Essential Viewing for the Young, Budding Feminist
Or: the movies and TV shows I’d show my younger sister learning about feminism for the first time.
I’ve always believed that movies and TV shows have power. When I was applying to my university, I had to write an essay about an experience that helped define me as a person. Needless to say, I went with The Sound of Music and how much it moved me. I wrote about how it helped me understand the world better, how it helped me understand myself and my own dreams better. The Sound of Music was the first film I ever remember really loving; the first film that made me realize what movies are capable of. Films, after all, are stories, and when the right stories resonate with the right person, they can change the world.
Over the years, more and more shows geared for young audiences have begun to include and tackle issues of social justice, from The Baby-Sitters Club, to Enola Holmes, to Moxie. Below, we round them up and rate them based on how adept they are at tackling the issues they presented, while still being entertaining and fun to watch.
The Baby-Sitters Club
What it’s about: This adaptation of the beloved book series is colorful and warm enough to hook even those unfamiliar with the books. It follows five preteens—Kristy, Mary Ann, Claudia, Stacey, and Dawn—as they navigate middle school, their baby-sitting business, and their friends and families.
What’s addressed: Familial issues, the Japanese concentration camp Manzanar, knowing when and how to apologize, how to treat trans children, learning how to be independent, learning to speak up
Overall rating: I would rate The Baby-Sitters Club a solid 10 out of 10, because every issue they included was approached with such nuance and thought, while still assuring that the show is entertaining and fun to watch. The Baby-Sitters Club easily became one of my favorite shows of 2020.
What it’s about: Enola Holmes follows the titular protagonist, the teenage sister of Sherlock Holmes, in her quest to find her mother, Eudoria.
What’s addressed: Racial issues, early-stage feminism
Overall rating: Enola Holmes, to me, deserves a good 7.5 out of 10. It touches briefly on racial identity, but the line feels more throwaway than anything. It also does a good job at showing that girls and women don’t need men to do anything, and that we’re completely capable on our own. It’s also a very fun, entertaining movie!
What it’s about: In Moxie, a shy, introverted teen inadvertently starts a revolution at her high school after being inspired by her mom’s Riot Grrrl past.
What’s addressed: Feminism, racism, sexism, misogyny, rape culture, high school politics, dress code double-standards
Overall rating: Moxie gets a 6 from me. I didn’t love it, but I definitely think it does an adequately good job at capturing the feeling of a feminist awakening: everything feels raw and intense, but truthfully, I felt like it was missing some spark.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
What it’s about: Avatar follows a 12-year-old boy named Aang, who is destined to restore peace and harmony to the world. Alongside his ragtag team of benders and non-benders, he journeys across the world to master all four elements and defeat the evil Fire Lord.
What’s addressed: War, colonialism, familial issues, spirituality, good and evil, moral greyness, community, how to apologize, hope, misogyny
Overall rating: Avatar is a full-on 10 out of 10. It takes its viewers—young children!—so seriously. It doesn’t dumb things down for them. It’s a great show to watch not just for children, but for adults as well, as the themes the show tackles are so nuanced and layered.
The Legend of Korra
What it’s about: 70 years after the events of The Last Airbender, the Avatar cycle begins again with the passing of Aang. This time around, the Avatar is a Water Tribe girl named Korra, and it’s about her finding her place in the world. Where does the Avatar figure when there are no longer any nations at war, only human ambition?
What’s addressed: Fear, self-doubt, misogyny, good and evil, growing up, growing older
Overall rating: Korra, too, is a 10 out of 10. Whatever issues are tackled in The Last Airbender also come up in this show, and since the audience is grown-up now too, they’re a lot deeper and more profound.
The Bold Type
What it’s about: The Bold Type follows three friends—Jane, Kat, and Sutton—as they work for a women’s magazine named Scarlet.
What’s addressed: Feminism, working in media, racism, LGBTQ+ issues, gun control, sexism
Overall rating: I would rate The Bold Type 7 out of 10. Early in its run, it was instantly one of my favorite shows, but as it went on, it felt like it was losing its way slowly but surely. It has a lot of worthwhile attempts at addressing the issues it presents, but it, more often than not, tends to mishandle them. Still, it’s fun, ridiculous, and earnest—and an easy show to put on in the background if that’s more your thing.
One Day at a Time
What it’s about: One Day at a Time follows the Alvarez family—matriarch Lydia, her daughter Penelope, and the grandchildren Elena and Alex.
What’s addressed: Oh, what isn’t addressed? One Day at a Time touches on almost everything—being a person of color in a very white world, LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, mental health issues, religion, and more
Overall rating: 9 out of 10. One Day at a Time, when it was still on, was always consistent in shedding light—and in a very heartfelt and sensible way, too—on all the issues it dared tackle, despite a couple of fumbles every now and then.
Lead photos from Netflix