It's official, we're currently living through the pop culture season of "summer for the girls" or "season for the girls, gays and theys". And we hope it never ends.
In 2023, the entertainment industry has seen an influx of content that is for women, and by women. We’ve seen Barbie topple Oppenheimer at the box office (and become the first film directed solo by a woman to make $1 billion in revenue), Taylor Swift and Beyoncé’s tours have been credited with saving the US economy, Red, White and Royal Blue and Heartstopper are now mainstream queer successes, plus, we cannot forget about The Little Mermaid, The Summer I Turned Pretty, and now, the release of Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album Guts.
Popular culture has never felt so distinctly feminine — and unapologetically so. In sports, we’ve seen a similar theme, with the success of the Matildas’ semi-final World Cup match becoming the most-watched TV event in Australia since 2001, when the current ratings system begun. Seemingly like never before, we’re being inundated with a distinctly girl culture.
The uncharted success of these projects and moments in the cultural zeitgeist that have women firmly at the centre makes me curious if this is truly just a summer for the girls or if it’s indicative of a bigger movement. A movement where women’s interests and women as a demographic are finally being taken seriously and given the credence they have long deserved.
For far too long, women's stories have been ridiculed and viewed as ‘lesser’ by society, due to the misogynistic propaganda upheld by the (mostly) men who run the entertainment industry.
In the 1950s, there was an entire genre of films very creatively titled ‘women’s films’, which depicted stereotypical women’s interests (domestic life, romance, motherhood etc.). These films were mostly made by men, and upheld patriarchal narratives that almost always centred straight, cis, white women. In retrospect, these films are often accused of reinforcing conservative values, which is for the most part valid, however, some of these films were subtly subversive, too. Imitation of Life comes to mind; a film that depicted interracial friendships and a white-passing Black woman who is struggling with her racial heritage. Although this story undoubtedly falls into the white saviour narrative and is not a masterclass in critical race theory, it was still a progressive film for the time in which both iterations of the film were made (1934 and 1959). This was an early indication that women’s stories in cinema should not be limited to the life experiences of white women and their stereotypical ‘interests’, but could — and should — instead include more diverse perspectives.
Women’s films were ridiculed by men, and it was seen as embarrassing to watch movies that were made in the interests of women. This same rhetoric can be seen again in the romcom boom of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (with Nora Ephron and Julia Roberts), and again in the 2000s. While the majority of these films depicted romance as their main plotline, there were still subversive films that depicted feminism, girlhood and intersectionality from varying perspectives that have little or nothing to do with romance, such as Legally Blonde, But I’m a Cheerleader and Bring it On. Despite most of these films being very successful, they never entered the cultural zeitgeist and broke down the barriers, and they were certainly never treated with the same respect that the media in 2023 seemingly has.
It seems that once in every generation, there is an influx of media that is marketed towards women, but only in these past few months have we witnessed women breaking records and glass ceilings.
It is also worth noting that sometimes moments in popular culture that were historically linked to female interests, such as The Beatles, were ridiculed with terms like “Beatlemania”, coined to make fun of women for simply enjoying music. This same band was eventually appropriated by men when they decided to view their music as “worthy”, proving that when men like something it is okay, but when women do it must be mocked.
With the current state of the entertainment industry and the ongoing Writers Guild and SAG AFTRA strikes, all pre-recorded content will eventually start running out. This gives the entertainment industry time to look at how successful these past few months of entertainment have been and perhaps shift its content in the direction of prioritising women’s and queer narratives. Perhaps the unprecedented heights that these stories have reached in the past few months are only the beginning and we’ll keep seeing the diverse spectrum of who and what women are reflected back in media. We can hope, at least.
It is also worth noting that things for the “girlies” are not exclusively for women, as the term girlies is becoming more of a common refrain for anyone who engages in these subcultures where femininity is not demonised, but instead, celebrated.
My biggest takeaway after seeing Barbie for the fourth time occurred when I spotted a group of elderly women in the cinema, all decked out in pink and having a wine to celebrate the film at midday on a Monday. Seeing the joy on these women’s faces made me realise how healing it must be for them, to see the success of a film made largely by and for women, since anything marketed towards them for most of their lifetimes has been met with vitriol and mockery.
Seeing women’s stories highlighted and celebrated on such a large scale in recent times is a historic win and I am hopeful that this is the first, and not the last, time that a more diverse array of women’s stories are being deemed worthy of telling and met with the attention and accolades that they have long deserved.