This Feminist Cultural Syllabus is Like the Gender Studies Class You Never Took

by Melanie Mignucci

Feminist writing can often be mislabeled as dull, preachy, overly political, and other eye-roll-inducing adjectives. (Just so you know: Betty Friedan is awesome! Simone de Beauvoir rocks! Gloria Steinem is cool as heck!) But while compendiums of that type of writing abound left and right, small, everyday kinds of feminism are lost right under our noses – on TV, on the radio, in the fiction stacks of your public library.

This great list by Flavorwire racks up 50 examples of feminist required reading, viewing, YouTube k-holing and more. These necessary cultural icons are all set up for the culturally illiterate in one handy, clickable list. 

The list purposefully avoids political or iconic feminist rhetoric, so this is not the place to go for Judith Butler recommendations – instead, these are the feminist moments you probably missed while you were busy living your best life or whatever, like the Clair Huxtable feminist rant from the Cosby Show, Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol and Carole King’s Tapestry. Flavorwire’s digs even feature Queens-based rapper Awkwafina’s “My Vag,” which BUST featured in our August/September issue!

As good as this list is, though, I thought it left out some of the lesser-sung darlings of feminism available, pop culturally speaking, so I took it upon myself to add some of my own feminist faves to the list. 


Some of you may know the poet Patricia Lockwood from her poem “Rape Joke,” which went viral recently after being posted to The Awl. But her Twitter feed is equal in brilliance to her poem, which poignantly tackles the rape of an adolescent through the trope of the rape joke, and her 2012 book, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black. Lockwood’s hallmark humor takes its cues from an absurdist feminist sentiment, in the form of patently unsexual sexts, rants against the moon, meta-literary analyses, and more. Patricia Lockwood is one rad Internet lady to watch out for.



Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Okay, okay, I know everyone and their mother knows this book, but chances are good that if you’re not currently a high school senior taking AP Lit & Comp, you will have bypassed this novel in favor of something snappier (like the Mindy Kaling book). This novel, which is often regarded as the first modern novel by critics like James Wood, follows the story of Emma Bovary, trapped in a loveless, passionless marriage, who devises every way possible according to her very limited means in order to get out. While critics claim that Emma is a stock character, and her evil schemes are no more feminist than Britney Spears’ infamous meltdown, her story is one of repression and resistance in 19th century France that should be required reading for all women. (Plus, the author Lydia Davis produced a masterful translation in 2010 that renders any excuse not to moot.) 

Frances Ha, dir. Noah Baumbach (2012)

Again with the male creators, you’re saying! But this quirky flick was in fact written in conjunction with Baumbach by Greta Gerwig, Baumbach This story of girl friendship in the modern era hit close to home for me and my best friend, who saw it together on one of its last days of release. Frances and Sophie have been friends since college, but while Sophie succeeds in life and love, Frances flounders, trying and failing to become a dancer while negotiating what it means to become an adult. This film tugged at my heartstrings while making me want to plié and jetée along with Frances.

Samantha Jones on Sex and the City, all the time

Not many people would agree with me that Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones is a feminist icon; she seems to revolve her life around the pursuit of men, despite managing her own successful PR firm and being surrounded by the gang of gal pals on the iconic HBO show. But in fact, Samantha’s sexual liberation broke down borders in television and paved the way for a frank discussion of women’s sexual power in the face of prudishness, as outlined in this masterful essay by the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum (which is in itself a pretty good feminist moment). The above scene from the fourth season of Sex and the City, where Samantha tells off her soon-to-be boss and boyfriend, Richard, for conflating her sexual life with her professional life, is genius, and demonstrates the third-wave struggle for the divorce of one’s sexuality from one’s workplace.

The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector

Though this novel is not what I would call ‘accessible’, The Hour of the Star (A Hora da Estrela) presents a fascinating commentary on objectification, the male gaze and poverty in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The book revolves around a male writer, Rodrigo S.M., writing about Macabéa, a “poor wretch” from Algoas, Brazil, lost in her appreciation for simple, ugly pleasures, like Coca Cola and the sugar in her coffee. The book oscillates between Rodrigo’s inner monologue on writing and the ostensive story of Macabéa, to whom life has not dealt a happy ending.

About Clarice Lispector, it has been said that she “writes like Virginia Woolf, but has the face of Marlene Dietrich.” The Hour of the Star was written shortly before Lispector’s death from cancer in 1977 and translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero and Benjamin Moser. Clarice Lispector is one of those rare writers who tackles philosophical fiction with unpretentious grace and true voice, and this slim book is wholly worth a flip-through.

What are your favorite feminist pop culture moments? Send me feedback in the comments, and let’s see if we can’t beat Flavorwire at their own game.

Thanks to Flavorwire

Photos via Esoterologia, YouTube, Amazon and Twitter

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