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Moxie: a coming-of-age feminist story

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

Director Amy Poehler adapts YA novel Moxie and makes some good points about growing up in a sexist society.

Photo: Netflix

Young actress Hadley Robinson stars as Vivian, your typical high school student. She goes to school like everyone else and goes pretty much unnoticed. That is until she meets the new girl at school and non-conformist Lucy Hernandez, played by Alycia Pascual-Peña. Lucy starts getting harassed by popular team quarterback Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), and Vivian decides to let her know that he is just an idiot and to keep her head down. To this, Lucy replies, “I’m gonna keep my head up. High.”

Lucy’s attitude combined with the annual ranking list of “Best Rack,” “Most Bangable,” “Best Ass,” was a catalyst for Vivian. The moment she realizes how messed up society in her high school context is, Moxie begins. Inspired by her feminist, punk-rock mom (Amy Poehler) that all she ever wanted to do was smash the patriarchy (relatable), Vivian creates a bunch of zines in form of protest. This tactic proves successful and girls all over the school are not only reading them, but they’re identifying with the message.

Photo: Netflix

As Moxie takes power, we see many examples of normalized microaggressions: how a girl is sent home for wearing a tank-top, Lucy being told by the principal to use the word “bothered” instead of “harassed,” the female soccer team annoyed with how little support they get compared to their male peers, to name a few. Even though the film is packed with so many examples like these ones, it doesn't feel like too much because these scenarios are the day-to-day reality for so many women. These behaviors have gone ignored for so long and having a movie represent them organically through teenagers is a very clever way to do it. The themes are presented in a way that is digestible for younger and mature audiences alike.

Even though the movie doesn't deal with feminism in a grander scale, the awakening of these girls, the anger they start to feel, how they unite and build confidence in each other, is still a pretty strong message. The set of characters also include many races and sexualities, giving the viewer an inclusive experience that’s much needed in these coming-of-age stories.

Photo: Netflix

As the movie progresses, we also start to see the battle of young women that have internalized the gender social norms for so long, like Vivian’s best friend Claudia, played by Lauren Tsai (but don’t worry. She eventually joins Moxie and even calls out Vivian on her white privilege which was pretty awesome). Here, we get a good message that when it comes to activism, there are many ways to do it. Through casual conversations, the characters bring the problems to focus. Vivian’s mom mentions how back in her time, they were not intersectional enough. Moxie doesn’t really dwell on the things feminism did wrong or how these girls are confronting these issues. It just keeps going. Although this might be a turn-off for some that want a deeper analysis, considering this is still a high school comedy, I believe the balance between showcasing objectification and oppression and telling the story was just right.

Photo: Netflix

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Photo: Netflix

One of the things I was the happiest about when watching the movie was the introduction of Seth, played by Nico Haraga. Seth is a teenage boy that silently joins the Moxie movement. When he wants to share the zines in the boy’s bathrooms, he first asks if he can do it; he protests but still respects that this is not his movement. This is what an ally looks like, and I literally had to pause the movie to text a friend to tell her that this guy should be the blueprint for men when talking about feminism. We all know too many Mitchells; we need more Seths and him to be the rule instead of the exception.

Of course, because this is still a high school-centric movie, Seth and Vivian begin a romantic relationship. The fight continues, girls keep on coming together. In this movie, the classic cliques disappear. There are no popular girls, geeks, athletes, etc. This is a great example of what Amaya, a girl from the soccer team, had told Vivian at the beginning, “Females gotta stick together. Number one untapped resource, women.” At the same time, Vivian’s anger starts to get in the way, and she does end up acting out in the worst way, gets Claudia suspended from school for being a “coward” (Claudia’s wise words), and gets in a fight with Seth. In the end, everything is resolved rather quickly before finishing with a montage of all the girls dancing to Alala by CSS.

Photo: Netflix

Photo: Netflix

Moxie is in this weird middle-ground where it’s not as punk and rebel as it promises to be, but it still manages to get its point across. It fails to address bigger issues like Mitchell being a sexual abuser or how the school system consistently disappoints and even stops young women from reaching the equality they deserve. Still, the portrayal of teenage girls finding their voice was very gratifying to watch because of how relatable it is. We saw Vivian being very shy and basically clueless about how her entourage behaved. The feeling of sisterhood and solidarity gives Vivian the strength to fight and come forth with the revelation that she is Moxie. This is what makes this movie worth watching. Seeing women supporting and empowering other women is a storyline that, even in 2021, is a rare one to see. And yes, even though delving into sexual abuse would’ve been ideal, microaggressions are too underrepresented in media and society. As women, I think we can all recognize ourselves in these young women, and I hope the new generation watches Moxie and feel as inspired as I did to keep on fighting.

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