she’s a slut. Beth’s self-identifying as a slut speaks the double bind that girls face when exploring sexuality. Especially from other girls.

One of my favorite scenes in Dazed and Confused (1993), because it’s just so real, is when Simone begs Shavonne to tell her what the other girls have said about her and Darla and promises she won’t get mad. Shavonne relays the gossip: “She called you a bitch and you a slut.” Darla laughs in response to being labeled the bitch while Simone has an immediate defensiveness to being called a slut, which she quickly covers up with a hair flick and breezy “I’m not mad.” This is the nuanced aspect of slut shaming that poisons girl’s relationships to themselves and to each other. (begins at :38)

Simone is hurt that girls who likely engage in the same behavior perceive her as a slut. It also suggests that she is aware of the detrimental affects of the term. Slut isn’t the same as bitch. Anyone can be a bitch, but when someone is calling you a slut they are making a very specific claim about the kind of person you are. And it ain’t good. Nor is the validity of any consequence because sometimes it only takes the allusion of promiscuity, or a certain cup size, to earn the slut badge.

Easy A (2012) is a modern adaptation a classic slut-shaming tale, The Scarlet Letter. And in the end, Olive is a prude in slut’s clothing; she hasn’t actually done the deed with anyone. However, the belief that she has participated in sexual behavior forces a responsibility upon her that culminates in the scene between her and a male friend. Throughout the film, Olive has created this reputation of being sexually active as a farce and then she is faced with a guy who expects her to behave a certain way because he thinks she has behaved that way with others. This is a dangerous area because it is directly related to sexual assault and rape. It’s entitlement. Plain and simple. Here’s the thing, dude. It doesn’t matter if I have had sex with one or a hundred guys before you. I can still not want to sleep with you. Deal with it.

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While it is kind of weird to think of slut shaming someone who has not had sex it goes back to the root of the issue: making a negative judgment and devaluing a woman based on her sexual behavior. When Cher questions whether Tai and Josh would be good together in Clueless (1996), Tai is offended. She retorts by attacking Cher for the one thing that now alienates her from her peers: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.” Simply insulting Cher’s driving ability does not yield the same power as calling into question her attractiveness to the opposite sex. Cher is being shamed either for her choice to not have sex or the fact that no one wants to have sex with her. What’s a girl to do?

Do what, and who, you want – safely and respectfully. Hollywood will catch on.

Talib Kweli destroys CNN over coverage of Ferguson protests

popgoesalicia:

#HIPHOP #LOVE #BLACKLIVESMATTER

Originally posted on Consequence of Sound:

Rapper Talib Kweli has spent much of the week in Ferguson, Missouri, joining the citizens protesting the shooting of Michael Brown. This afternoon, he appeared on CNN to discuss the situation; however, the conversation didn’t go nearly as pleasantly as the one Killer Mike had with the cable news network yesterday.

Kweli took CNN anchor Don Lemon to task over the network’s coverage of the protests, referencing several articles on CNN.com that contained incorrect information. “We live in a world of white supremacy and that’s the narrative and language of the oppressors taking over,” Kweli said. The rapper also criticized Lemon for failing to greet him prior to the interview. At one point, things got so heated that Kweli literally walked off camera.

Watch below.

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Why ‘Maleficent’ is important for #YesAllWomen

Originally published by The Daily Dot.

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Angelina Jolie is talking about rape.

Last week the Academy Award-winning actress all but took over the Internet when she joined Foreign Secretary William Hague in leading the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit came just days after the opening of Jolie’s current film, Maleficent, which opened at no. 1 at the box office and has since grossed over $150 million worldwide. The Disney production is a retelling of the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view, one that has received mixed reviews among critics but garnered significant attention in feminist circles for its provocative storyline.

As Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart describes:

The moment that transforms Maleficentfrom a fun-loving, quirky woodland fairy into cruel, pissed-off sorceress is an act of violence. The man she thought was her friend drugs her, and while she is unconscious, he saws off her wings. She wakes up bleeding, in pain, a part of her destroyed. Sobbing. It feels like a sexual assault.

Yes, it does, and according to Jolie (who also serves as the film’s executive producer), it was meant to. During aninterview on the BBC Woman’s Hour, Jolie was explicit that the integral scene was intentionally written as a metaphor for rape.

This is no small feat in a feature film by one of America’s most prominent and beloved studios, known for its portrayal of women as lovesick, house-arrested, eye-candy. Jolie’s participation in lobbying for legislative change on a global front is inspiring, though it may be Maleficent that is challenging the most insidious of oppressors—the Hollywood feature film. As the L.A. Times’ Betsy Sharkey points out, “It’s one thing to speak in front of global dignitaries about the need to combat rape; it’s quite another to slip that message into a global blockbuster.”

It is no secret that there is tremendous gender disparity in Hollywood—where the stories of men are told in the words of men, through the lenses of men, and about the desires of men. In 2013, the MPAA reported that 52 percent of movie going audiences were women, yet of the year’s top 500 grossing films, women comprised only 30 percent of speaking roles, only half of which were protagonists.  When women are present (as characters who are predominantly written by men), they are often regulated to the usual roles of ingénue, mother, or wicked witch/queen/stepmother.

This is a pattern so consistent that The Atlantic‘s Raina Lipstiz argued Thelma & Louise was the last great movie about women. That was 23 years ago.

Combating this is one of the ways Maleficent creates real change, as making a truly progressive film for women means more than just passing the Bechdel TestMaleficenthas two female protagonists, and the majority of the film focuses on the relationship they develop with each other. It was written by a woman, Disney veteran Linda Woolverton,who credits the film with one of the most emotional moments of her career, the kiss scene between Maleficent and Aurora/Sleeping Beauty.

You have to rewrite these things 100 times, and every single time I wrote it I could barely get through it. I did Homeward Bound, you know that dog movie? Every single time I wrote the moment over the hill when everyone comes back at the end, I would cry into my hand over the keyboard. The kiss scene was like that for me.

Woolverton’s emotional attachment and her assertion that 20 years ago she couldn’t have written “as complex a lead character” is a reflection of the rampant sexism in Hollywood, echoing the growing frustration of female moviegoers who yearn to see characters in their likeness and stories that mirror their own experiences.

Of course, the film has it’s flaws and allows ample opportunity for feminist critique. It is, in fact, a fairy tale created in the same old storybook of kingdoms and hierarchies and colonization, one so lackluster in creativity that blogger Lindy West asks, “You could have built any world you wanted to—why choose one ruled by the same regressive, white-washed mid-century morality as every other ‘modern’ fairy tale? Aren’t thou bored?”

West goes on to note the glaring acceptance of gender normativity by the female characters who exist as “moldy feminine tropes—the sullied innocent, the abandoned lover lost without her man, the evil ex-girlfriend, the overreacting harpy, the broken woman redeemed by motherhood.”

It’s true. West’s analyses evoke Audre Lorde’s assertion that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. But focusing on the ways Maleficent reinforces stereotypical images of women distracts from the vital moments when it does not, most notably the conscious choice by the writer and executive producer to create a national dialogue about rape and sexual assault, in a country where it largely goes unspoken. Fairy tale or not, Maleficent is reflective of the experiences of #YesAllWomen.

“The Longest War” is what writer Rebecca Solnit calls America’s cultural relationship between sexual violence and gender:

At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

The feminist lessons in Maleficent may not have the same magnitude as those taught in college classrooms or published in scholarly journals, but they are reflective of a common experience among American women and girls. These women, though they may not live in a categorical warzone, live in a country where one in four experience teen dating violence, one in four are abused by a partner in their lifetime, and one of six are survivors of rape or attempted rape.

These are the women who cheered when Aurora saves Maleficent by rescuing her wings, the same way that a generation of women before erupted in bursts of support when Louise shoots Thelma’s rapist. It more than just a climactic plot twist, more than just character redemption, and way more than revenge. This is a chance for real women to access and feel their right to a self-determined life. Through these characters, a silenced majority is given a voice that is resonating beyond the silver screen.

After all, the Global Summit to End Violence During Conflict didn’t take place in Fairy Tale Land.