Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend has clearly never met Netflix. I will be the first to admit that the media streaming service is the perfect companion for nights of self-care. However, lately, some of the content Netflix has been releasing has been rather disappointing. The Kissing Booth, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, and Insatiable are some of the most noteworthy examples. Content like this usually carries the opposite message of what it seems to promote. One area these works all seem to intersect on is the blatant misrepresentation and belittling of sexual assault, but individually they also discuss other sensitive topics in a completely disrespectful fashion.
The Kissing Booth
The Kissing Booth contains all the elements of a teen rom-com; there’s the clique of mean girls, the lifelong best friend, and the so-called bad boy. However, it also has some very sexist overtones. The not-so-rom-com movie follows Elle Evans, a high school junior, through her “late bloomer” puberty.
Watching this film was highly uncomfortable. From the start, Elle is seen as a thing rather than a person. She’s over-sexualized, especially as a minor, and the movie seems to revolve more around both male lead characters trying to protect her and “own” her than on Elle’s coming of age story itself. What could have been a film of autonomy and learning to love oneself is quickly seen to be one of rescuing instead.
One of the most repulsive scenes in the movie comes when an older classmate slaps Elle’s butt. She then proceeds to go out with said classmate after a lousy apology and comes to view the assault as a “compliment.” This promotes extremely alarming behaviors regarding sexual assault, especially in light of the #MeToo movement.
Additionally, the film’s two main male characters show extreme possessiveness over Elle amounting to physical violence against any other male who pursues her in order to “protect” her. It promotes an extremely toxic representation of what is desirable or romantic. Possessiveness and intensity are not love. One more time for the people in the back: possessiveness is not indicative of a healthy relationship. I think it’s time we realize that the “princess” doesn’t always need saving.
Sierra Burgess Is A Loser
Let’s start off with the premise of the movie—catfishing. Sierra Burgess catfishes Jamey, the typical cute boy character, after he texts her believing she is a girl named Veronica. The whole premise that she can’t text him to tell him who she really is because she’s “ugly” and “a loser” is self-destructive and just plain wrong. The idea that only physical appearances are important in attraction reinforces the mentality feminists are working so hard to move past.
Throughout the film, “lesbian” is somehow used an insult, showcasing homophobic beliefs. Whenever a woman is not presented as traditionally feminine, the other characters automatically assume she “plays for the other team.” As if that isn’t enough, multiple transphobic remarks are made throughout the film. Right at the start of the film, when Sierra is looking for what to write her college admissions essay about, one of her classmates suggests she write about her “trans experience, so topical,” just based on the idea that she presents more masculine; this transphobic comment is supposed to be an insult and is aimed to affect Sierra’s self-esteem. With the growing violence against the transgender community, these anti-transgender “jokes” are extremely harmful and promote the idea that, “if media does it, so can I.” The reduction of LGBTQA+ identifying people to ideas based on stereotypes and physical appearances is highly damaging to the community and perpetuates barriers that we as a community have worked so hard to bring down.
You would think they would stop at transphobia, but the film also decided to dabble in some ableism. The film was thought to be radically inclusive, especially with its inclusion of a deaf character; however, the deaf character seems to have simply been written in as a joke. When Sierra runs into Jamey, she cannot use her voice because Jamey would recognize it, so she fake-signs in ASL and pretends to be deaf. This decision is highly offensive. Actor and deaf activist, Nyle DiMarco, was among one of the movie’s critics, stating, “It is extremely easy to make jokes about marginalized/disenfranchised groups, but that makes you a lazy writer.”As a sibling of someone living with a disability, I was so disgusted by this. Disabilities, both seen and unseen, are not something to use as a punchline. They are conditions real people live with.
When Veronica, the girl Jamey intentionally pursues, agrees to help Sierra catfish Jamey in exchange for tutoring, Veronica and Jamey go on a date with Sierra watching close by. At the end of the date, Jamey asks to kiss Veronica, and she tells him to close his eyes. Then, she switches places with Sierra, who actually comes to kiss him. This move brings up a very challenging question about consent—is this movie idealizing and romanticizing an action that is non-consensual? It’s important to note that consent is equally important for people regardless of gender. Jamey and Veronica had agreed to a consensual kiss; Jamey and Sierra did not. This instance also promotes the harmful idea that male victims are not truly victims.
Despite all of this, when Jamey finally finds out the truth, he forgives Sierra, and they go on to date without Sierra ever issuing a real apology. The film in itself is messy, harmful, and quite the opposite of the inspiring, body-positive film everyone thought it would be.
Right from the start, the trailer for this show was insulting and caused an immense uproar. Many people signed petitions in an attempt to stop Netflix from airing the first season. Despite the backlash, I decided to watch it (or at least attempt to) in order to form a more supported opinion. Needless to say, watching it only furthered my negative perspective on the show.
I still have not been able to watch it in its entirety. This show, once again, is very unsettling. What is supposed to be an empowering response to fat-shaming turns out to be dark and highly unrepresentative of the reality. The show revolves around “former fat girl” turned beauty pageant queen, Patty, and her seeking revenge against her former bullies. The show emphasizes the idea that pretty and thin are synonymous and that “fat girls” are always seeking revenge over the “pretty, thin mean girls,” rather than focusing on a truly body-positive depiction and mindset.
In the show, Robert, a lawyer by day and beauty pageant coach by night, is falsely accused of sexual assault on a minor by a pageant contestant’s mother when she doesn’t win. Making light of reporting sexual assault greatly diminishes the importance of reporting these cases and tears down victim credibility which is already so pushed aside. In the era of the #MeToo movement, we would expect shows geared toward young women to do better.
To add on to that, the show also shines an odd light on minor-adult relationships, especially with figures of authority. Patty becomes oddly infatuated with Robert and even tries to break up his marriage (girl, what?). When Patty’s best friend tells her to watch out because the lawyer is an accused predator, Patty replies something like, “Even better. Maybe I’ll actually have a chance.” The show makes such absolutely disgusting comments like this so repeatedly that it was very hard to resist the urge to turn off the TV (which I desperately caved into 5 episodes after I felt I had accomplished enough “research”).
I’m Outraged! Now What?
Content that promotes realistic and safe expectations for young girls is long overdue. It’s time to start holding media companies accountable for their actions. Some of the actions we can take include refusing to watch this type of content, signing petitions, writing letters, starting social media campaigns, or even coming up with your own ideas! Movies and shows like these only promote unrealistic expectations for young girls and aid in the development of harmful behaviors.
It’s up to us now to make and demand content that is truly representative of young girls’ experiences. The first way to make this happen is to produce the content ourselves! If you have a passion for filmmaking or creativity in general, start making your own content—put it out there (such as by submitting to Make Muse… just a thought)! The more women media makers we have producing content for young girls, the more representative the content will be of our reality. Women and girls should be able to look at a screen and feel represented, not alienated.