Moxie: The Lesson of Activism
Feminism, Bikini Kill punk music, a modish black leather moto jacket with pins and 90s-esque zines… Not to mention, directed by Amy Poehler? You bet I jumped right in the second I saw Moxie rolled out on my Netflix feed.
Adapted from a 2015 novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie follows the story of sheepish 16-year-old Vivian Carter who goes under the radar at her high school, where the boys publish a yearly list ranking the girls such as who is the ‘most bang-able’ or who has the ‘nicest butt’. When she sees newcomer Lucy being threatened by Mitchell Wilson, the toxic male squad’s chief, she is forced to look into their unregulated actions. Being inspired and radicalized by her mother’s riot grrrl past and the politically-loud, unashamed attitude of Lucy, Vivian anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide revolution against the rampant sexism pulsing in her school.
Throughout the movie, we catch glimpses of several female high schoolers from all walks of life — Vivian’s best friend Claudia, an American-Chinese who lives under her mother’s strict supervision, top-heavy student Katie, Black school athletes Kiera and Amaya, transgirl CJ, and fierce Hispanic Lucy — all of which have struggles of their own.
With more and more people questioning whether feminism is still relevant, Moxie is a testimony that the fourth wave feminism remains even more important than ever. It tackles the #MeToo story and though it very much portray itself as a tokenism film, Moxie is still a breath of fresh air in today’s age of feminist movies. It is a film that I wished existed when I was in high school.
In Defense of Moxie
Despite featuring a lovable diverse cast, the movie received a couple of unfavorable reviews. To say I was disheartened when I was reading them was an understatement. While I agree with some of the comments written, I couldn’t help but wonder if the other lot of them were misguided or unwarranted to the point where we can’t even celebrate the small wins we have. Just to be clear, Moxie is no perfect movie. It has its blatant flaws but I do believe it’s a movie in the right step of direction when it comes to painting modern feminism in a much more tasteful manner.
One of the downfalls the movie has been receiving is the lack of addressing intersectionality — a crucial element in today’s feminist movements. Earlier on, when Vivian was asking her mother about her rebel past and what she would do differently, her mother mentioned how they were not inclusive and intersectional enough. This would have been the perfect set up for the movie to show how Vivian fixes that mistake. However, when we are introduced to the sexist treatment of their black characters such as high school White jock Mitchell spitting in Lucy’s soda, and Mitchell ended up being picked for a sports scholarship over Kiera, the movie seemed to tackle a lot of these problems with a touch-and-go attitude by not diving deep into the core that Mitchell and the school’s actions were also stemmed from racism.
And I agree that Moxie’s side characters have much more compelling storylines compared to Vivian. I, for once, would really like to know Claudia’s story more since I, a passionate activist for gender equality, too am Asian and living under the tight scrutiny of my parents. However, I didn’t think the movie pushed aside their side characters to let Vivian shine. Yes, perhaps these characters were made to instigate Vivian’s journey but to me, Moxie was a movie about learning, understanding and hearing the stories of others’ lived experiences that you have not been through. Many viewers thought Lucy should have been the main character since she was already politically aware with feminism but I think the point of this story was to tell the perspective of how Vivian got into the feminism scene.
After all, we, activists have to start from somewhere, no?
Moxie, A Movement For All
Perhaps I should say it here that ‘You don’t have to be the one experiencing the worse form of discrimination and harassment to be angry at how things work or do something to make a change’.
Of course, I want more activism movies with BIPOC main characters but that doesn’t make Vivian’s story any less significant. I have been at ends where people have told me feminism is not for them because they have never been harassed or they have never felt discriminated against but that’s not the goal of the movement isn’t it — to exclude people from voicing out against injustices in our society?
Never did I feel like Moxie was a stand alone venture started by Vivian. It was a collaborative effort of the girls putting aside their differences and joining forces to fight the one enemy that has been pulling us women down for ages. Though they might not have known who was Moxie at first, Vivian’s friends all chimed in to help further the movement in the school — Lucy opening an Instagram page, Claudia signing them up as a school club so that they can paste posters on the school walls and even the other schoolmates banding together in solidarity by drawing stars and hearts on their hands and wearing tank tops to school to show their support to Katie who was sent home by the principal for wearing a sleeveless shirt when her skinnier seatmate was wearing the exact same clothing as her or that her male counterparts were frequently shirtless in school.
The Thing about Privileges in Movies
It is imperative to acknowledge that there are layers to everything we do and this is where I want to talk about privilege. Some may say that activism is a form of privilege because not a lot of people can afford to march down the streets and fight. Not many people can afford to speak up without bearing the severe brunt of consequences from doing so.
Vivian is privileged. Yes, a middle-class, white girl like Vivian is extremely privileged. She will never go through the scuffles her friends have to dig through in their lives such as CJ coming forward and telling them that her teachers don’t acknowledge her as a female. Nevertheless, the movie, at least, did the bare minimum of calling out its protagonist on her privileged background of being able to do the things that she was doing and getting away with it.
Sure, it should have done more. It should have said more but still, it said it. It said something that I don’t think most white feminism movies will admit and that’s already a step forward.
But all of these aren’t why Moxie was held dear to my heart.
Is Activism All About Being LOUD?
When Vivian confronted Claudia about not nominating Kiera for the sports scholarship against Mitchell in front of the entire school, it is understandable where her frustration comes from just as it is lucid why Claudia didn’t.
In a world of social unrest, it is easy to be vexed, especially when you don’t think your closed ones are being loud enough in the course of activism but is it all about being LOUD?
In an article wrote by Sarah Corbett who talked about how craftivism can be an effective tool, there was a particular quote that really caught my eye:
“Gentleness is not a weak form of protesting, it’s not mild or non-assertive. It requires self-control when what we feel is anger or sadness when we see injustice. It requires thoughtfulness to understand the context of the situation and empathy to help understand people’s views and actions. Many people are turned off by political protests. Tactics of aggression, confrontation, shaming, bullying, demonising and violence (threats, physical and emotional violence) can be used in protests to intimidate, terrorise and undermine people.”
Everyone’s Definition of Activism is Different
Injustices are complex. There is no one size fits all solution and there is no one individual to pinpoint the blame at. We need to dispel the misconceptions that activism is about shouting in front of a crowd when there are so many gadgets and gears we can use in the activism toolkit.
Activism, at its core, is described as attempts to encourage, obstruct, guide, or interfere in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the goal of bringing about societal change for the better.
There is no right or wrong way to protest, and there really shouldn’t. We are all extremely diverse humans with varied personalities. You can’t expect all of us to take it to the streets with a megaphone in our hands yelling but you can bank on us to handle things in a way that we are comfortable with — producing art, writing letters to the government, sharing infographics on socials or even having conversations about it with others.
So when Claudia came to tell Vivian that she wanted to join the movement but Vivian needed to let her do things in her own way, I felt validated. For years, I have always been shamed for not being vocal enough, for not doing enough when nobody understood the position I was in.
Watching Moxie, I felt that there was suddenly someone who understood not all strength is loud and that there are different kinds of bravery in this world.
Vivian starting Moxie is brave. Lucy standing up to Mitchell is brave. Kiera going up against Mitchell for a sports scholarship is brave. Katie continuing to wear a tank top to school even though she was sent home the previous day for doing so is brave, and Claudia simply joining their movement knowing how her stern mother would react is also brave.
Everyone is an activist in their own way. Whether you decide to join an NGO to help their cause or refuse to eat meat to save the planet, you are already part of the change! Everyone has the power to be an activist as long as they are taking actions in their own terms.
My Final Note
Feminism and activism is, by no means, perfect. There is still a lot of unlearning and unpacking we have to do. We shouldn’t tear down each other and water down the voices of people who might not have experienced the same struggles but are ready to fight with us.
True social change can only be accomplished by educating young, diverse activists and adopting the wide variety of strategies that empower them to participate in the first place.
This International Women’s Month, I #ChoosetoChallenge the patriarchy and even though I won’t be marching down the streets with the rest of the courageous feminists, I will be courageous in doing things in my own means .
May this oppressive system fall to its knees.
[Written by: Jane Law]