Understanding gender oppression and feminism through 3 movies
In the days where women have the rights to vote, the ability to have the same positions as men in jobs, or have more autonomy of their own lives, we cannot deny that for the past centuries, women have been suppressed, taken away their rights and freedom, and are being seen as men’s property. Even in today’s world, gender oppression still exists, whether it is through the patriarchal social system—the belief that men is superior than women and should hold power and control over others— that expects women to be passive and obedient, or the pressure to fulfill certain gender roles to be seen as a ‘decent woman’.
To celebrate the month of international women’s day on March 8th, I will bring you to understand the struggles of women through three movies on Netflix in which they talk about how women are being discriminated against, what pain they have been through, and what kind of stories they want to relay. Although each film takes place in different eras, within various social contexts, there is one thing each movie says the same: women’s voices deserve to be heard.
Spoiler Alert: The following article reveals details of the movie’s plot
The Color Purple
Life, Bondedness, and Oppression
The Color Purple is a movie that talks about the life of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), a black woman who resides in the rural south of America in the 1900s, where she faces endless of discrimination and abuses. She finds her true identity and self liberation through the relationship with three important women in her life: Nettie, Shug, and Sofia.
Sexism—the idea that women are inferior to men— is represented through the character of Celie which takes on many forms of her life, beginning with her stepfather who raped and pregnanted her with 2 children; she was then sold to her husband, whom she regarded as Mr. (Danny Glover), who emotionally and physically abuses her, and the endless racism and sexism she encountered in her community.
Celie is a victim of the patriarchal system where she has been oppressed, silenced and treated like an object. Nevertheless, she regains her strength through the bonds she forms with three women she met over the course of her life. Starting with Nettie (Akosua Busia), her younger sister who taught her how to read and find happiness in life.
Then, she is introduced to Shug (Margaret Avery), a famous singer in town whom Celie takes care of when the society outcasts her. Shug is like an opposite side of Celie; she is free and always speaks out her opinions. She is a kind of woman that does not fit into the stereotypical standard of an early 20th century women where they have to stay at home and obey the husband. With Shug, Celie has developed self confidence, own identity, and self-love.
Finally, Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), Celie’s stepdaughter-in-law, who has set a paradigm for Celie on how to be a strong black woman that should be treated with respect and fight for herself.
The character, Celie, resonates with countless black women in America during that same era as her. It also left a prominent impact on society and creates a powerful message that stories of black women deserve to be heard and seen as a part of African American history too.
Kim Ji-young: Born 1982
mother of a son, wife of a husband, and daughter of a father
Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 is a romantic-drama film, released in 2019, starring Jung Yumi and Gong Yoo. This film is adapted from a novel written by Cho Namjoo, published in 2016. It has been a huge success with over 1 million sales after 2 years of publishing and has been translated into multiple languages.
The story talks about the life of an ordinary woman named Kim Ji-young (Jung Yumi), the most common woman’s name in Korea. Jiyoung’s life is so typical that it’s like walking straight on the standard line Asian society expects a woman to follow. She grew up in an ordinary family, had a job, then got married. By the time they had a daughter, she quit her job to raise a child and wait for her husband to come home. Her daily routine repeats, until one day things begin to change.
Ji-young develops a strange condition where she acts as if she is someone else. Sometimes she is her mother, other times, she becomes her close female senior, or even her long-gone grandmother. The story gradually unfolds her life since her childhood and the trauma she has experienced as she grows up.
Although Jiyoung was born in a middle-class family and lived an ordinary life. But those things perceived as ‘ordinary’ in Korean society are full of inequality and discrimination.
And these are all because of one reason, being a ‘woman’
One time, Ji-young was taking the bus home and she got harassed by a male student. However, when she tried to deny him, he claimed that it is because she asked for it, when in fact, she literally did nothing. What’s worse than that is when she called her father to pick her up, she got scolded for not being careful enough, for smiling at people, and for wearing short skirts.
“You should be more careful. Stay alert and avoid problems. If a rock rolls at you, will you stand still in its path? If you don’t avoid it, it’s your fault”Jiyoung’s father
This is the kind of words Jiyoung and other women have to hear when they are the victim of sexual harrassment, assault, or rape. Many times, their trauma is being intensified for the crime they did not commit.
Jiyoung grew up like that. Being a daughter that is not as important as a son. Being a female worker that would never get promoted because she is a woman. Being a wife that has to stay at home and take care of children. Being somebody’s mom whose identity is fading away.
Although these things seem like a normal thing to society, it somehow suffocates her. And no matter how hard she tries to question the injustice or call out for her rights, she has never been able to retreat from the social norms that act as a cage to her.
This movie released around the same time the hashtag #metoo and feminist movement sparked in Korea, raising a question to the society on whether we should perceive the repression that Ji-young encountered as something ‘normal’ or as an ‘issue’ that has to be fixed urgently.
teenage, dream, and feminist club
Moxie is a film on Netflix released on March 3rd, directed by Amy Poehler. The film itself is adapted from the novel written by Jennifer Mathieu called “Moxie”. In this film, a 16-year-old junior high school student, Vivian, starts a feminist movement in school by publishing zine “MOXiE” to call out for the harassment, bullying, and rape that young women in her school are facing, leading to an establishment of the Moxie Club. This film tells stories in a way that is easy to digest, making the audience understand the notion of feminism clearer. It is like a feminist 101 book, explaining how the patriarchal system has been oppressing everybody and that gender inequality is not just an individual problem, but everybody’s.
The movie begins with Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a teenage girl, running away from something in the middle of woods. She attempts to call for help, but her voice doesn’t seem to come out. For me, the opening scene tries to show us how it is like to be in a patriarchal society: no matter how much you try to speak out, no one seems to be hearing you.
Vivian woke up from a bad dream and got ready to start her first day of junior high. Vivian is a normal, middling, 16-year-old girl who is fed up with many things at school but doesn’t care much about it. Until one day, she met a new arrival Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) who stood up against the harassment she received from a popular football captain team Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger).
In the beginning, Vivian said to Lucy that she should just ignore him because he is just an annoying person. However, Lucy insisted that Mitchell is dangerous.
One thing that could make the injustice worse is when people downplay it.
An example can be seen through a scene where Lucy talks to Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) about the harassment she got. However, the principal ignores her concern, saying that ‘sexual harassment’ is just another word for ‘bothering’ and blames Lucy for expressing too much discontent.
Moreover, the female students are ranked in categories by the school jocks from being “most bangable” to “most obedient”, indicating how female students are being sexualised and objectified by some guys in the school.
The unfair treatment proceeds throughout the movie. There’s a scene where a girl got sent home because she wore tank tops to school, but another girl and a boy who wore the same type of shirt did not get sent back because they did not have big breasts like her. This scene raises the questions regarding the rights over women’s bodies and how women always have to be careful and limit their freedom to prevent men from harassing them, instead of teaching men to control themselves and be respectful.
Gender oppression problem as a variety of shades
What’s impressive about this movie is that although it talks about feminist movement —the advocate of women to have equal rights as men— it did not ignore the cultural differences and limitations of how one can contribute to the battle. For instance, there are scenes where Claudia (Lauren Tsai), Vivian’s best friend, talks about how her mother, who is an immigrant from China, worked so hard to get citizenship in the USA, thus, getting into college is so important to her. Although Claudia supports the Moxie movement, she explains that she feels bad because of the pressure Vivian puts on her to contribute to the uprising and act as if she’s not doing enough.
“ Do you know what my mom sacrificed to get to this country? What did she have to do to make it so that I could go to college. I am under an insane amount of pressure. And I don’t have the freedom to take the risks that you do.”Claudia
In this society, apart from Claudia, there are so many more types of people such as black women, hispanic women, transwomen, or even women with disabilities. Of course, each of their problems differ. Therefore, we should understand that gender oppression has numerous dimensions and we should not stereotype and pressure everyone to do the same .
Act on it!
After having introduced you to three feminist films, we can see that gender inequality problems have always been there with us for as long as the history can trace back, from The Color Purple that takes place in the early 20th century to Moxie in the present days. The important question here is, for how long should we let this problem continue to exist? Is it time now to stand up for gender equality?
If you think the problems that the characters in the movies are facing are not fair, these same issues are happening to millions of women around the world. It could be your mom, your sister, your lover, your friends, or you.
If you face unfairness, don’t be afraid to speak out
If you don’t understand the stories of the oppressed, listen more
If you see the problem in front of you, don’t just ignore it
It is ALL OF US responsibilities to call out for gender equality
Because gender equality is a human fight, not a female fight