In case you haven’t figured it out already, thisis Freeform’s love letter to modern feminism. This statement was uttered by Karey Burke, Executive Vice President at Freeform, before thepremiere of I attended, and it sums up exactly why I am apprehensive aboutFreeform’s newestwomen-led drama.
Because, here’s the thing the feminism of is anything but revolutionary. Anyone who’s watched a Marylin Monroe movie, seen an episode of orread a think pieceon Britney’s Spears as a feminist iconwill be very familiar with the show’s brand of high-femme, beauty-obsessed, and indeed, capitalist-orientedgirl power.
The show itself sans the inflated sense of political importance is reasonably enjoyable. It centers on three young women (Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, and Meghan Fahy) who are best friends and trying to navigate the cut-throat world oftheir company, a magazine called
The actors undeniably have chemistry, and right away you’re rooting for the success of their friendship in a crazy and seemingly friendless industry.
Though she is not technically a character,the show is an homage to its executive producer, Joanna Coles former editor-in-chief of, current chief content officer at Hearst, and something of a legend for women in media like me. Coles told me herself on red carpet that nearly everything in the show comes fromher real-life experience at.
Sois clearlya stand-in forand actressMelora Hardin shines inthe Coles-esque editor-in-chief role, Jacqueline. Jacqueline’s mix of tough love and distant encouragement make her every writer’s dream boss.
The showwill officiallypremiere with a two-hour episode on Freeform on July 11, but viewers who kept the TV on after on June 20 already saw the pilot episode in a special preview. Clearly, Freeform hopeswillfill the Liars-sized gap in its lineup now thatits longest-running original series has ended. Ithink has a reasonable shot at this it’s fast-paced, fun, inspiring, and just the right amount of cheesy. It’s everything a show aimed at teen girls should be.
There is one thingis not though: the revolutionary feminist narrative the creators and cast seem to be pushing.
Far too much of the pilot episode is spent defendingsplace in feminist literature.
Your magazine is totally anti-feminist, accuses Adeena (Nikohl Boosheri), acharacter who is introduced as a lesbian Muslim.
That’s a common misconception, replies Aisha Dee’s character, Kat.
Later, in the climactic scene of the episode, the staff attends a party celebrating the magazine’s anniversary. Jacquelinegives a moving speech about how, yes, hermagazine is about fashion and sex, but it’s also.
I don’t deny there are aspects of that are empowering to women and indeed feminist. Hardin’s character refuses to fall into the tired stereotype of total b*tch boss (see: ), which is nice.
Some might even argue the mere existence of a show created and run almost solely by women (including showrunner Sarah Watson) is, in itself, feminist.
But to claim the feminism ofis any different than the hyper-feminine, hyper-capitalist mantra that’s dominated the political movement for the past 20 years is,frankly, absurd.
Here’s something Hardin said to the audience during the post-premiere panel I attended:
One of the things that really attracted me to this show, when Sarah [Watson] and I started talking about it, was the wonderful irony of this being a real feminist show couched in this incredibly feminine celebration of femininity. I think that is really what is going to change the world this feminine revolution where women don’t have to be men. Women get to be women, and men get to be men.
I’m not sure where Hardin has been for the last 20 years of feminism, but reclaiming femininity hasn’t been revolutionary since (a show Watson acknowledgedseveral times as groundwork for ). If you want the moniker of progressive, you need to actually push barriers. By contrast,pilot lays the groundwork for its story toremain comfortably within barriers laidoutby Carrie Bradshaw in 1998.
Thisfeminine feminism embraced by , and countless other shows, films, and magazines is not without merit. If you find empowerment in finding your perfect shade of lipstick, I absolutely want you to take a million selfies wearing it.
But this movementis definitely not new, and itis definitely heavily exploited bycapitalism. It’s a movement that encourageswomen to buy more lipstick, more shoes, more bags, and more of pretty much everything found inafashion closet a staple setting inthat itsthree main leads use as a home base.
It’s worth noting too that the beauty and fashion industry is still largely patriarchalthe CEOs ofL’Oreal, Revlon, Este Lauder, OPI Nail Polish, and MAC Cosmetics are all men. So though femininity can be an important tool for empowerment, it is frequently at odds with the true goal of the feminist movement (gender equality).
Capitalist feminism, therefore, is no more revolutionary than white feminism, ableist feminism, homophobic feminism, and so on in fact, all those counterproductive versions of feminism are often one in the same.
Now, did I expect pilot to break down the pillars of the capitalistheteropatriarchy? Did I expect the show to be rife with a nuanced representation ofpoor women, trans women, women of color, disabled women, andother things that would actually make the show progressive?
Of course not. But I also truly did not expect it to so audaciously crown itself one of the reigning feminist shows on TV. (Especially not when we already have so many other, more wholistic examples right now andto name a few.)
Not every TV show about women needs to be a feminist revolution. And perhaps as the series progresses, will earn the progressive title its prematurely claimed. But personally, I don’t want that.I am perfectly content to be entertained by Stevens, Dee, and Fahy’s ridiculous situations and charming friendship without pretending their stilettos are changing the world.
My advice to Freeform? Lean away from thefeminist beacon of hope narrative, and embracefor the fun, frivolous butultimately static narrative that it is.