The deeper side behind 2023’s “girl power” summer
Written by Emma Smallwood
Whether you donned an all-pink getup to go see “Barbie” or made hundreds of friendship bracelets to trade at Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, chances are you enjoyed media this summer that centered on women. From Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour to the musical “Six” coming to Cleveland, there have been countless opportunities to enjoy fun and exciting music, movies and musicals that are focused on women. If we look behind the pink, the friendship bracelets and the sparkles, we can see a deeper connection behind the women-driven media of the summer. Beyond the fun and the entertainment, we see an expression of womanhood that is unparalleled. This summer called for women to be unapologetic about their femininity, their joy and the experiences they have that are rarely shown on the big screen and stadium stage.
Through the Female Lens
As a society, we are more than familiar with the concept of “the male gaze,” or viewing a situation through the lens of a heterosexual man’s point of view, typically with the goal of sexualizing or objectifying women. In movies like “Barbie” that came out this summer, we see portrayals of women that feel natural, realistic and innately feminine. Women across the world voiced their joy over the many female characters in “Barbie,” and seeing these characters reflect the experiences women have in the real world. America Ferrera’s monologue in “Barbie” was applauded by women for its candid depiction of womanhood, which we do not see enough of in film.
In the movie, Ferrera cries out, “It's too hard! It's too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.”
Women are used to seeing versions of female characters on screen that are effortlessly chic, funny and pretty. They are used to seeing girls that are applauded for not trying too hard, for being the archetypal “cool girl” (see the infamous “Gone Girl” speech). In “Barbie,” we see a recognition for all the ways in which women are forced to perform on the daily.
This summer in Cleveland, the musical “Six” made a stop at Playhouse Square. “Six” ran from Aug. 8 to Sept. 10, and showed an entirely different side of the infamous six wives of King Henry VIII. Rather than portraying the wives through the lens of their role in King Henry VIII’s life, “Six” aimed to display the real women behind the stories and tales. This retelling allowed audiences to view these women through the lens of the female experience, rather than through the male lens in which these women are often villainized and sexualized.
The Experience of Womanhood
There is no right or wrong way to “be a woman,” or to express femininity in any context. We saw a surge of joy this summer for things that are typically considered to be too “girly,” whether this be making bracelets with friends or dressing up. This summer, fans were going all out for “Barbie,” Taylor Swift: The Era’s Tour and Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour. We saw a level of extravagance, fun and playfulness in the outfits for these highly-anticipated events, and the self-expression was unmatched. Women are used to hearing comments along the lines of, “Why are you so dressed up?” or “You are way too dressy.” From school and work dress codes to hateful speech thrown at them in the street, the effort by men to dictate what women wear and the ways they express themselves through fashion is a prevalent and invasive issue. Dressing up, having fun and expressing oneself through fashion is something that is often seen as only for “little girls,” the age when playing dress-up is allowed and celebrated. This summer, we saw a reclamation of women playing with their style and finding ways to express themself in fashion.
“Barbie” included Barbies with a range of careers, goals and passions. We saw a diverse range of Barbies, and a motif present throughout the movie was that being a “Barbie,” which is a reflection of femininity, is about feeling a connection to the female experience and womanhood. We see Hari Nef, a transgender actress, starring as Doctor Barbie, furthering the idea that the experience of womanhood is not about being a cisgender woman, but rather someone's personal relationship with femininity. The experience of womanhood is not limited to only cisgender women.
"If we look behind the pink, the friendship bracelets and the sparkles, we can see a deeper connection behind the women-driven media of the summer."
Women Driving the Economy
In The Wall Street Journal’s article, “Women Own This Summer. The Economy Proves It,” Sarah Krouse sums up the idea of women driving the economy, writing, “Call it the women’s multiplier effect — their spending is a powerful force in the U.S. economy that propelled watershed commercial success for the ‘Barbie’ film, Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance Tour,’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras Tour.’”
While many interests of young women are shamed for being basic (pumpkin spice lattes, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and pop music in general, to name a few), women are an incredible force in the economy, as we have seen showcased this summer. However, the idea of women (especially young women) being the driving force in what media becomes popular is not a new concept. Bands like The Beatles blew up originally because of their female fanbase.
Blair Kohan, a partner at talent agency UTA, aptly wrote, “[Women] embrace shared experiences across generations.”
These shared experiences play into the economic forces that women create, as they celebrate media surrounding female empowerment.