In the last decade, women have become a force to be reckoned with in determining significant others.
Self-value and dignity-alongside matching demands for respect from their male counterparts-are on the rise.
While it might not be a new phenomenon, the "new" aspect of it is that it has become mainstream.
Standards are higher, expectations are elevated, and the traditional gender treatment has been flipped on its head when it comes to "spouse hunting."
Across the U.S., women are content with staying single (either permanently or until later in life. Many find it preferable to a subpar relationship and it's aftershocks of damage.
We are no longer controlled by the fear and pressure to find a man, settle down, and have children (instructions unclear afterwards).
So where does this not-so-new trend come from?
There are many factors influencing these changing gender and relational dynamics. Without a PhD- and a long winded book- it is impossible to thoroughly examine every aspect.
We've seen our mothers and grandmothers disrespected and discarded. We've seen thousands of generations of women treated no better than property.
Women not treated as humans. And from Anne Boleyn to Rosalind Franklin, women's accomplishments and lives have been methodically downplayed.
But now, things are beginning to change.
And one thing stands out along the rest: access to honest/different media consumption
Self Empowerment Has Increased from New Types of Media Representation
Though these types of "pro-woman" films/ television series may appear recent, the more drastic films (like Barbie) have been built upon decades of subtle feminism and messages of self-worth.
To the undiscerning eye, these media sources are new, radical, and (depending on your level of misogyny) outrageous.
Yet, movies making bold statements about the reality of the world women live in (like Promising Young Woman) have built their foundation on much more docile ground.
Don't get me wrong, these phenomenal examples (albeit on the opposite ends of the spectrum), play a huge role in women taking back their power- power men did not have the authority to give or take in the first place.
But to truly understand the significance of these radical movies, and the commentary to their intended audience, we have to go back further in time.
Exposure to Better Treatment in Youth Media
When you look at the movies/TV shows this generation is producing, much of the content revolves around gender dynamics.
Whether it focuses on inequality, women empowerment, changing definitions of masculinity, etc., gender dynamics are a vital piece of media today.
Why is that?
Looking back, it is easy to recognize how movies and shows set in the 2000s/ 2010s were slowly ramping up feminism in mainstream media consumption.
Not only were the women becoming stronger and more independent heroines, our ideas about masculinity changed as well.
In many of these stories, the male character was no longer maintaining traditional gender norms. This did not take away from his masculinity, but did help change ideas about what being "masculine" meant.
What Does This Mean?
In the beloved High School Musical trilogy, the lead male, Troy, wrestled with traditional aspects of masculinity (sports) with a personal passion that he excelled at (singing/performing).
While this may be a shallow example, it shows how, over time, our ideas of what "masculinity" evolved. Troy was fully masculine, yet engaged in a gentler, more “feminine" activity.
Beyond that, his openness with his emotions, his gentleness towards Gabriella (the female star), and his ultimate courage to blend the two worlds together began a subtle shift in how women view desirable men.
Troy Bolton is just one type of example how masculinity in media has changed over the last 20 years.
Another figure, the beloved Peeta Mellark, is likely the poster boy for this movement.
In a series where the central character, Katniss, was a tough warrior, Peeta exemplifies the softer tones of the story. He is a baker, a painter, and brings out the gentle side of a hard-shelled woman trying to survive.
He provides the soft love, support, and comfort she needs in a cruel dystopian world without retracting from her power and leadership.
Yet, to say that gender roles were reversed is much too dramatic of a statement.
Because it has been essential for the strong and independent female main characters to retain their femininity.
Otherwise, it would only reinforce the message that strength lies with masculinity, meaning that these women had to imitate the actions of men.
Peeta is not "less manly" because of his attributes. He defines masculinity in a different way.
And, when given the choice, Katniss chooses him over others over and over again.
Peeta Mellark is the type of man that provides constant support, reliable love, and a depth of understanding of Katniss that so many women dream of finding.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know the series includes Peeta's torture & it's results. Like Katniss, I believe it still doesn't retract from his role as a character.
Last but certainly not least is one of the most influential male characters for young girls at the time: Flynn Rider (or Eugene Fitzherbert for you who love the particulars).
Since the movie debuted in 2010, it landed smack dab in the middle of multiple generations of young girls.
Preteens, little girls, and more watched with dreamy eyes as Flynn realized his true treasure out on the water surrounded by thousands of flowing lanterns.
The self-sacrifice, character growth, and classic Disney heroic behavior all drew viewers to him.
Yet, it was his abiding love for Rapunzel-evident throughout their journey for which he later sacrificed his life-that really resonated with girls and young women everywhere.
At the end of the day, the story belonged to Rapunzel.
She was the main character, literally the titular character of the film. Yet, it is narrated by Flynn/Eugene with such awe and reverence.
Like Peeta, he was willing to step aside and understand that it was her story-not his. And in that action, it became their story together.
So What Does It All Mean?
You might be saying to yourself, "this is a nice trip down memory lane-and I do love these movies-but how does one connect to the other?"
That's a good question to ask because that's the entire point of this article:
If it weren't for movies that subtly shifted women to the center years ago, there wouldn't be movies now that had female stars shine brightly and unapologetically.
It is because of these movies that challenged traditional masculinity and its centrality, that led to strong, empowering, and downright bold movies about women today.
And it is because of this media, both in the past and present, that increase women's self-value in their own eyes.
Movies, TV shows, books... they are more than just entertainment. They teach lessons. They send messages. And they challenge ideas that we have upheld so long we forget to question them.
As we continue this "journey," we as women are beginning to see ourselves in a new light. As people worthy of genuine love, respect, support, and the kind of significant others that will give that to us.
Don't you ever forget it.
If you loved what you read, would you be able to buy me a cup of coffee? It's okay if you can't right now. I still appreciate your support in reading.
Thanks for being a part of the journey 💗
About the Creator
I’m a freelance writer & artist. I create pieces about the things that move me with the hopes that they move my readers too. My work has been featured in multiple publications. Check out my website for more at https://msha.ke/ashleytripp