January 20th, 2016
by Rebecca Jade
The summer of 2014 saw me attend Sin City 2 in theatres with my partner. When the movie ended, I walked out of the building to sit down on the curb and sob for twenty minutes at having seen so many dead naked women, naked women rendered precarious by men posturing at each other, asserting dominance in the face of threats to their masculinity. Women who die because they are uncooperative or don’t otherwise fit into a patriarchal entity or institution’s plans.
Cultural productions both reflect and reproduce our social circumstances. I can remember being in my mid-teens and realizing that I often felt shitty about myself after looking through CosmoGirl, Vogue, Women’s Fitness: not shitty in a I-hate-myself-and-I-don’t-deserve-joy kind of way, but shitty in a trapped way. Shitty in a way that now I’d articulate as coming into the knowledge that these magazines assumed that I was unhappy with my body, and in so doing, naturalized the notion that I ought to be. Shitty because I knew enough to understand that the magazines would profit from my discontent: simultaneously occupying space as a text trying to teach me to be dissatisfied with myself and a salvational text trying to teach me to perform in a way that ensured my value. Cosmo wasn’t going to teach me how to thrive through the dissolution of decade-long friendships with boys who suddenly wanted to talk about how my body was excellent masturbatory fodder. Vogue wasn’t going to help me unlearn the idea that my relationships with other girls had to be predicated on competition. Women’s Fitness wasn’t going to teach me that my newly hyper-femme body was powerful. I cut them out of my life.
My Sin City meltdown prompted a similar moment of realization. The summer had already been a tough one. The winter before that, I’d witnessed two men choking a woman on the University of Alberta campus while her friend tried to both fight back and flag down passerby (I stopped, the men ran, I drove the women elsewhere). I’d had multiple commutes interrupted by white men in huge trucks frothing vitriol at me for deigning to occupy the right hand lane when the shoulder was insufficient for cycling. A man had screamed “FUCKING BITCH” at me for deigning to cross the street on foot when he could have turned right on a red light had I not been there. A man sitting on a stoop yelled at me that he wanted to fuck my calves. Men touched my hair, unbidden, on buses, in stores, in line. I was on a feminist trajectory that had shifted from “girl power” to “we should all have the right to be equal,” rocketed to delighting in misandry as satire, and then chugged to a halt in a sink-hole of ubiquitous violence and genuine mistrust of men. Movies and television, two of my preferred downtime activities, weren’t going to feel healing if all they did was reflect cis hetero white supremacist ableist colonial patriarchy back at me. I needed to quit.
The project started slowly: I’d look up film and TV when I was considering watching them to ascertain whether they passed the Bechdel test or not. If they did, I would watch them, and if they didn’t, I wouldn’t. This stage was fine, but it wasn’t good enough; I oscillated between bored and angry, still feeling like I didn’t have enough energy for being present with the violence that I lived, that people live, because of how subsumed I was by the representations of violence present in the media I consumed. Television and film, like cis patriarchy and white supremacy, are teeming fictions with thoroughly non-fictional consequences. I got my shit together, committed to Netflix, and made a new rule: I would only watch movies and TV shows that had exclusively women on the cover.
This project is the fucking best and I highly recommend it. I relish the experience of obstinately refusing to watch something because there is a man on the cover. I relish how difficult it is to find things to watch, let alone things to watch that I actually think I’ll like. I relish the incredulity on people’s faces, their struggle to articulate why they think the project is sexist (lol), in the face of such an easy demonstration of inequity in the world. I relish the smart and funny and joyful productions I’ve enjoyed as a result of really having to search for entertainment. I relish the new characters I’ve identified with, the worlds I’ve gotten to inhabit, the thrill of asking my coven for help with my quest, and getting to recommend shows to the people I love. I relish what an insignificant and arbitrary rule it is and what a huge difference it’s made in my life.
I relish grappling with such a potent example of how privilege operates in matters of representation: there are many protagonists in whom I see parts of myself. The parts who are relatively rich, able-bodied, neurotypical, racialized, cis, hetero, diasporic, settler, low-femme. When so often “diversity” entails replacing white cis men with white cis women, what would this project illustrate if it insisted on pushing back against every hegemony, rather than only the hegemony of the gender binary? Insisting on not just including “the other” alongside established and acceptable subjects, but actually not having any normative subjects on the cover at all? Could we watch movies and TV that only have trans femmes on the cover? That only have fat femmes on the cover? Only disabled femmes on the cover? Only femmes of colour on the cover? Only queer femmes on the cover? Only Indigenous femmes on the cover?
There is a curious and tiny power in realizing you can have some control over the media you consume. Many of my loved ones have some version of this project in their lives: Instagram functions well, as does Tumblr. I’ve cultivated a platform that presents to me a version of reality I would thrive in. I challenge you, in whatever way possible, to treat yourself to the same.
Movies And TV On Netflix I Have Viewed That Only Have Women on their Covers
Did Not Finish—Too Scary
- The Fall
- The Bletchley Circle
- Appropriate Adult (note that title image has changed as of 1/18/2016 and no longer only has women on the cover)
- How to Get Away with Murder
- Big Ballet (I think this might be a fat-antagonistic shit show but I’ve only watched ten minutes of it so I’m not quite sure yet)
- Atelier (I haven’t committed yet but the first half of the first episode is pretty cute)
Glad It Exists
- Pitch Perfect
- Orange Is the New Black
- Blue Is the Warmest Colour (I found this really hard to watch and then read some reviews to try and process my feelings and boy oh boy do I feel for Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux)
- What Happened, Miss Simone (hated that they included her former partner, though)
- Miss Granny
- Mary Kom
- Boy Meets Girl (this is the only movie I broke the Netflix rule for, and I’m glad I did)
- The Heat (I mean, it definitely stands the test of time better than Miss Congeniality)
Did Not Finish—Did Not Speak To Me
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Women Who Kill
- Land Girls
- Grace and Frankie
- La Galère (no longer available)
- Switched at Birth (I watched A LOT of this show and then got really tired of the white mom and dad, the show would be 900% better without them)
- Monique Marvez: Not Skinny, Not Blonde
- Sommore: Chandelier Status
- Garfunkel and Oates
Eternal Love Affair, Multiple Viewings Mandatory
- Call the Midwife
- Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
- Obvious Child (is there anything more satisfying than a Jewess monologuing on her discharge, I contend that there is not)
- The Punk Singer
- Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies, and Global Economics (no longer available)
- Venus and Serena
Screenshot of BB’s Netflix list. Men are boring.