Those Girls Got “Moxie”
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Amy Poehler’s new Netflix original, “Moxie,” was released this March, bringing a feminist perspective to the stereotypical American high school. Based on the 2015 novel by Jennifer Mathieu, the film manages to highlight both the negative and positive experiences of young girls as they juggle friendships, relationships, and social activism.
“Moxie” centers around high school junior Vivian (Hadley Robinson), who, after finding out about her mom Lisa’s (Amy Poehler) rebellious past, anonymously starts the zine “Moxie” to discuss feminism and its place at her school. Vivian is initially inspired by a new student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who is continuously harassed by football player and all around jock-archetype, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Though Vivian is slow to accept the presence of harassment at her school, once her movement gets started it quickly becomes far bigger than just her. As “Moxie” rapidly gains supporters, a club with the same name is started, causing plenty of controversy throughout the school.
With Vivian’s gradual feminist awakening, “Moxie” provides a great analysis of the learned acceptance by women of harassment. When Lucy first stands up to Mitchell, Vivian pulls her aside and tells her that she should ignore it. Lucy and Vivian’s responses represent the dichotomy of attitudes toward harassment: staying silent, or as modern beliefs emphasize, speaking out. Lucy refuses to back down, even when Vivian tells her it might be a bad idea.
The zine doesn’t really get started, though, until a list that places students, including Vivian, into categories like “never been touched” or “best rack” is released. A new, unnamed (but obviously awful) category is added just for Lucy, pushing Vivian over the edge and leading her to create the first edition of “Moxie.” The zine calls out the actions of Mitchell, as well as the lack of action by other male students, and points out the gross nature of the list and the students’ strange acceptance of it.
Because “Moxie” was inspired by Vivian’s mom, the film revives the feminist culture of the ‘90s, especially in its soundtrack. The score features Riot Grrrl, a subgenre of punk characterized by its feminist messaging. When Vivian returns home after giving Lucy her dismissive message, she blasts Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl,” one of the most influential Riot Grrrl songs, as well as one less than fitting for pre-zine Vivian. As the movie progresses, Vivian increasingly embodies the rebel girl Lucy has been to her.
Though Riot Grrrl emphasizes feminist solidarity, it is without the intersectionality of modern feminism. Because the main figures of the genre and movement were white, cis-women, the possibility of a revival of Riot Grrrl has to address that. “Moxie'' attempts to amend this lack of inclusivity by introducing Claudia and Lucy, two women of color, to the main cast. Throughout the film, the additional obstacles they face as activists are portrayed; they are the first to face the consequences of the feminist controversy, with their struggles used to highlight the interplay between race, politics, and feminism. The plot tries to show the privilege that Vivian has because of her whiteness by allowing her to avoid any punishment, despite being the creator of “Moxie.” The way that the punishment pans out, though, makes it seem like they, Claudia especially, just serve as a way for Vivian to learn about the ways women of color participate in feminism.
That is not to say that Lucy and Claudia don’t have character arcs. Both characters are well thought out, have real emotions, and develop as characters outside of their relationships with Vivian. The movie also features the experiences of a trans girl, CJ (Josie Totah), who joins the club and shares her experience with being dead-named, as well as a disabled character, Meg (Emily Hopper), who points out the lack of inclusion she receives from her peers. Two players from the girls’ soccer team who are fed up with the lack of funding and support they receive, despite being better than the football team, also join the club and try to make a change within the school. The bonds created within the group highlight the solidarity and companionship teenage girls can have, which is often overlooked in popular media. Also, Vivian’s love-interest, Seth (Nico Hiraga), represents the increasing number of men who support feminists in their actions and demonstrations. Seth is the first to find out that Vivian is the creator of “Moxie,” but he does not go behind her back or lose interest. He instead supports Vivian’s efforts by taking part in the shows of support for “Moxie” by drawing hearts and stars on his hands and attending the walkout toward the end of the film.
Though “Moxie” is fiction and some aspects of the movement within the school are a bit over-the-top, the film succeeds in sparking a conversation about the harassment of young girls. While most other portrayals of high school ignore the issue, “Moxie” centers on the uncomfortable reality while simultaneously drawing light to the companionship of teenage girls. Lots of movies struggle to integrate politics with the rest of their stories, but “Moxie” manages to serve as both a classic coming of age story and a powerful social critique in an amusing yet realistic way.