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Trail Blazers: 8 Movies Where The Women Are No Damsels In Distress, Thankfully!

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Does an all-female cast make for good female representation? Does putting a woman at the centre of a movie? When we’re talking representation politics, it’s not so clear cut. And we can’t rely on the Bechdel test alone, considering it approved of poorly constructed characters like Bella Swan in Twilight. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some movies with very good female representation, where the women are heroes, villains, and bad-asses of all forms and calibre. Check it out!

1. Shrek

The irreverent, loud-mouthed, un-glamorous franchise re-envisioning of classic fairytales, much like it’s protagonist, was an instant hit. But it’s time to show the ladies of Shrek some love. Typical beauty standards are destroyed when Princess Fiona accepts herself in all her large, green glory. She may have literally been locked in a tower guarded by one smokin’ hot lady dragon, but she proves herself in hand-to-hand combat against bandits. ‘Shrek the Third’ features classic fairytale princess as warriors taking control of their own narratives. Ain’t nobody got time for that deus-ex machina stuff! That same sentiment is carried forth even more forcefully in ‘Shrek Forever After’ where Fiona is a no-nonsense rebel leader. And it is glorious.

2. Mean Girls

mean girlsDon’t hate on this classic because you think it’s a boring old chick flick. The movie unpacks a lot of important themes like homophobia and peer pressure. More importantly, it tackles the issue of internalized misogyny. One of the film’s most memorable scenes is when Sharon Norbury (Tina Fey) gathers warring female factions together to tell them: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

3. The Runaways

Based on the women that sang “Hello world, I’m your wild girl. I’m youre ch ch ch ch cherry bomb!” comes a drama film about rock music’s most famous all-girl bands – The Runaways. It opens with a young Joan Jett and her devil-may care attitude, exploring the development of four young women as musicians, friends and people, and their hits and misses in a cut-throat male dominated industry. It also addresses alternate sexualities when developing Joan Jett and Cherie Currie’s relationship. The Runaways themselves rose to fame in the 1970s, at the very peak of the second wave feminist movement and have often been cited as a major influence for punk rock bands in the 90s – Riot Grrrl, anyone?

4. The Heat

the heat

You know those really good buddy films? ‘Harold and Kumar’, ‘Cop Out’, ‘Turner and Hooch’ (filmmakers would sooner partner a man with a dog than a woman, hmm). What’s the big idea thinking this formula only works with males? Katie Dippold and Paul Feig called bullshit on that tradition and made one of the most enjoyable comedy-dramas with ‘The Heat’. Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock play good-cop/bad-cop in this flick, get over their initial antagonism, get crazy drunk, bag the bad guys, and boy is it fun!

5. Brave

brave_by_jourixia-d5lyuly

Merida goes into independent badass mode the moment Disney dangles its magical marriage carrot at her, because, as her father Fergus says, she would rather “shoot arrows into the sunset.” ‘Brave’ offers the audience a nuanced look at female relationships. I’m talking of course of Merida and her mom Elinor. Mother-daughter relationships get a facelift from the abysmal one Tangled presented, and it’s about time! Think back and you’ll notice none of the classic Disney princesses had mothers to interact with – Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White, Pocahontas, Ariel. So ‘Brave’ explores new ground with that. Oh, and the cherry on that cake is a cute woodcarving, baking witch!

6. Maleficent

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Jolie’s portrayal of the anti-hero is fabulously multidimensional. Maleficent, leader of the faeries in an enchanted wood, is literally not the villain she is usually made out to be. She is a defender of the peace. She goes through cycles of pain, depression, anger, revenge, and finally redemption. After ‘Frozen’ and ‘Brave’, ‘Maleficent’ also got woman-to-woman relationships down splendidly with the bond between the faerie and daughter-like Aurora taking centre stage. Prince Charming’s kiss fails in this telling of the story, and it’s Maleficent, with her dark wings and blood red lipstick, does the rescuing. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

7. Queen

Indian cinema one of the best female fronted films ever, with Kangana Ranaut playing the lead role in ‘Queen’. At the beginning of the film, we meet Rani, a sweet, naive bride-to-be. By the end, we recognize the strong, independent, self-assured woman she has become, after a very helpful break up and an amazing Euro-trip. She forms valuable relationships with the uninhibited, drink-life-to-the-lees Vijayalakshmi, her three roomies Taka, Tim and ‘Sikandar’, and one fine Italian chef – bellissimo! The movie completely undoes the idea that a woman’s success and happiness is tied to her marriage and perfect execution of the ‘good Indian girl’ role.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

If MRA wrath is any indication of how feminist a movie is, then Charlize Theron’s Furiosa has made Mad Max: Fury Road one of Hollywood’s best feminist tales of all time. The fact that female cast members (with substantial talking roles) evenly match the male cast members was obviously a very good call by Miller. It also touches upon themes of ecofeminism (the Many Mothers and their store of seeds). For all its fantastical imagery and scenarios, Mad Max is so close to life and social structures of oppression. You could read Immortan Joe as a greedy capitalistic patriarch, and Max and Nux the male feminist allies. And even if you don’t, it’s still a power-packed film from start to finish.

These movies not only pass the Bechdel test (okay well, the Shrek franchise got 2 out of 4) but also covered other areas missing from the Bechdel criteria. That’s approximately 16 hours of film that doesn’t employ tired old tropes and narratives, so you might want to stock up on that popcorn and soda.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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